Taking the oath of office on March 4, 1897, Ohio native William McKinley inherited a nation facing troubling economic times. The Republican had just bested Nebraska Democrat William Jennings Bryan by an electoral vote margin of 271 to 176, sweeping all states north of the old Mason-Dixon Line and picking up Oregon, California, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana in the process.
According to Cynthia Clark Northrup’s The American Economy: A Historical Encyclopedia, by 1896 over one fourth of America’s railroad tracks were operating under receivership, an estimated 20 percent of workers had lost their jobs, and the young nation was facing the worst economic depression in its short history. Economic strife had set in throughout the land. The labor force was restless, businesses were struggling for survival, and American industry was aching.
Unlike his successor sworn in some 112 years later, McKinley promised not a treasure trove of new spending, one trillion dollars in new debt, or a feeding frenzy of pork barrel politics. Instead, he spoke plainly to the American people about the need to be judicious in determining spending priorities, urgent in the need to prevent the accumulation of debt, and determined to wipe out waste and abuse of public funds.
While President Obama signaled the certainty of priming the pump with neo-New Deal expenditures of the people’s money and increasing the already massive public debt, McKinley wisely warned in his 1897 inaugural address that "The best way for the Government to maintain its credit is to pay as it goes—not by resorting to loans, but by keeping out of debt—through an adequate income secured by a system of taxation, external or internal, or both."
While the incoming Obama team has given the green light for proceeding with the House of Representative’s $825 billion "stimulus" package that will drive the American economy further into the doldrums, McKinley warned that "The severest economy must be observed in all public expenditures, and extravagance stopped wherever it is found, and prevented wherever in the future it may be developed."
He went on to stipulate the only realistic method for repairing the ailing economy was by acknowledging that "If the revenues are to remain as now, the only relief that can come must be from decreased expenditures. But the present must not become the permanent condition of the Government. It has been our uniform practice to retire, not increase our outstanding obligations, and this policy must again be resumed and vigorously enforced."
McKinley’s plan was a far cry from the Obama administration’s desire to maintain the Third Bush Term by ratcheting up failed social spending and piling up debt—the very charge levied against John McCain last year.
In 2008 with the economy faltering, consumer confidence plummeting, unemployment on the rise, and debt accumulating all around them, Americans voted for change but got more of the same. In 1896 Americans faced similar disasters and voted for realism, prudence, and responsibility. With that choice they got a commitment to the gold standard and saw the tariff rise to protect American industry and workers. Today the result of Obama’s free-spending policies will be a persistently weak economy and further national decline. 112 years ago the penny-wise decisions of McKinley’s administration brought the economy roaring back.
McKinley believed that "a large annual surplus of revenue may invite waste and extravagance, inadequate revenue creates distrust and undermines public and private credit." Meanwhile, Obama and company served wagyu steaks and highballs to Congressional leaders this week in an effort to convince them to pass the House "stimulus" package—which they did without one Republican vote on Jan. 28.
This week the Labor Department indicated that the largest number of Americans in history—4.8 million—were receiving jobless benefits as of Jan. 17. Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats labored ferociously to load up a pork barrel spending bill under the guise of a recovery plan. At the end of the day, the Obama-backed bill will continue the trend of spending money that is not our own, doling out public funds for political purposes, and attempting to tax and spend America back to prosperity.
Unfortunately for the United States and those seeking a return to fiscal accountability and common sense, Bill McKinley is not at the helm, the federal government has usurped just about every decision making function in the land, national debt is now the norm, and rather than stamping out "waste and extravagance," Washington welcomes it. Such ill-conceived policies will expedite the fall of the Republic and the total collapse of our economy.
Welcome to the first 100 days in the America of Pelosi, Obama, Frank, and Reid.
Nathan R. Shrader can be reached at [email protected]