A Presidents’ Day Shout Out to Grover Cleveland

In honor of Presidents’ Day, let’s revisit a topic from one of our Nineteenth Century Presidents. Grover Cleveland has the distinction of being one of America’s most prolific users of the veto pen (second only to FDR, who, let’s be honest, was elected to four terms to Cleveland’s modest two.)

Following droughts in Texas, Congress passed an appropriations bill to spend $10,000 (about $289,000 in today’s dollars) to buy seed for farmers whose crops had failed. President Cleveland vetoed the bill and issued what would become one of his most famous veto messages:

“I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”

This quote addresses one of the main criticisms I hear when I talk about limited government. Many people ask me, “If not for the government, who would help the less fortunate? Who would help in a time of need?” The questioner makes a faulty assumption: if the government does not step in, then no one will.

The assumption ignores hundreds of years of history where charity was squarely a private endeavor administered through churches and faith organizations, guilds and mutual aid societies. Since the days of Grover Cleveland, our federal government has assigned itself a far-reaching role as a provider of assistance to the needy.  Theodore Roosevelt famously proposed his “Square Deal.” Not to be outdone, FDR proposed a “New Deal.” Following this act, Lyndon Johnson had his “Great Society” and “War on Poverty” initiatives.  Currently Barack Obama has made a theme of saying wealthier Americans need to pay more in taxes (i.e., “their fair share”) so the federal government can continue to fund ever growing entitlement programs.

But can government effectively address issues of poverty? Is it the most efficient provider of aid? The answer to this question relates back to my faith in the individual and the spirit of mankind to help fellow man. It isn’t that those in favor of limited government don’t want to help others; it’s that they know the government is often the least efficient way of doing so. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Civil Disobedience, “[The] government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.”

Just this past holiday season, a heartwarming story in the news told of citizens going into K-Mart and paying off the layaway accounts of random customers. During October 2011’s unprecedented snowfall, one of my relatives lost power for days. It wasn’t the government that stepped in to lend a hand to my disabled uncle; rather, it was his neighbor who had his own generator who ran an industrial-strength electric cord between the houses to run my uncle’s refrigerator, saving him hundreds of dollars in food. My husband’s family, after being burdened with serious medical expenses, witnessed the love of fellow man when family friends organized a town-wide fundraiser. The town raised enough money to cover hospital expenses, pay for the family to fly out to the hospital in the middle of the country, and stay long enough to see their loved one heal. It wasn’t government aid, but the love of friends, that made this possible.

We must never lose faith in the spirit of the individual to do good. It’s only when we lose faith in ourselves that we fall prey to the belief that the government is the best and only way to solve our problems. Visionaries like Orson Wells saw it clearly. If we lose faith in each other and ourselves, we turn to the government to be our “Big Brother,” to take care of us under the mistaken belief that we can no longer take care of ourselves. And once we delegate all of our being, all of our power, all of our selves, to that amorphous entity known as “the government,” we give up the gift with which human beings have been blessed, the spirit of man.

The Winter is My Discontent by Val Muller

Growing up in Connecticut, I’ve had my fair share of winter. There were years when we had to shovel the yard—just to create a pathway to the woodpile. I always knew I hated snow. It’s just that when asked, I could never quite explain my reasoning.

When I moved to Pennsylvania, snow still tormented me. Once, while living in a small city, my car was plowed in under five feet of the white stuff. Even though the office was closed and I had nowhere to go, I awoke early to dig out my car. Everyone else was still inside enjoying the first of four snow days. But not me.

“Just relax,” everyone told me. “Winter is a slow time. A cozy time.” Indeed, even the local news was warning people against extraneous shoveling due to heart attack risk. “Have a cup of hot chocolate and come watch a movie marathon with us,” everyone said. “Leave your car for later. Besides, the plow will make a second pass, and that will make it easier to shovel.”

But I couldn’t. It wasn’t mere stir-crazy running through my veins and driving me to dig. There was an animal pacing inside me, breathing and snorting and waiting, an animal bothered by some terrible, oppressive force.

It was the lack of freedom.

Snowed in and living in a city, I was dependent on so many factors for my very survival. The grocery store was three miles away, an impossible walk in so much snow. The electric lines hung precariously under ancient, snow-laden branches. The hospital located only a mile down the street became a treacherous half-globe away, with city sidewalks still buried under freshly-packed snow from the plow. The snow had drastically reduced my freedoms, and it was that which nagged me.

Without cleared roads, a medical emergency could become a death sentence. Without cleared roads, a downed power line could become a survival situation. In the middle of a city, there aren’t forests to forage, nor animals to hunt or wood to chop. I was in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s nightmare. I was completely reliant on the city—a nonhuman, bureaucratic entity. And so I cleared my car so that at the very least, I had the freedom to move. And when my car had been cleared, those movie marathoners certainly had no qualms about asking for rides.

It occurred to me then just why I love spring and summer, and detest the winter.

It has to do with freedom.

Spring offers the ultimate opportunity for self-reliance. It is in the spring that we can choose to sow the seeds of a new garden. It is in the spring when the ground thaws. The narrow path from back door to woodpile has opened to encompass any other possibility—an open plain rather than a series of constricting coordinates. We can chart new paths in our own yard or move about and discover new ones beyond it. Our cars are parked unfettered, ready to drive off at a moment’s notice.

