William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

What’s The Worst Moment in US History?

If you can’t read the tweet, it is a poll. It asks Worst Moment in US History with selections (the percents of 42 votes, current as of posting time):

  • G.W. refuses monarchy (17%)
  • Lincoln’s bloody war (10%)
  • Wilson’s war of empire (21%)
  • President Hillary (52%)

Now this is Twitter and characters are limited, so it wasn’t possible to list more than a handful of events. I also couldn’t explain that I meant to strictly limit it to US history, which means the rebellion against England doesn’t count since the US was not yet.

G.W. is, of course, George “The-Not-First” Washington. It is better to say Washington didn’t pursue a monarchy than that he turned it down, and it’s not a good bet he would have got it even if he did have himself fitted for a crown. But it’s fun to ponder what might have been had we adopted a non-suicidal form of government. I didn’t vote, but this would have been my choice.

Lincoln couldn’t bear for States to act independently, and he didn’t bear it. Before hyperventilating about slavery (I’m assuming none of my readers ever owned any or were one), don’t forget Lincoln wanted to “repatriate” blacks to Africa. We’re in the Land of Counterfactuals, so anything goes. If the South forced a truce before Sumter, I’m guessing the North, which would have turned into a bloc, would have invaded one or more of the Southern states, in much the same way we even now aggressively seek to export the blessings of democracy. So we might now be in the same shape.

Wilson, in full export mode, allowed the marvel of an unconditional surrender of Germany, and we all know where that went. Not the least of which was this: Russia falls, Communism rises, gifting us with an unimaginable body count. Wilson was also not so nice with Americans who opposed his European adventures.

I can’t see how we can now recover limited government. If it’s at all consoling, all democracies end in tyranny, rebellion, or revolution. But surely hastening our demise would be installing the evilest person we’ve ever had as President. Trump would be far from ideal, but Hillary would cackle her way toward mandated Utopia. Perhaps she, like the Lincoln the Great, would suspend habeas corpus for even more video creators. Hillary’s ideal? Think of Logan’s Run with embedded Islamic terror cells. The old joke that Everything That Isn’t Forbidden Is Mandatory would replace the old Constitution, if not at the start of her reign, then soon after its end.

Obviously many more events then my four suggest themselves, such as the throwing over of the perfectly good Articles of Confederation for the adoption of a Constitution with an ill-considered Bill of Rights. Those initial amendments, as Hamilton warned, gave government the idea that its power was unlimited. And boy did it stay with that idea. What’s that? You never heard Hamilton’s objections? You must have attended a government-run school.

I go further, and affirm, that Bills of Rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretence for claiming that power.

Et cetera. Well, we all know how Hamilton ended.

Perhaps the Spanish-American war—remember who might have blowed up (yes: blowed up) the Maine!—is on your list. Maybe FDR hardening nascent socialism (hello Social Security), maybe his gleefully carving up Europe with the tyrant Stalin. Maybe the creation of an income tax so that the government knows all your most intimate secrets, and uses the money from the same to grow, grow, grow. Maybe Bush, elder or junior, galavanting around the Middle East exporting more Democracy—and we know where that led, too.

I can’t see our Obama as the worst moment, even though he did his level best to have the State replace God. Obama had helpers, too, primarily all Democrats in Congress and nearly all Republicans. And all these people were only digging the same hole created earlier. They only quickened the pace slightly.

What say you?

50 Comments

  1. Not the worst, perhaps, but terrible and a must for the list of choices: Roe v. Wade SCOTUS decision.

    Hamilton’s viewpoint is naive. That politicians wouldn’t think to grab more power unless it was suggested to them is a fantasy. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Because governments find ways to acquire the power to do things that should not be done. The evidence is overwhelming.

  2. England hasn’t decided yet whether America is allowed to be independent.

  3. Gary,

    So many SCOTUS decisions are the worst moment. The ones that remade the commerce clause, for example.

  4. When was Hillary the president in history? None of them is my choice of the worst moment in US history. I am thinking about what events have changed people’s life in good ways.

    What did Obama do to have the State replace God? Is this a good or bad thing? What does it mean to have the State replace God? Is he supposed to run the government in the name of God? Mr. Briggs, for the I-don’t-remember-how-many-but-a-lot times, your politics stinks.

  5. President Hillary should be disqualified as it hasn’t happened yet.

  6. As I told my niece for one of her school projects, I consider the creation of the pill to have been the most influential event on society, and not in a good way. It gave women an option to run wild and ignore biology, replace men with government spending, and tear apart families and replace them with the nonsense we today refer to as family. It shattered that which kept societies together for centuries.

    Joy: Nice one!

