Generals Make Lackluster Presidents


Consider this unique fact, 12 of our United States Presidents have held the rank of General in the United States Army. None held the same rank in the Marine Corps or Air Force and there has never been an Admiral attain the Presidency. Does this mean that Americans have viewed Army Generals as better suited for the Presidency, or just that they are more in the spotlight during wartime? Certainly none of the Army Generals who have attained the Presidency had stellar Presidencies. In fact, more times than not the former General turned President has been a controversial figure in his own time as well as in ours. The Presidents who have served this nation as Generals fall into two categories: Forgotten and Controversial. Only one of our General turned Presidents has been remembered in a positive light: George Washington. Yet, even his Presidency was forgettable if it weren’t for the fact he was the first President.

Of those Presidents who were Generals and have been forgotten by History, there were: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Tyler, Franklin Pierce, US Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. William Henry Harrison is largely forgotten for one simple fact: his Presidency lasted exactly one month. In fact, aside from Grant, Garfield, and Eisenhower most of these Presidents are totally forgotten by history. Grant and Eisenhower are by far the most well-known of these three Presidents, having served as the General of the Armies during the Civil War and WWII respectfully. In both cases the men were remembered more for their on field conquests and less for their Oval Office successes.  James Garfield was the second President to be slain by an assasian, having died 6 months and 15 days into his Presidency.  All of these men deserve the respect of a grateful nation for serving our nation in both the Military and Presidency. They respresent one key fact, however, and is just because you were a General doesn’t mean you should be President.

Two men in our Nation’s history have gained attention not because they were great Generals, although one was, but because they served very controversial Presidencies. Andrew Jackson, called by his contempories “King Andrew I” was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. As a President he was known to ignore his political enemies, basically everyone, and to veto any legislation he didn’t agree with, almost everything. Jackson was the first President to receive a Censure from Congress and was the first President after the epic fall of the Era of Good Feelings (which ended when he first tried to attain the Presidency and lost to John Q. Adams in 1824.) Jackson’s record is most tarneshed for his Indian Policy, which resulted in the Indian Removal Act that saw Tribes relocated from the East to the Great Plains.

Like Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson was less remembered by history for his military service during the Civil War and more for his failed Presidency. To give some credit to Johnson, he was expected to follow in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assasination. Johnson was a southerner by birth, Tennessee,  and a Democrat but remained loyal to the Union when the South seceded. He struggled with his Congress over the question of Reconstruction and was eventually impeached twice (more than any other President) but escaping conviction both times. Little is actually remembered about Andrew Johnson’s Presidency that would be classified as “good”.

So while we celebrate President’s Day today, the third Monday of the Month of February, we should remember that just because one was a General doesn’t mean that one should be President of the United States. None of our General-Presidents have turned out all that great for the United States.

Emergence of the American Military Power


Have you ever wondered where the military power of the United States came from? We haven’t always been a super power capable of destroying our enemies, our friends, and ourselves.  For most of the early years of the American republic we had to rely on allies to assists us in our military campaigns. The French aided us in the American Revolution, although we did have minor successes prior to their entry into the war. We fought to a stalemate with the English during the War of 1812, yet our Nation’s Capital was burned down.

We were able to defeat the Mexicans during the Mexican-American War, but we still weren’t a super power. We had to rely on the British to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that the Western Hemisphere is closed to European Colonization. Yet, one event in American History stands alone as ushering in the advent of American military supremacy.

During the Civil War advancements in technology were made that made obsolete all other militaries in the world. The mini ball made for more accurate gun fire, destroying a military fighting style that had spanned centuries. The CSS Hunley was only the second major attempt by Americans to create submarine power (the USS Turtle was used during the American Revolution, which was a one man submarine that operated on a similar concept as the Hunley.) And ultimately, the clash of the Iron Clads (CSS Merrimack & USS Monitor) made all other navies in the world obsolete. By the end of the Civil War there were over 1 Million soldiers in America’s Army. Within a couple years that number would drop significantly to 125,000 military personal.

In the wake of the Civil War and the assassination, and attempted assassination, of President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State Seward two nations attempted to capitalize on a war torn nation. Emperor Louis Napoleon III had fashioned himself as a French Andrew Jackson, but like his famous ancestor became an Emperor. With the coup that destroyed the French Second Republic, Napoleon sought to take advantage of a perceived weak America.

