The famous British liberal Catholic historian Lord Acton once quipped that “power tends to be corrupt, and absolute power absolutely corrupts” and added that “great men are almost always bad men.” These quips have been repeated Annoyingly In polite society – often in an effort to look wise and bright. Its use is so common that it is common now.
This is unfortunate, because the quote has a deeper meaning. Once someone picks up the quote, the rest of it is read. Acton was actually punishing a co-historian who was very sorry for the popes who did bad things. He argued that the ruler, dead or alive, should be of a higher standard than the common man, the verdict becoming harsher with greater power. Historians must be the ones who gave the verdict, because “historical responsibility” needs to “fill the gap of legal responsibility”. They must be the executioners of the rulers’ reputation. “Hang them” is the motto that such executioners of the rulers’ reputation should survive.
Patrick Newman, in her Chronism: Liberty vs. Early Power America, 1607-1849 Published late last year, unconditionally accepting Acton’s call. Murray follows Rothbird and his footsteps Freedom has been conceivedNewman clarifies that American political history until 1849 was essentially a battle between the “forces of power” (i.e., the merchants) who sided with a powerful state and the “forces of independence” (i.e., liberal, classical liberals). In favor of a limited state and free market.
Newman argues that British colonial America shares many similarities with French and Spanish colonial America. Strong trade policies (such as navigation laws, production bans, defense tariffs, state-chartered monopolies) were commonplace. The only difference is that, for some reason, not being widely discussed by Newman, the British were much less able to apply the stated principles. For example, independence (and its guardians) could develop in the British colonial world in a way that it could not in other parts of the New World (or Old World). The American Revolution was, in Newman’s words, a pushback against Britain’s efforts to apply commercialism. The revolution was a commercialist victory for the “power of freedom” (Newman would call it a “liberal” victory).
Although the merchant principles were poorly applied, the ideas behind them were present. For example, the country’s independence from Britain meant that American businessmen could start lobbying more effectively for such a policy. An expert on public choice theory, Newman moved away from his views on the widely shared convention of public choice theorists and the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Instead of the victory of an open-world system that hinders the rulers’ ability to use their power in trade. With economic interest group hire, the convention was a complete but temporary victory for traders.
Above, I say “temporary” because Jeffersonians and their allies began to reinterpret the Constitution in an anti-commercial manner. After ascending to power in 1800, they used tools that merchants thought would ensure their lasting dominance to bring back merchant policies. That rollback was temporary, as the Jeffersonians were eventually corrupted by power and began to favor trade policy. Thus began the waltzing between “freedom and power” and it was repeated once again with the Jacksonian Revolution, whose artisans were eventually tainted by power.
This depiction of America’s Antibalm history is unique, and it is a valuable contribution that should not be dismissed abruptly.
First, it must be noted that Newman’s depiction of the 1787 Constitutional Convention is uniquely excellent. To be sure, Newman’s portrayal of the Convention as a commercial victory is not a novel. Murray Rothbird published it earlier, but only in scattered articles and in its unpublished fifth volume. Freedom has been conceived. Robert McGuire, in his Form a more perfect union Offer a fairly similar argument. However, McGuire’s writings are intended for readers with strong technical skills in econometrics, which are extremely valuable but not accessible to the general public. Newman’s contribution is to create an instinctive case with adequate details in a format that reaches many. Anyone who seeks to provide meat on the premise that America’s constitutional source is not wrapped in virtue and idealism must begin with Newman’s book. For this reason alone, the book should be held in high esteem and it should occupy a place of honor in anyone’s library.
Second, Newman’s case is much stronger than that. Many historians will look at its strong dichotomy between the “power of freedom” and the “power of power,” and the former is a major improvement in human welfare. This dichotomy, some would argue historically, is confirmed by empirical observation. If the power has the strongest hand in building the country’s institutions, then they should be credited for economic growth in America (and in other areas). Since America has grown faster than the Old World, faster than its northern neighbor (British North America) and faster than Latin America, the powers that be do not have to be as bad as Newman.
However, Newman’s story fits very well with the recent revision of the historical national record (a measure of economic growth). Take the recent article, for example Historical method By Frank Garman of Christopher Newport University. Garman has revised the data used to estimate revenue in the United States Almost 1800 and found that the dimensions were somewhat overestimated. Why is this relevant? Because in the available data, if the level of income is reduced on that original date, then the growth rate is higher. Since most of the period from 1800 to 1849 was marked by the presence of libertarians in office (even if their commitment to the cause diminished), this improved in Newman’s case. In addition, it means that the 1790s and 1800s – an era when the powers that be dominated – were about to show low growth. It also improves Newman’s case and suggests that its explanatory power should not be underestimated in explaining the broader trends in American economic history.
I can’t help but be impressed that Newman follows Acton’s call to use “historical responsibility” to “fill a lack of legal responsibility.” This may seem extreme to some, but the lack of this complete appreciation for a political actor allows the book to make a strong contribution to American political and economic history.