A Reviewer's Notebook - 1977/4

We needed a good bicentennial history—and Home of the Brave: A Patriot’s Guide to American History, by John Alexander Carroll and Odie B. Faulk (Arlington House) is it.

What distinguishes this history of our country is its continental view. The authors are specialists in western history, and they have a most intense curiosity about every last phase of the settlement of the "lower forty-eight" states as the population center moved west. The Indian wars of the post-Civil War period bulk as large or larger in the Carroll-Faulk pages as some of our more familiar conflicts. In ten packed pages, complete with maps and portraits and admirably succinct biographies of Indian leaders (Crazy Horse, Geronimo), we get a beautifully detailed account of how a third of our continental domain was won. The Spanish-American War, by contrast, only gets six pages.

This reverses what the standard histories have to say—and the question of values becomes one for legitimate argument. Which is more important, the projection of the U.S. on the world scene (the Spanish-American War put us in the Philippines, and dramatized the need for the Panama Canal, or the winning of the West that gave us, first, the cattleman’s empire and the gold rushes, and, at a later date, an incredible development of our whole trans-Mississippi railroad grid?

The question is peculiarly pertinent now that we seem to be retreating from Asia and are talking seriously about surrendering the Panama Canal . As we recoil from "imperialism," the West that was wrested from Sioux and Comanche Indians is feeding the world (including Soviet "imperialism") and, insofar as the southwestern states are concerned, is responsible for the Sunbelt shift in our politics that has left the familiar East Coast "Establishment" reeling.

Winning the Southwest

As westerners, Carroll and Faulk reject the view that the Mexican War, which resulted in the cession of California , New Mexico , Arizona , Utah and part of Texas to the U.S. , was a shameful episode in our history. The Spaniards never had a firm grip on this immense expanse of territory, which remained Indian country outside the towns. Texas itself numbered less than 3,500 settlers (other than Indian) at the time of Mexico ‘s secession from Spain . Americans were welcomed to the region around San Antonio by Governor Antonio Maria Martinez, and by 1830 they were far in the majority in what was soon to become the Lone Star State .

When Santa Anna overthrew the Mexican constitution of 1824, which provided for a federal republic, Texas was one of seven Mexican states to resist the usurpation. It had as much right to revolt against a dictator as any other component of what had been the Mexican republic. And the Texas majority, largely from Tennessee and the Louisiana Territory , had a right to set up its own government, which it did under Sam Houston after routing Santa Anna in a battle that lasted only eighteen minutes. The Mexican War that came after Texas ‘ incorporation in the U.S. grew out of legitimate claims to restoration of property to U.S. citizens that had been destroyed in Mexico . It was not, as has been often said, a war to expand U.S. slaveholding territory. Carroll and Faulk point out that New England’s congressmen voted steadfastly for the war, while John C. Calhoun of South Carolina voted against it. As for California , if we hadn’t acquired it, its tenuous ties to Mexico City would have been ruptured by the British or the Russians, who coveted it to round out their Pacific Coast empires.

Warren G. Harding

There are many surprising judgments in this "patriot’s" bicentennial history. One of them is that Warren G. Harding was in many ways an effective President. He had an extremely strong cabinet. Charles Evans Hughes, as Secretary of State, forced some naval agreements that may have delayed war in the Orient for ten years and in the West for fifteen. Herbert Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce, and Andrew Mellon, as Secretary of the Treasury, were certainly not weaklings. Harding made praiseworthy conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, and elevated ex-President William Howard Taft to Chief Justice. The Ohio gang presumably did him in behind his back, though we’ll never know the truth about this, inasmuch as Harding’s widow destroyed his personal correspondence.

Some scandals provoke vindictive blood feuds (Watergate, which roused the "Eastern Establishment" against Nixon, will probably go down in history as one of these). But other participants in scandalous doings get off easily. John Brown was found guilty of conspiracy, murder and treason for seizing the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia , in a plot to arm the slaves. He was sentenced to the gallows. But the clergymen, professional reformers and businessmen who provided Brown with the money and weapons to carry out his treasonous raid got off scot free. A Senate investigating committee drew back from probing too deeply into Dr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s and other respectable New Englanders’ connection with Brown’s demented raid, although, as Carroll and Faulk say, grand

jury proceedings would have been justified by the documentary evidence. "Times definitely were extraordinary," so Carroll and Faulk sum it up, "when … Emerson and Henry David Thoreau could proclaim a murderous monomaniac like John Brown ‘an angel of light’ and made him a martyr." But when church organizations provide money that leads to guerrilla killings in South Africa , the "Brown syndrome" seems a little less extraordinary.