Napoleon conspired with the Arch-Duke Maximilian of Austria to take over Mexico and create an Empire that would threaten the existence of the United States. Secretary Seward recovered from a carriage accident and being stabbed in a failed assassination attempt the night Lincoln was shot by Booth to challenge Napoleon’s plan. General Grant sent 50,000 soldiers and General Sheridan to the Texas-Mexican border to secure America from an attack. In the mean time Seward sent General Schofield to deter Napoleon from his plan. Publicly Seward published a letter to the Emperor that was more diplomatic than what Schofield was sent to deliver. Napoleon backed down and the Mexicans murdered the Arch-Duke.

In the mean time, the British were attempting to secure Canada from the United States. War was England was eminent during the Civil War, it was only Ambassador Charles Francis Adams  (Son of John Q. Adams and grandson of John Adams) that helped prevent war from breaking out. The British, Sir John A.  MacDonald created a plan to create the Kingdom of Canada, a confederacy of the Canada territories. When northerners along the border cried for war, the English monarch Queen Victoria signed into law a bill creating the Dominion of Canada; regardless, the damage was done and a permanent reminder of the English monarchy was created. And in a major coup for the United States, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska from the Russians. This purchased, declared “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Ice Box” was actually a tactical victory for the United States. With Alaska, the United States surrounded Canada from the South and the West. The arctic circle to the north meant that Canada only had it’s Eastern boarder free from America. In the event of a war with England, the United States could secure Canada and blockade it’s Eastern shore ports.

The United States came out of the Civil War a military power house. Over the next thirty years the US would continue to grow stronger as the industrial revolution took hold. By the time the United States went to war with Spain she had one of the strongest navies in the world, and was able to defeat the once mighty Spanish. Following the destruction of Europe in World War I, the United States stood as the most complete and most powerful military in the world. It wouldn’t be until the end of the Second World War that the U.S. was officially a super power, with enough fire power to destroy the world.

Sultans of the Legislature


We don’t have great legislators anymore. The era of great men in our national legislature is gone, never to be revived and almost barely remembered. John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay are three of the most important legislators our nation has ever had, or will ever have again. While their ambition led them to strive for the President’s office, none achieved this end. Instead, they each spent their careers in the Senate working to improve upon what the Founders had given them. A connection to the Founding generation, many Americans looked to these men for guidance; and their leadership in the Senate has been matched by no one. While they all had monumental foibles (Calhoun was a secessionist, and Clay was a slave holder to be specific) they all contributed greatly to the course of the 19th century. And while ultimately their actions indirectly lead to our Civil War, they also helped preserve the union throughout the course of their lives.

While we have had men and women in the Legislature, none can match the fame and notoriety Calhoun, Clay and Webster achieved in the middle of the 19th century. And in particular, none of this Nation’s previous great Legislators remained in the the Legislature. Madison eventually succeeded Jefferson in the Presidency, and he is the only other great legislator worth mentioning in the 19th century. In the 20th century we had LBJ and Gerald Ford, both of whom eventually went on to serve lack luster terms as President of the United States. If nothing else, the three Sultans of the Senate were saved from a the failures suffered by Madison, Johnson and Ford in the oval office. While both Clay and Calhoun found themselves in the Vice Presidency and in other various cabinet positions, neither had a realistic chance of winning the Presidency. Clay was the great compromiser, and for good or ill he helped save the Union from a civil war on numerous occasions ending with the Compromise of 1850. Webster, known as “Godlike Dan” eventually became known as “Black Dan” when he saw the prudence in supporting Clay’s Compromise of 1850. And while Calhoun helped advance the policy of secession in the South, he was a pivotal player in the United States Senate.

A close study of the period in American History from 1820-1856 cannot be fully understood without examining the lives and careers of John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. It is undoubted in an age dominated by the Presidency that we will ever again see legislators that can match the legacy these three men left behind.

The Nature of Government and of the United States as Affecting the Right to Secession


The question of Secession was raised immediately after the first Southern states began to leave the Union. President Abraham Lincoln ordered Federal troops to invade the South in hopes of unifying the nation. Following the war, Orestes Brownson wrote on the issue of whether or not Secession was in fact legal or constitutional. Secession is not constitutional, as Orestes Brownson argues in the American Republic, on the grounds that government itself is indissoluble.