    JH: The state replacing God is never a good thing, nor is the state claiming to be on the side of God. No one runs the government in the name of God—God himself made that very clear. Rome was Rome, God is God. The two shall never entwine. Saying “In God we trust” (which is no longer true, of course) on money is not the state representing God. It’s a statement of belief of the individuals in the states. The State can hold no position on God, including forcing people to not worship God as they see fit.

  7. JH and MattS

    Perhaps Briggs is suggesting President Hillary as a Fait Accompli?

    Is Bob Kurland making emigration plans?

  8. Far more entertaining, and sometimes much more illuminating [than the above] to read postmodernist generator-generated essays such as:

    http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=219

    http://alunsalt.com/2008/03/04/like-the-postmodernism-generator-but-funnier/

  9. The ones that remade the commerce clause, for example.

    Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942), springs to mind.

  10. I’m abstaining until you expand the list.

  11. Might I suggest a good dose of Charles Murray?
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00N6PBGM2

    I think this is his last gasp at trying to find a way to get us out of the mess we are in. He stops just short of advocating armed revolt. But I do think that legal defense funds & reimbursement of fines might be a good place to start. Overwhelm the regulatory state. Take them to court every single time. Make the busybodies and nebby nosers waste hours and hours in discovery. I’m not convinced that it could work, particularly because of the large number of people who act like slaves that just want their master to be nice to them, but it’s a start.

  12. Geezer,

    Yes, thank you! That was the one I had in mind but couldn’t remember.

    I saw a talk on this topic: http://fee.org/articles/15-supreme-court-decisions-that-shredded-the-constitution/ that was pretty good (the talk, not the sadness that comes from it).

  13. Also, given the Trump Train, one should remember Sallust: “Few men desire liberty; most men wish only for a just master.”

  14. JH, MattS & John B():
    It has been suggested that Hillary was president by proxy during Bill’s two terms.

  15. There doesn’t seem to be any respite from the utter ridiculous hyperbole of the Right these days. You’re like children.

    JMJ

  16. Briggs

    March 2, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    JMJ,

    What impresses me most about you (and maybe Ken and JH) is the intricacy of your arguments. Subtle stuff; deep.

    All,

    Hillary winning is a counterfactual, as are all the other answers. I say these are worst because if they had no happened things would have been better. How do I know this? I don’t. Nobody can. But we can argue counterfactually.

  17. JMJ, The Right has a lot of catching up to do hyperbole-wise.

  18. JMJ: Kettle-pot. Pot-kettle. (Of course if you’re referring to the current election cycle, most of the candidates look like pre-schoolers and the ones that don’t are losing and dropping out. The only civil candidate was Ben Carson and he’s at rock bottom. Sanders might be considered civil and at least says what he means so far as one can tell. So I would say you’re observation pretty much applies to all of the candidates in this race. They are either juvenile in behaviour, liars or both. It’s a sad state of affairs, but apparently the American population has the mental capacity of toddlers when it comes to politics. That may be the worst moment in our history.)

  19. For the U.S., I have to think starting the EPA and more importantly the start of the Dept. of Education, which started the precipitous drop in actual education, should be on the list. However, income tax, sadly exacerbated by Milton Friedman’s automatic withholding, is #1. Tyranny through regulation in general if you want a category.

    Worldwide, without a doubt, it’s Marxism/communism/collectivism/socialism. This ideology destroys, corrupts and subjugates everything it touches. Without the useful idiots who think the bad things will only affect to other side of the aisle, it wouldn’t survive.

  20. Ranking right up there would have to be the failure of Congress to enact a balanced budget amendment, leaving our esteemed representatives with virtually unlimited funds with which to buy blocks of votes from crony special interests, not to mention funding all sorts of military misadventures around the globe, squandering the lives of many of our brave soldiers. Im afraid the corruption has reached a tipping point and there is no hope of return. The road to serfdom appears to be a one way street.

  21. But we can argue counterfactually.

    We can? Such exercise is nothing but a reflection of our own prejudices.

  22. Briggs

    March 2, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    JH,

    Yes, I made it up. It was heretofore today a completely unknown term. These references are thus spurious.

  23. re: “What’s The Worst Moment in US History?” Briggs

    When the Anti-Federalists lost. The game was up at that point. Perhaps there never was a game ever as men are not Angels.

    re: “They [Presidential Candidates] are either juvenile in behaviour, liars or both.

    Democracy is a device where fools rule; lying by candidates is de rigueur.

    Dan kurt

  24. I’m going to go with President Wilson. WWI, women’s suffrage (bear with me), the beginning of the final campaign of the Puritan invasion of the rest of the nation. FDR, Kennedy, LBJ, Clinton, Obama: their bad ideas all have their roots in that Ivy League invasion, where the “best and brightest” got to decide for the rest of us.

