One of the great errors of the mainstream conservative movement is the slavish attitude towards money. These mainstream conservatives almost universally present the unrestrained pursuit of money as the greatest virtue, and they even dare to assert that this attitude is completely in-line with both Christianity and Americanism. By contrast, the Bible is quite clear on this point, as it declares that the love of money is root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The mammon worship of contemporary pro-capitalist conservatives involves a complete inversion of the truth, presenting as virtue a vice so extreme that the Word of God declares it to be not just evil but the root of all evil, and thus these conservatives put themselves under the Biblical curse, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”(Isaiah 5:20) This blind spot on the evils of mammon worship has been one of the greatest hindrances to the revival and flourishing of the American people, as the default defense of the “free market” has prevented Americans from embracing truly Biblical solutions.
While the inordinate love of money had already crept into America at a very early period, we must not overlook the fact that there have been many prominent Americans who sought to address the problem. But those who mounted a genuine resistance to the money power were not left-wing socialists, they were populists. In the American context, populists have sought to use the state to fight the influence of the money power, but unlike left-wing socialists, populists have not promoted total state ownership of the means of production. Instead populist measures have aimed at truly distributing wealth and influence amongst the people. This is in conformity with the fundamental American idea embodied in the Constitution that in order to remain free, power cannot be consolidated in too few hands.
Many of those on the far-right today are aware of the Federal Reserve and the negative impact that it has had on America since its founding in 1913. But this is not the first time that a questionable state-sanctioned bank has been accused of corrupting American society. Perhaps the defining feature of Andrew Jackson’s tenure in office was his war against the National Bank of his day. The Second Bank of the United States was established in 1817 with a twenty year charter, but by the 1820s the Bank had already become widely unpopular. Jackson argued strongly against renewing the charter of the Bank, and thanks to his efforts the charter was allowed to lapse in 1836, effectively destroying the Bank. And while Jackson was successful in some respects, his victory was only a minor setback for the corrosive money power, because he failed to deal with the major problems of modern banking and wealth inequality.
“[T]he question is distinctly presented whether the people of the United States are to govern through representatives chosen by their unbiased suffrages or whether the money and power of a great corporation are to be secretly exerted to influence their judgment and control their decisions. It must now be determined whether the bank is to have its candidates for all offices in the country, from the highest to the lowest, or whether candidates on both sides of political questions shall be brought forward as heretofore and supported by the usual means.
At this time the efforts of the bank to control public opinion, through the distresses of some and the fears of others, are equally apparent…while through presses known to have been sustained by its money it attempts by unfounded alarms to create a panic in all.
[The Bank has] actively engaged in attempting to influence the elections of the public officers by means of its money…in violation of the express provisions of its charter, it [has] by a formal resolution placed its funds at the disposition of its president to be employed in sustaining the political power of the bank.”
According to Jackson, the Bank manufactured panics amongst the public to justify its own existence, and used the power of money and the press to control the election process. Furthermore, this use of public funds was contrary to law.
“It is a constitutional provision ‘that no money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law.’ The palpable object of this provision is to prevent the expenditure of the public money for any purpose what so ever which shall not have been 1st approved by the representatives of the people and the States in Congress assembled…According to this plain constitutional provision, the claim of the bank can never be paid without an appropriation by act of Congress. But the bank has never asked for an appropriation. It attempts to defeat the provision of the Constitution and obtain payment without an act of Congress.”
Jackson also pointed out that despite the claims of its supporters, a national bank simply was not necessary.
“Happily it is already illustrated that the agency of such an institution is not necessary to the fiscal operations of the Government. The State banks are found fully adequate to the performance of all services which were required of the Bank of the United States, quite as promptly and with the same cheapness.”
Finally Jackson warned the American people of the great dangers that await them if the money power were to have free reign:
“The bold effort the present bank has made to control the Government, the distresses it has wantonly produced…are but premonitions of the fate which awaits the American people should they be deluded into a perpetuation of this institution or the establishment of another like it.”
Indeed the problems of the 1830s were but mere premonitions of what has befallen America in the last 100 years.
When reading Jackson’s words, one notices that while his criticisms are aimed only at the National Bank, in most instances they apply equally to private banks and the moneyed elite in general. Private banks and corporations are quite capable of using their money to control the press, manufacture economic crises, and manipulate elections. While a powerful National Bank that directly uses tax-payer money is more sinister and more dangerous, unchecked private banks are dangerous enough.