Orestes Brownson divides his argument against Secession into four major themes: the origins of government, the constitution of government, the United States, and the United States Constitution. These four main arguments supply the basis upon which Brownson argues that secession is unconstitutional. In order to understand why secession is unconstitutional, it is necessary to examine Brownson’s four main arguments first.

The circumstances surrounding the secession of the southern states in 1860 stem from a long argument concerning which was superior, the state or federal government. The necessity of government and man’s place in society is self evident according to Brownson who argues, “Hence as man is nowhere found out of society, so nowhere is society found without government.”[1] As such, the question over whether or not man belongs in society and whether or not society requires government is put to rest by Brownson. From the ancient Greek philosophers Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle to the Enlightenment philosophers Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacque Rousseau the question of the origins of society and government have been argued.

Yet these philosophers do agree on at least a handful of axioms of government and man’s loyalty to government. Brownson sums up the responsibilities of government by stating:

“[Government] defines and protects the right of property, creates and maintains a medium in which religion can exert her supernatural energy, promotes learning, fosters science and art, advances civilization, and contributes as a powerful means to the fulfillment by man of the Divine purpose in his existence.”[2]

These axioms are agreed upon by most political philosophers throughout time, although the specific aim of government may be different. But as long as these are maintained and protected, the individual person in society is obligated to remain loyal to the society and government. As Thomas Hobbes might agree, a duly instituted regime has the authority to do as it pleases. However, if it fails to protect the people it is no longer legitimate. Tyranny is never legitimate. We are required to remain loyal as long as our liberty is secure.[3]

Yet, while the majority of political philosophy agrees that there are certain responsibilities of both society and the citizen, the origins of government differs drastically from one philosopher to the next. The six origins of government according to Brownson include:

Government originates in the right of the father to govern his child.

It originates in convention, and is a social compact.

It originates in the people, who, collectively taken, are sovereign.

Government springs from the spontaneous development of nature.

It derives its right from the immediate and express appointment of God.

From God through the Pope, or visible head of the spiritual society

From God through the people

From God through the natural law[4]

The first of these origins is taken directly from two sources, the first is Aristotle and the second is Sir Robert Filmer. Aristotle’s argument, stemming from book one of the Politics, demonstrates that the origins of society and government come from the family. Aristotle argues that because people wish to mimic the gods, they favor monarchy as their choice of government with the family ruled by the father, the village ruled by the eldest male, and the city ruled by the king. While Aristotle admits that other forms of government do exist, and may in fact be more desirable than monarchy, people will still naturally yearn for monarchy. This argument is also connected to Divine Right of Kings set forth most completely by Sir Robert Filmer.  Sir Robert Filmer, in his Patriarcha, makes an argument in favor of Divine Right monarchy stemming first from Adam’s sovereignty over his children. Brownson, however, disagrees both with Aristotle and Filmer by rejecting monarchy in favor for republican government. . “The distinctive mark of republicanism is the substitution of the state for the personal chief, and public authority for personal or private right.”[5] Governments based on the principle of fatherhood are despotic. Republicanism is the true government because the rulers rule for and on behalf of the state. Rulers who are proprietors of the land are not rulers. Aristotle is most famous for putting forth the argument that government stems from the family, is critiqued with the moderns who reject paternal rule. One must rule for the sake of the commonwealth.

Following the classical understanding, Brownson critiques the modern understanding of government as being a social compact. “The state, as defined by the elder Adams, is held to be a voluntary association of individuals. Individuals create civil society, and may uncreate it whenever they judge it advisable.” Brownson rejects the concept that society can be established and abolished at will and calls America out, “Prior to the Southern Rebellion, nearly every American asserted with Lafayette, ‘the sacred right of insurrection’ or revolution…”[6] However, sovereignty cannot be relinquished, neither by a state/nation nor by a person. The Enlightenment holds that people are sovereign in a state of nature and that they give up part of that sovereignty when they enter society. “But individuals cannot give up what they have not, and no individual has in himself the right to govern another.” Modern political philosophers suppose a state of nature, which supposes a social contract. Brownson rejects the social contract because man cannot willingly forfeit his rights and because man is bound into society. Furthermore, men in nature fail to be able to acquire the knowledge necessary to create a civil society.

