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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Duke Goes International

John Wayne was an actor who had established a reputation as a staunch supporter of conservative politics. In the late 70s shortly before his death in 1979, however, the Duke, as well as fellow conservative William F. Buckley Jr., took a stance in support of the Panama Canal Treaties brought about by President Carter, which was in direct opposition to most conservatives, particularly Ronald Reagan. Today’s document, a letter from January 30, 1978, has Wayne explaining the situation to Leonard Read. Sadly we do not have the enclosed documents Wayne had attached but as always he did sign it Duke.

The letter sees Wayne attempting for clarify his position. As he said in a letter to the US Senate in 1977, “I have studied the Treaty, and I support it based on my belief that America looks always to the future and that our people have demonstrated qualities of justice and reason for 200 years. That attitude has made our country a great Nation. The new Treaty modernizes an outmoded relation with a friendly and hospitable country. It also solves an international question with our other Latin American neighbors, and finally the Treaty protects and legitimates fundamental interests and desires of our Country.” He believed Reagan was completely wrong on the issue, as he said to Reagan in a letter, “Now I have taken your statement and I will show you point by goddamn point in the treaty where you are misinforming people. If you continue to make these erroneous remarks (I will) prove that you are not as thorough in your reviewing of this treaty as you say or are damned obtuse when it comes to reading the English language.”

The issue seems to be a difficult one as it was wrapped up in the usual political roadblocks. Buckley in his book on Reagan even claims Reagan privately supported the treaties. From the libertarian side Murray Rothbard wrote an article attacking the treaties called, the Treaty that Wall Street Wrote, attacking them as simply another instance of special privileges altering government action for their own gain.

Download the Letter from John Wayne to Leonard Read on January 30, 1978 here.

  • Nicholas Snow is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Kenyon College in the Department of Economics, and previously a Senior Lecturer at The Ohio State University Economics Department. His research focuses on the political economy of prohibition.