The next major populist figure in American history was William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925). Bryan was a member of the House of Representatives and in 1896 he was the presidential nominee for both the Democrat and the People’s parties. Later in life he became known as an orator, and he used his speaking ability to oppose the spread of atheist ideologies, especially Darwinian evolution.
The populism of the 1890s grew out of the frustration of middle-American farmers who felt that they were at the mercy of banks and major corporations.
“Frustration and bitterness that had long smoldered now flared into defiance as thousands of farm families paraded their wagons down the dusty streets of a hundred towns, demonstrating their unity and their contempt for the bankers, lawyers, and merchants who watched from the wooden sidewalks. The parades culminated in rallies. There the farm families ate picnic lunches and put new words to familiar melodies:
Worm or beetle, drouth[sic] or tempest,
On a farmer’s land may fall,
But for first-class ruination
Trust a mortgage ‘gainst them all.
They also sang their condemnation of political parties that seemed oblivious to their distress:
I was a party man one time
The party would not mind me,
So now I’m working for myself,
The party’s left behind me.
The rallies concluded with arm-waving speakers who attacked Wall Street, international bankers, monopolies and railroads.”
(Robert W. Cherny, A Righteous Cause: The Life of William Jennings Bryan, University of Oklahoma Press, 1994, page 34)
This grassroots outrage over the tyranny of the money power quickly coalesced into a radical political ideology that found expression in the People’s Party (also known as the Populist Party).
“The first element [of the party’s ideology] traced its origins at least to Andrew Jackson, as Populist campaigners again and again proclaimed their opposition to concentrations of economic power. Jay Burrows, Nebraska Alliance leader, wrote that corporations had made ‘the toiling millions’ into ‘the tools of a few plutocrats.’ Concentrations of economic power—railroads and grain markets were the most obvious to Nebraska farmers—posed dangers to economic opportunity for the individual, as well as to political liberty. Populist anti-monopoly sentiment might have met with understanding nods from seasoned Jacksonian Democrats, but the second element in Populist thought drew more from the Republican tradition of active government: Nebraska Populists called for government ownership of the railroads and ‘all means of public communications.’ The state Alliance added government ownership of banks and coal mines. Government ownership of transportation, communication, and banking might restrain the aggressions of monopoly, but Populists argued—the third element in their analysis—that the people had to bring government itself more closely under their control. Populists proposed a range of reforms intended to increase voters’ power over government decision-making, including the secret ballot, the direct election of United States Senators, and direct election of the President and Vice-President.”
(ibid., page 35)
In addition to attacking the money power for having too much influence, the Populists also argued that this elite class was ultimately parasitic, because it merely transferred value rather than creating it.
“Bankers, merchants, lawyers, and grain buyers merely transferred wealth but did not produce value themselves. The Nebraska Alliance newspaper gave voice to the bitterness and frustration of a decade when it charged that ‘there are three great crops produced in Nebraska. One is a crop of corn, one a crop of freight rates, and one a crop of interest. One is produced by farmers who by sweat and toil farm the land. The other two are produced by men who sit in their offices and behind their bank counters and farm the farmers.’ As a result, ‘despite a generation of hard toil, the people are poor today, mortgage-ridden and distressed…They have produced but they possess not. They have amassed wealth for other people to enjoy while they themselves are almost without the necessities of life.’”
(ibid., page 36)
Of course there are aspects of the Populist platform that can be critiqued. For example, the direct election of Senators, which was achieved by the Seventeenth Amendment, has done nothing to curb tyranny, but it has further dissolved the founding vision of the United States being a union of independent, sovereign entities. It is also highly questionable to say that railroad freight rates are produced without any sweat or toil, as thousands of working men were needed to build, run and maintain the railroads. This easy dismissal of the labor of the railroad worker perhaps shows that the 1890s populist movement was too focused on the farm issue without adequately addressing the concerns of other laboring classes. However, despite these defects the Populist party was essentially correct about the main problem in American society and its proper solution.
