The Return of the Whigs

The Return of the Whigs

We’re in for a political reset, and it looks to be a Whiggish Restoration.

Donald Trump is poised to take the oath of office. The left is going nuts. They have no idea what to expect, and they fear the worst. They should: their experiment in socialism has failed, as it always must, and we are in for a political reset the likes of which we have not seen in a very long time.

History does not move linearly, as Marxist intellectuals claim; there is no “arc of history” leading to a great socialist utopia. Ideas come in and out of fashion. If there is any “arcing” then it is the back-and-forth swing of the pendulum.

American voters were looking for something different in 2008, and Barack Obama was elected on the Alinksyite theme of Hope & Change. Once elected, Obama delivered neither. Instead, he tried to implement the liberal-progressive-socialist vision of his mentors. It didn’t work.

In 2016, Americans again elected a leader who promised change: Make America Great Again.

Will positive change happen this time? Time, of course, will tell, but at the outset it seems likely to have a better chance. Here’s why.

Obama’s vision was of a socialist America: no bigger, no better, no different from anywhere else. Modern Democrats don’t believe in the ideals of the American Founding, they deny the exceptional nature of the American ideal. To implement his vision, Obama hired a cadre of fellow socialist democrats: people with careers in government or academia.

Americans wanted a return to economic growth, jobs and security. Obama delivered none of that because his principles and his policies were guided not by what he promised to deliver but by what his ideology told him he needed to do to fundamentally transform America.

Donald Trump comes into office promising a return to greatness. This implies a return to the principles that made America great in the first place.

What are those principles?

They are embarrassingly simple: life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, unhindered by an over-bearing government. These principles were written down in the Declaration of Independence but they are about a century older. They come from the English Whig Party.

The Whigs dominated English politics for the next century. They favored Parliament over the monarchy, religious toleration, and protectionist trade policies. Their opponents, known as Tories, favored the monarchy, an established church and free trade.

The policies of the Whigs were favored by the American colonists who eventually came to call themselves Patriots. The leaders of Whiggish thought included John Locke, Algernon Sidney, and Adam Smith. The very phrase “life, liberty and property” as shorthand for individual rights originated with Locke.

"No major political movement...has suffered more sheer dismissal, more impatient contempt at the hands of political historians than the American Whigs of 1834 to 1856." – Historian Allen C. Guelzo.

The American Whig Party formed in the 1830s in reaction to Democratic-Republican President Andrew Jackson, who had, in their estimation, monarchic tendencies. They called him “King Andrew” in much the same way as some referred to Obama as “King Barack.”

The Whigs favored federal investment in infrastructure, rapid economic and industrial growth, government support for a market-oriented economy, and public schools. Certainly, more interventionist than Republicans today or Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans.

Four U.S. Presidents were Whigs: Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, and Fillmore. John Quincy Adams, elected president as a Democratic-Republican, was a Whig in the U.S. House of Representatives—as was Abraham Lincoln. In addition to Lincoln, presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester A. Arthur, and Benjamin Harrison were Whigs who switched to the Republican Party.

With all their good ideas, the Whigs could not agree on a slavery policy. Lincoln and anti-slavery Whigs joined the Republican Party. During Lincoln’s presidency, former Whigs dominated the Republican Party.

When we look at the policies being proposed by Donald Trump, they look as much Whiggish as they do Republican.

His trade policy seems more protectionist than free trade. He talks about investing in infrastructure. He has nominated a proponent of charter schools to head the Department of Education: will he attempt to use or to close that department? He campaigned on a strong national security policy, which includes a strong military, a secure border and a controlled immigration policy.

What’s most telling is that he has nominated a strong group of leaders for his cabinet that promise to carry out these policies.

People are already taking notice of Trump’s Whiggish sort of conservatism: Emmett Tyrell of The American Spectator, Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute, historian Allen Guelzo and even Dick Morris.

After a period of political excess, there is a political realignment. We’re in for a political reset, and it looks to be a Whiggish Restoration.

The Whig Party has been ignored by modern-day progressives and left-of-center historians who are uncomfortable with the Whigs’ essential conservatism and the questions that the party posed, namely Jeffersonian elitism, Democratic racism, and opposition to change. --Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.