  25. James,
    Roe v. Wade lead directly to the deaths of and estimated 58 million Americans (so far). Hard to think of a SCOTUS decision that overwhelming and irrevocable (the consequences, not the decision). Yes, some would have occurred anyway, but this one act on January 22, 1973 gave license and encouragement.

  26. Hillary Clinton is a mainstream Baby-Boomer Democrat. The GOP may lose the Senate this election, only to likely regain it in 2018. The House looks to remain Republican for the next few cycles at least.

    Expect little change, let alone any major change, to come with a Clinton Presidency. Anyone who tells you otherwise simply doesn’t understand modern American politics.

    JMJ

  27. ” If it’s at all consoling, all democracies end in tyranny, rebellion, or revolution”

    It has been a very long while since a democracy ended in tyranny or rebellion. The earliest would be the Roman which wasn’t really a democracy to begin with, and the Greeks (Athen) who accepted to surrender power to a little group of wealthy man.

    But it’s very telling about you that you would love a monarchy as long as your group would be the one in power.

    This proves that conservatives don’t care for the constitution, only themselves. Which is why conservative are the worst terrorist (sovereign citizen are conservatives) in the US.

  28. The three stab wounds that led to the demise of The Republic, and it’s replacement by The Empire:
    1. Marbury vs. Madison, 1804, effecting the supremacy of the courts over the other two branches (except for Andrew Jackson, who laughed at the courts);
    2. The War of Northern Aggression, making These United States into The United Staes, effecting the change from the union of free sovereigns into the unity of one sovereign;
    3. The disasterous year of 1913, with direct election of Senators, Income taxation and the re-creation of the National Bank (The Fed), sealing the end of state’s sovereignty, preparing for the payment of the planned World War, and finally, for the gradual financial enslavement of all by way of inflation.

    All the rest (Civil War, WWI, the Depression, WWII, ad nauseum…….) are simply the results of these abominations. And nothing will change them until a stronger Empire emerges. Which is now happening, in Moscow. Brush up on your Russian, Komrades!

  29. Mr. Briggs,

    Yes, I made it up

    What is “it’?

    Hmm… a link that leads me to an academic site, not mail online or a blogger or a conservative media!!!

    Why do you say, sarcastically or not, the contents in the link are spurious? It’s simply a literature review of counterfactual theories of causation.

    Pick any of the counterfactual theories of causation disseminated in the link. For example, according to Lewis,

    ”where c and e are two distinct actual events, then e causally depends on c if and only if, if c were not to occur e would not occur.”

    He basically defines the condition for causal dependence between two events counter-factually.

    I don’t think any of the theories describes what you mean by saying But we can argue counter factually. If I am wrong, please do show me any of this counterfactual theory of causation fit into your Hillary-the-Worst-President-In- History scenario.

  30. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 2, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Monarchy degenerates into tyranny because the initial king’s virtue degenerates in his descendants, who are born to power. When the tyrant becomes unbearable the powerful men take over and become an aristocracy, but their virtue too degenerates into an oligarchy over time. This corrupt oligarchy is overthrown eventually and replaced by a democracy. But the democracy too becomes corrupt when people discover they can vote money for themselves out of the public treasury and elected politicians succeed by promising such monies. Eventually, this corruption is ended by a Leader who emerges by promising to set things back in order by the force of his paramount will: the man on horseback who starts a new monarchy.

    This is why I will not vote for the son, wife, brother, or other relative of a previous president (or senator or whatever). This is also why terms should be limited, as Aristotle declared. And why the best aspects of monarchies, aristocracies, and democracies need to be blended into a republic. However, Aristotle also thought that they best foundation for good government was a large middle class and sound education, so sabotaging both of those is proving fruitful for the main demagogues in the field: Pompey and Caesar.

  31. “Everything That Isn’t Forbidden Is Mandatory”

    T.H. White in “Once and Future King” where Merlin the magician is taking young Arthur into an ant colony. The idea is probably ancient but I think this is the usual attribution.

    The worst moment in US History is probably the American Civil War. But it came on the heels of many bad moments and has engendered many more bad moments.

    Some moments aren’t bad per se, but created opportunity for great and grave mischief; such as the Federal Reserve and national debt. When the national debt chicken comes home to roost things are going to be very bad.

  32. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 2, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    When money was gold or at least had to be backed by gold, people were forced into poverty because the population grew faster than the gold supply, and that meant there were fewer dollars available per person, no matter how hard they worked. It didn’t help that some people tried to corner the gold market.

    When money became paper in order to alleviate this evil, by printing more and more such money to keep up with the population growth, the value of the individual dollar declined until it achieved its true value as a finely engraved piece of denim paper, and people were forced into poverty from the other side. It didn’t help that some people tried to simulate prosperity by printing more money than that required to keep up with the population.