A Hopeful Note

The Carroll-Faulk history ends on a hopeful note. There were gross excesses, the authors say, during the Vietnam War among the radical-chic and the youth culture. But, to continue with some final quotes, "as the United States approached the year of the Bicentennial, there was a growing mood of conservatism, a shift from the extremism of the Kennedy-Johnson years . . . public opinion had rejected the youth counterculture … also immutable, hopefully, is the basic good sense of the American people and their willingness to work to achieve the goals of a free society … present and future Americans can afford to do no less than their ancestors."

Altogether, the Carroll-Faulk history is the best to have come along since the late Garet Garrett’s The American Story. One hopes that it will have many editions. If it does, a good proofreader might be called in to correct a few annoying errors, such as the one that sets the Lindbergh transatlantic flight in June of 1927 instead of May, or the one that credits the invention of the cotton gin to "Ely," not Eli, Whitney. It is nitpicking to mention such things, but they might as well be cleared up.


AN OVERGOVERNED SOCIETY by W. Allen Wallis. Free Press, 301 pages.

Reviewed by William H. Peterson

How much government is the right amount of government?

For the past third of a century, W. Allen Wallis, chancellor of the University of Rochester , distinguished " Chicago School " economist, statistician and member of several Presidential commissions, has probed this question.

His collection of essays from 1942 to 1976 reveals an agile, far-reaching and remarkably consistent mind. It is a mind not unlike that of Nobel laureate in economics F.A. Hayek, who also has seen service at the University of Chicago and explored the nature of legislation and the state.

Applying Thoreau’s "that government is best which governs least" to American experience, Wallis finds decades of government intervention into our social and economic life have mostly come to naught and even less than naught. Costs exceed benefits. Ours is "an overgoverned society."

Proof, sadly, abounds. Wallis points out government now swallows up more than a third of the gross national product and destroys a lot of potential job-creating capital formation in the bargain. Moreover, he demonstrates taxes distort resource allocation and reduce economic efficiency. Progressive taxes diminish personal incentive. Profits are doubly punished, first as corporate income and again as dividends. Various other costs of tax compliance and legal avoidance dissipate still more economic potential.

In another essay, Wallis notes how government has fashioned the so-called energy crisis. It has prevented or impeded drilling offshore, it has impeded or prevented the construction of nuclear power plants, it has sharply reduced the mining of coal, it has regulated natural gas prices so as to retard exploration and encourage wasteful use, it has delayed construction of the Alaska pipeline by five years.

Again, he sees how Congress and the Food and Drug Administration have changed the U.S. from a leader to a laggard in developing new medicines. Citing work by pharmacologist William Wardell of the University of Rochester medical school, he says the U.S. was at least the 30th country to approve the anticancer drug adriamycin, the 41st country to approve the antimania drug lithium carbonate, the 51st country to approve the antituberculous drug rifampin. These delays have led to untold suffering and even death.

In addition, government contributed to a faltering economy, to bigger swings in the business cycle. Wallis blames Congress and the Federal Reserve. Congress has forged giant inflationary deficits. The Fed has allowed the money supply to grow erratically. And lately at a faster pace: money stock rose an average of 4 per cent a year from 1962 to 1966, 6 per cent a year from 1966 to 1971 and 7 per cent a year from 1971 to mid-1974. In the second half of 1974 money supply growth ground to a halt; the great recession of 1974-75 was on and its after-shocks are still felt.

So how much government is the right amount of government? Appropriately in this bicentennial era, Wallis opts for the original Constitutional design of limited government and individual freedom, of checks and balances, of the rule of law and not the rule of men. (A tax audit, observes the author, "involves sitting down across the table from a man—not a law.")

What can we do about our "over-governed society"? First, says W. Allen Wallis, perceive public opinion as the root of the problem, not ignorant or malevolent legislators. Then educate and communicate. Finally—and this may be his most challenging prescription—"discriminate in financial support between organizations, institutions, and individuals that are part of the problem and those that have a potential for doing something about it."

Related Articles


{{relArticle.author}} - {{relArticle.pub_date | date : 'MMMM dd, yyyy'}} {{relArticle.author}} - {{relArticle.pub_date | date : 'MMMM dd, yyyy'}}
{{article.Topic.Topic}} {{article.Topic.Topic}}