The founding fathers envisaged a republic of yeoman farmers, small freeholders who were independent and self-sufficient producers. It was this class that was seen to be essential to maintaining our form of government, and it was this class that was threatened by the banks and the railroad monopolies. A farmer is not truly free as long as he is dependent on a railroad that could arbitrarily change rates and cause him to default on his mortgage. State intervention and regulation of these industries is the only solution in an age when advances in technology allow the creation of privately owned national and international monopolies. This state intervention in business in no ways promotes Marxist socialism, a point made by Bryan himself.
“Denying that his proposals partook of socialism, Bryan presented them instead as a means of combating socialism. ‘The best way to oppose socialism is to remedy the abuses which have grown up under individualism but which are not a necessary part of individualism’…[Bryan condemned] plutocracy, accusing it of defiling and polluting business, despoiling the home, disgracing religion, and oppressing the people.”
(ibid., pages 106-107)
Bryan’s analysis of the corrosive effects of unregulated plutocracy and of the evils done in the name of “individualism” is even more true today than it was then. A genuine American individualism based on self-control, temperance, piety and responsibility is perfectly compatible with a governmental system that suppresses greed and exploitation while upholding public religion and virtue. Bryan and the Populists of the 1890s offer us useful examples of how to break free from the false paradigm of “free-market individualism” vs “big-government socialism” that controls American political discourse.
Perhaps the greatest and most clear-sighted populist in American history is Huey P. Long (1893-1935), who served as both the Governor of Louisiana and as Senator from that state during the Great Depression. Long was a Democrat and initially supported FDR, but he broke from the President when it became clear that the latter was not interested in actually challenging the money power. In his 1933 autobiography Every Man a King, Long clearly describes the one goal of his political career: to fight tyranny through the redistribution of wealth.
“I had come to the United States Senate with only one project in mind, which was that by every means of action and persuasion I might do something to spread the wealth of the land among all of the people.
I foresaw the depression in 1929. In letters reproduced in this volume, I had predicted all of the consequences many years before they occurred.
The wealth of the land was being tied up in the hands of a very few men. The people were not buying because they had nothing with which to buy. The big business interests were not selling, because there was nobody they could sell to…
God Almighty had warned against this condition. Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan and every religious teacher known to this earth had declaimed against it. So it was no new matter, as it was termed, when I propounded the line of thought with the first crash of 1929, that the eventful day had arrived when accumulation at the top by the few had produced a stagnation by which the vast multitude of the people were impoverished at the bottom.”
(Every Man a King, Da Capo Press, 1996, pages 290-291)
At this point the mainstream right would immediately condemn Long for his “left-wing socialism.” Such is their devotion to Mammon and “free markets” that they would rather allow our current tyranny to continue than to even consider any right-wing alternatives to the current economic system. And Long certainly was a man of the Right. Although he did not publicly focus on the Jewish problem, he was associated with the most famous “anti-semites” of his day. Long expressed admiration for radio priest Father Charles Coughlin, and he was a close friend of Gerald L. K. Smith, a pastor in the Church of Christ and a life-long opponent of organized Jewry. Smith gave the eulogy at Long’s funeral and managed Long’s Share Our Wealth campaign after the latter’s untimely death.
Long foresaw that changing technological conditions required a restructuring of the way wealth is distributed. Decades before the current debate on automation Long said,
“Machines are created making it possible to manufacture more in an hour than used to be manufactured in a month; more is produced by the labor of one man than was formerly produced by the labor of a thousand men; fertilizers are available whereby an acre of land can be made to produce from two to three or even four times what it formerly produced; various other inventions and scientific achievements which God has seen fit to disclose to man from time to time make their appearance; but instead of bringing prosperity, ease and comfort, they have meant unemployment; they have meant idleness; they have meant starvation; they have meant pestilence; whereas they should have meant that hours of labor were shortened, that toil was decreased, that more people would be able to consume, that they would have time for recreation—in fact, everything that could have been done by science and invention should have been shared among the people.”
(ibid., page 293)
And yet for all of this focus on technological change, Long at the same time understood that what he was proposing was also rooted in Scripture.
“It is the law of God that a nation must free and re-free its people of debt, and spread and re-spread the wealth of the land among all the people.”
