Conservative Heroes by Garland S. Tucker III illustrates and describes what it means to be an American conservative in the lives and writings of fourteen people. Garland Tucker identifies five concepts of conservative political philosophy. 1. A realistic view of sinful human nature as opposed to the utopian, optimistic view of progressivism. 2. The primary role of government is to establish order and preserve liberty. 3. The scope of government is to be limited, not interventionist. 4. Human rights include property rights. Economic equality is not to be pursued at the expense of others. 5. The social and political life of the country depends on private virtues which are part of the divine order.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison expounded the view that the Constitution restricts the federal government’s powers. “That government is best which governs least.” Taxation should not take away the bread that is earned by the laborer.
Nathaniel Macon and John Randolph opposed new extensions of federal power and increasing appropriations. Macon wrote: “Almost every bill reported is to take money out of the Treasury. It must be thought by some that a public debt is a public blessing and all who live on the public, no doubt think, the more taxes the better, and that every tax adds to industry; from such I wish to be delivered.”
John C. Calhoun championed moderate taxes, frugality in Government, economy, accountability and a rigid application of the public money to the payment of debt, and to the objects authorized by the Constitution. He was concerned about the despotic power of the majority and the need to preserve liberty for minorities (i.e. the South).
Grover Cleveland promoted economy in moral terms to limit the right of the Government to exact tribute from its citizens. “To raise taxes from the public to cover expenditures in any amount beyond the most basic services amounted to extortion in the name of taxation.” He vetoed bills that would “indulge a benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public finds.” He would not allow the government to do what charity could do.
Calvin Coolidge and Andrew Mellon reduced taxes in order to promote general economic growth and to encourage people to work. Coolidge stated: “I want the people of America to be able to work less for the government and more for themselves. I want them to have the rewards of their own industry. This is the chief meaning of freedom.” To Coolidge and Mellon it was immoral for the government to take one penny more from the taxpayer than was absolutely necessary to maintain law and order and provide the most basic services. They felt that the burden of taxation falls hardest on the poor. It is interesting that the same argument you hear today characterizing tax relief as favoring the rich was made in 1926.
Josiah W. Bailey and John W. Davis were two eloquent Southern Democrats who opposed the New Deal and FDR’s attempts to pack the Supreme Court and intervene in the economy. Davis’s personal philosophy was articulated in the American Liberty League he helped to found. “I believe in the right of private property, the sanctity and binding power of contracts; the duty of self-help. I am opposed to confiscatory taxation, wasteful expenditure, socialized industry and a planned economy controlled and directed by government functionaries. I believe these things to be inimical to human liberty and destructive of American ideals.”
Robert A. Taft, Mr. Republican from Ohio, echoed the message of his conservative predecessors. He believed that opportunity and not security was the goal of the American people.
William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan make up the last chapter. Their courage, convictions and communication skills wrested the control of the Republican Party from the liberal eastern establishment to form the conservative party of today. In his inaugural address, January 20, 1981, Reagan proclaimed that “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
In his epilogue Tucker leaves three thoughts. 1. Ideas have consequences. Conservative philosophy is based on fundamental truths. 2. It is important to study history. To know where we should go, it is essential to know where we have been. Tucker has served us well by reminding us of the history of these men and their times. 3. Graciousness and civility are not outdated political attributes. Quoting Lord Tweedsmuir: “Public life is a worthy ambition. Politics is still the greatest and most honorable adventure.”
In these days when there is so little trust in politicians we need this encouragement.