While there are still four other origins of government according to political philosophy, the first two are the most important for the United States. The United States was born out of the modern understanding of government, the only enlightened government. The United States, as a result, was an independent nation and a republic before it declared independence from England. Brownson’s arguments against the ancient and modern assertion of the origins of government indicate that the United States as a society had to exist prior to the revolution. However, the question is not whether there is a United States but whether it formed as a collection of sovereign, independent nations or whether it formed as a single whole. The same principle applies to the society as it does to the individual: a sovereign society cannot give up its sovereignty. If this is the case, then the several states never gave up their sovereignty and the United States as a single entity never existed. Brownson argues against the individual sovereignty of the states by stating, “The colonies were all erected and endowed with their rights and powers by one and the same national authority, and the colonist were subjects of one and the same national sovereign.”[7]However, if the United States exists as a single entity it would be impossible for the states to be independently sovereign.[8] Thus, if the United States is a society, then the states would be inferior to the federal government. In this instance, the states would not be capable of secession from the Union because they are not sovereign nations in themselves.

The American Constitution, therefore, is the only element left in determining whether or not the southern states had a right to secession in 1861.   As discussed in his chapter on the origins of constitutions, a constitution is not something created, as man is a creature not a creator. Under the auspices of this same argument, the U.S. Constitution is understood by Brownson as, “Two-fold, written and unwritten, the constitution of the people and the constitution of the government.”[9] This unwritten constitution is what Brownson refers to as the Providential constitution. To Brownson, this Providential constitution is not something created but rather comes into existence along side the nation.[10] The American Providential constitution is unique to the United States and never seen elsewhere in the world. Our Constitution is made up of both sovereign and dependent states, and is neither a confederacy nor centralized state.[11] We are still yet one people divided into states but still united. “The Union and the States were born together, are inseparable in their constitution…”[12] The United States Constitution declares the American people as, “We the people of the United States…” And as such, the American people are united together rather than a loose confederacy of sovereign nations with mutual interests.[13]

The origins of the American system and the nature of the American Constitution are seen most clearly through Brownson’s understanding of territorial democracy. The thirteen original colonies that formed together as the United States of America did not exist under their own authority. They were created by the authority of the King of England and joined together as United Colonies under the authority of the Continental Congress. The various states that have come into the Union since the creation of the United States Constitution can only do so under the authority of the United States Congress.[14] The individuals living within a given territory are granted democracy within their given territory, but that territory does not have sovereign authority. Rather, it is subject totally to the United States Congress. The people living in the territory, “are subjects of the United States, without any political rights whatever, and, though a part of the population, are no part of the sovereign people of the United States.”[15] Or more simply put, are not citizens. The people of the territory are given the authority by the United States to, “meet in convention, draw up and adopt a constitution declaring or assuming them to be a State, elect State officers, senators, and representatives in the State legislature, and representatives and senators in Congress, but they are not yet a state.”[16]

Thus, when a territory becomes a State and the people of that territory go from being subjects to citizens of the United States that State only exists by the will and authority of the United States Congress. None of the States exist by themselves with sovereign authority. Brownson demonstrates this time and again as showing that society and government are not created and that the United States is the sovereign and not the individual states. As a result, Secession of the various states in 1861 could not be legally permitted as they had no authority independent of the United States to secede from the Union. From the time the first colonies were settled to when the territories became states, the individual states depended upon an outside authority for their creation. As such, outside the Union they are not states.

[1] Brownson, Orestes. The American Republic. ( Delaware: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2003) pg. 12

[2] Ibid. 13

[3] “But it is never lawful to resist the rightful sovereign, for it can never be right to resist right, and the rightful sovereign is the constitutional exercise of his power can never be said to abuse it.” Ibid. 17

[4] Ibid 19-20

[5] Ibid. 23

[6] Ibid. 34

[7] Ibid. 136

[8] “If the several States of the Union were severally sovereign states when they met in the convention…” Ibid. 127

[9] Ibid. 141

[10] Ibid. 141, “It is Providential, not made by the nation, but born with it.”

[11] Ibid 141, “The unwritten or Providential constitution of the United States is peculiar…”

[12] Ibid 144

[13] Ibid. 145 “united, not confederate States.”

[14] Ibid. 145 “Even then it was felt that the organization and constitution of a State in the Union could be regularly effected only by the permission of the Congress; and no Territory can, it is well know, regularly organize itself as a State…”

[15] Ibid. 146

[16] Ibid. 146


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