    Every bad outcome starts with a good intention, usually from both directions.

  33. JMJ: I actually agree with you. As I have said, Congress is the weak point in all of this. If nothing changes there (and I mean changes in behaviours after the people are elected—as in keeping their promises), nothing else will change. Change seems highly unlikely at this point.

    John Watkins: The War of Northern Aggression! My mother was one of the few people I knew who used that term (she was from Texas).

    YOS: I am guessing you mean all terms should be limited so we don’t have lifetime senators and representatives in Congress.
    We certainly failed on sound education…..

  34. YOS,

    Your first paragraph doesn’t make any sense to me. When were people forced into poverty by the gold standard?

  35. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 2, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    There were repeated depressions caused by a shortage of hard currency because there could never be more money than there was gold.

  36. YOS,

    When? You might also want to read this article as well as the first comment.

    https://mises.org/library/long-history-government-meddling-american-marketplace

  37. Sylvain, you said “It has been a very long while since a democracy ended in tyranny or rebellion.”

    Second Spanish Republic, 1939 (ended in tyranny)
    Second Hellenic Republic, 1935 (ended in tyranny)
    Weimar Republic, 1933 (ended in tyranny)
    French Second Republic, 1851 (ended in tyranny)
    French First Republic, 1804 (ended in tyranny)
    Many earlier republics had devolved to de facto monarchies, then the Napoleonic wars sorted them out.

    Is that a “long while”? If anything, history seems to indicate that we’re about due for another round of revolution…

  38. YOS – See this about the so-called “gold shortage” problem.

    https://mises.org/library/contra-bernanke-gold-standard

    “Once it is realized that in a free market money is a commodity, it is obvious that, in similarity to other goods and services, its exchange value cannot stay still but will vary in accordance with supply and demand”

  39. Nate,

    All your example were short live regime that were either imposed (Weimar), or never correctly established.

    This almost happened to the USA if it were not for GW power grab in its first presidential term. After he realize that it was ungovernable.

  40. Nate, good link. I was on board with YOS until gold became something that made people poor.

    I can’t find the pdf from Mises.org about deflation that I think is appropriate, so this will have to do:

    https://mises.org/library/anatomy-deflation

    It’s only tangential to the gold issue, but there are some concepts in there that I think play to issues with constant supplies of money (like a gold standard).

  41. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 2, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    It’s not a matter of whether a twenty dollar gold piece increases in value if it is more in demand or if it is in low supply. It is that if it is in low supply there are not enough of them to go around.

  42. YOS,

    Your position seems to be based on a model of what you think should be the case and not on what really happens. You still have not given me a specific historical example to support your claim of the gold standard producing poverty.

  43. Dr K.A. Rodgers

    March 2, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    Returning to the worst moments:

    Annexation of Texas and invasion of Mexico 1844-46

  44. John B(),

    “Perhaps Briggs is suggesting President Hillary as a Fait Accompli?”

    Even if it is a fait accompli, it still isn’t history until after it’s actually happened.

  45. Yos, I think we are taking cross purposes. 20 dollars in a gold standard simply represents a specific amount of gold. One can simply melt the “gold piece” down into divisible pieces. That’s one of the advantages of gold as money.

  46. YOS: Doesn’t the absence of gold lead to poverty or to a creative accounting system using other forms of currency and barter? Money is basically whatever people agree to use as an accounting system for purchases.

    I suppose had Briggs used “Obama as President” the point would have been made and we wouldn’t be arguing about whether Hillary is part of history or not.

  47. “Yos, I think we are taking cross purposes. 20 dollars in a gold standard simply represents a specific amount of gold”

    Nothing has an absolute value that it keeps over time.

  48. I think that you are confused Sylvain – once upon a time “dollar” was defined as a certain amount of gold in much the same way that “pound sterling” once meant a literal pound of sterling silver. However, sound money policies help keep the government honest and we can’t have that.

    The other reason that governments hate the gold standard is that it is slightly deflationary, but this is bad only for government deficits whereas it is good for the rest of use. Deflation produces a net increase in wealth or more accurately is the natural result of wealth increase. This is easily seen in Moore’s Law where computer memory gets cheaper and cheaper but is somehow not understood elsewhere. Given the advancing farming technology and a world food glut, food prices should be declining. They may be if you factor in inflation (defined as government running the printing presses) but it is hard to say as government regulations distort the market in many ways. The lack of sound money is especially hard on retirees on a fixed pension income.

  49. Scotian

    A dollars value fixed to an amount of gold doesn’t mean that the amount of gold has an absolute value.

  50. Sylvain,

    You mean the amount of goods that you can purchase with your gold varies with the laws of supply and demand. Of course, but please reread the original statement that you incorrectly disagreed with.

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