SKOUSEN: Ben Franklin Warns America

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Posted: Sep 19, 2019 4:15 PM

“No nation was ever ruined by trade.” — Benjamin Franklin

On Constitution Day, I was invited to address the prestigious Wisconsin Forum in Milwaukee. It was my fourth appearance, the most of any speaker in its illustrious history. Past speakers have included Milton Friedman, Henry Hazlitt, Ron Paul and William F. Buckley, Jr.

I talked about the dangers of executive power — placing too much authority in the hands of the one man or woman who is running the country. I also highlighted the potential abuse of executive orders – the power that Congress gives to the president to enable him or her to act unilaterally during “national emergencies.”

In doing research on this topic, I discovered that the Roosevelts were the worst offenders. Teddy Roosevelt signed 1,081 executive orders and Franklin D. Roosevelt signed 3,728 executive orders.

No president has come close to the Roosevelts. Reagan signed 381, Clinton 364, George W. Bush 364 and Trump 122 (so far).

President Donald Trump has declared “national emergencies” to build the wall along the Mexican border and to impose tariffs on Chinese imports. Both are dubious uses of executive orders. The fact that one man, even the elected U.S. president, has such authority is scary.

The Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, who was a famous supporter of free trade, warned us that our republican form of government could turn into tyranny sometime in the future if we gave too much power to the executive. I ended my talk with this ominous warning that Franklin made on June 2, 1789, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia:

“I am apprehensive that the government of these states may in future times end in a monarchy, and a King will the sooner be set over us… But this catastrophe I think may be long delayed, if in our proposed system we do not sow the seeds of contention, faction and tumult.”   

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