The winter, with her mounds of snow and frozen ground, confines us, forces us to rely on society and trust that we will be provided for. We sit around and wait for the plow. Or the utility company. Winter prevents us from acting for ourselves.

And that inability to act in order to make our own lives better—that lack of self-reliance—contradicts the very spirit of man.

It’s why we need something to occupy us when awaiting news from the doctor. It’s why we push ourselves harder each day at the gym or challenge ourselves to read more or tackle the most difficult of the Sudoku puzzles. It’s why I shoveled feet and feet of snow off my car despite having nowhere to go.

Man must be given the freedom to act in order to improve himself.

Freedom is the summer night during which we can sleep under the stars and make campfires and roast marshmallows and grill dinner—dinner we caught ourselves, if we so desire. It is the carefree summer days when we are given leave to go on an exotic vacation or tackle our pile of books-to-be-read or go back to school or write a novel or learn how to quilt. And what a wonderful life if summer were to last forever.

Nature provides us with enough winter, enough opportunities when we are forced to rely on others. We need not produce our own winter in the form of a government that encourages too much reliance on others. A government that tells me it knows what is best for me and my money. A government that would rather I wait for the snow plow than excavate my own car. A government that tells me if I work too hard, I deserve to pay more money for those who don’t—or that I should give those who chose not to dig out their own cars a ride to the store in my newly-shoveled car.

If you ask me, I’d take the soft chirping of crickets against the harsh scraping of a city plow any day.

About the Author:

VAL MULLER is a fiction writer and teacher living in Virginia.  Her first novel Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive is a middle-grade mystery.  You can keep track of her at www.valmuller.com

February 14 Guest Blog

Submit an original blog post of approximately 850 words.  Theme should incorporate freedom and *sigh* LOVE (of course)!  General comments under “Blog/Guest Blog Entries” on our Submission Guidelines page will also be areas for consideration.  That’s it!  We’ve never been big on rules unless absolutely necessary, so have fun with it.  Your submission should be sent to freedomforgepress (at) gmail (dot) com with Subject: “February 14 Guest Blog Submission”.  Entries are due by 11:59pm EST Friday, February 10, 2012.

Winning entry will be posted to the website–at this time no financial payment is possible, but you will have full bragging rights that your posting will win the hearts of Valentine’s Day fans across the world!

When Life Gives You Lemons, Apply for a Permit

As a kid I played baseball for a company-sponsored baseball team in the spring.  During the games sno-cone, pretzel, or ice cream vendors would come by selling treats.  They were all very unorganized, very delicious, and very unregulated.  Somehow I and my fellow ball players and their families managed to survive season after season without a single case of food poisoning.  As it turns out, snack vendors prosper when they’re not killing off their customers or making them sick with contaminated products.

This sort of free-for-all in rural Pennsylvania in the late 1980s, with its raw, unpolished marketplace, with its lack of formal licensing, with its voluntary participation by vendor and customer, must have caused nightmares for a group of government officials in Multnoma County, Oregon.

You’ve heard of these guys, right?  This is the group of officials who threatened 7-year-old Julie Murphy with a $500 fine because she did not possess a $120 temporary restaurant license in order to operate a lemonade stand from which she hawked her lemonade at a price of 50 cents per cup.

Officials hid behind the classic “rules is rules” argument that I hear all too frequently these days.  The city was just trying to regulate health codes and can’t pick and choose when to enforce rules. One official was quoted as saying that they certainly understand the point of having a neighborhood event to raise revenue, but that the public health must come first.

Is the public so unable to fend for itself that its very safety is threatened by a 7-year old trying to sell lemonade?  The long arm of the law and its muscle must surely be flexed in order to protect an unsuspecting populace from the wiles of a business savvy 7 year old who no doubt intended to spread E coli throughout the community, one 50-cent cup of lemonade at a time.

The local government officials have a point.  The water in the lemonade might be contaminated.  The plastic cups are certainly not environmentally friendly if not recycled properly.  No doubt the stand must have caused some traffic pattern disturbances.  But freedom is not without its risks.  And voluntary participation is key.  If you fear your local lemonade stand proprietor, then your choice is simple: keep driving and don’t buy.  Mistakes in a free society can and do happen.  But mistakes are just that—mistakes.  They’re not opportunities to enact layer upon layer of regulation in a vain attempt to regulate away all of life’s risks in order to appease the interest group with key voter demographics or campaign cash.  Clearly a balance must exist between the right to pursue happiness by running a lemonade stand and the collectivist notion of “the greater good.”

That’s why Freedom Forge Press was created.  We’ll gather the stories like this from around the country (and world) and tell it like it is in an effort to promote maximum freedom and individual liberty as the birthright of all mankind.  These are not gifts of government but inherent rights we possess by being humans.  Governments exist to secure and protect rights—not to create them.  Think of the danger in this.  A government that creates and bestows rights to its citizens is a government that can surely take these same rights away.

Thanks for reading and please consider joining the discussion at www.facebook.com/FreedomForge, freedomforgepress.wordpress.com, or @FreedomForgeLLC on Twitter.

Introducing Freedom Forge Press, LLC

Stay tuned for details about Freedom Forge Press, LLC.

We are a small-press looking to publish high-quality fiction and non-fiction that promotes the themes of freedom and the spirit of the individual. We are a nonpartisan organization: we look only to promote the idea of freedom and limited government.

If you would like to guest blog on these themes, please contact us at submissions (at) freedomforgepress (dot) com.