(ibid., page 297)
In a footnote supporting this contention Long cites Leviticus 25-27 on the Jubilee law, as well as Nehemiah 5 and James 5. This last chapter includes the verses “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days”(James 5:1-3). The exact details of Long’s plan were as follows:
“1. A capital levy tax on the property owned by any one person of 1% of all over $1,000,000; 2% of all over $2,000,000 etc., until, when it reaches fortunes of over $100,000,000, the government takes all above that figure; which means a limit on the size of any one man’s fortune to something like $50,000,000—the balance to go to the government to spread out in its work among all the people.
2. An inheritance tax which does not allow any one person to receive more than $5,000,000 in a lifetime without working for it, all over that amount to go to the government to be spread among the people for its work.
3. An income tax which does not allow any one man to make more than $1,000,000 in any one year, exclusive of taxes, the balance to go to the United States for general work among the people.”
(ibid., page 338-339)
I do not endorse every aspect of Long’s plan, nor do I think that it is exactly in line with the principles of the Mosaic Jubilee. The constitution of ancient Israel did guard against perpetual poverty and hunger, but it did so by guaranteeing the opportunity to work, not by handing out free money. Those who were too poor to have fields of their own were allowed to glean from the fields of their more successful neighbors (Leviticus 23). Gleaning, however, was hard work. No able bodied person was simply given free money or food. The Jubilee law (Leviticus 25) guaranteed that every fifty years all productive farm land would revert back to the original family to which the land was granted following the conquest of Canaan. In a largely agrarian society like ancient Israel farm land was the most important form of wealth, and the Jubilee law did prevent the concentration of this wealth in the hands of a small oligarchy. However, farm land is not money, rather it is a resource that can be used to produce valuable goods. Yet despite these errors, Long’s plan is still a definite improvement over the typical “free market” idolatry that currently passes for conservative thought.
Throughout his career Long was a powerful, unstoppable force. In addition to his revolutionary ideas he possessed tremendous personal charisma and energy. In 1935, the year of his death, Long was mounting a presidential campaign that would challenge FDR and his New Deal. Given Long’s remarkable abilities and popularity, it is quite likely that he could have succeeded in winning the White House. Tragically, Long was assassinated by the Jew Carl Weiss just over a year before the 1936 presidential election. Long’s great potential and popularity are recorded in Besieged Patriot, the autobiography of close Long associate Gerald L. K. Smith.
“In the midst of an unprecedented economic and sociological crisis, I became convinced that Huey P. Long was the man of the hour. I resigned my pulpit even though 95% of the membership implored me to remain, and announced that I was going to give my life defending American tradition and Christian faith…
I became the one who was journeying across America in a campaign to make Huey P. Long President of the United States. James Farley, who was then the most important politician in America and who was responsible for the election of Mr. Roosevelt (a mortal enemy of Huey Long) said: ‘If Mr. Long had not been assassinated he would have been elected President of the United States in 1936.’
One evening I was walking with Senator Huey P. Long through the corridor of the beautiful State Capitol of Louisiana, which had been built under his direction. A young Jewish doctor by the name of Carl Weiss stepped out from behind a marble pillar and shot Senator Long and turned his gun toward me, and had it not been for the bodyguards who shot the killer, I too, might have been either maimed or killed.
Two days later he died. I was at his side. I heard his last words. I delivered the funeral oration over his grave, which was the largest public funeral in American history, even larger than the Kennedy funeral. It required three acres just to lay one bouquet beside another. It was estimated that 250,000 people attended the funeral with thousands of people unable to get across the rivers in time for the funeral.”
(Besieged Patriot, Elna M. Smith Foundation, 1978 , page 8)
Long’s close association with a man as solidly opposed to globalism and Jewish power as Smith speaks highly of his character and his commitment to challenging America’s real enemies. A Long presidency could have fundamentally changed world history.
The careers of Jackson, Bryan, Long and many other home-bred American populists should provide moral inspiration and policy models for our current struggle against plutocracy. These populists attacked monopolies and banks, but never the concept of private property. They saw freedom and prosperity in the distribution of private property, as opposed to the left-wing socialists who seek the extreme concentration of wealth and power in the state. They saw the money power as the natural enemy of religion and national progress, not the great ally that “free-market” conservatives claim. Holding to the clear condemnation of ruthless greed and the concentration of wealth found in the Scriptures, we can follow the same paths as these great American populists.