Why Grant’s Final Victory Was His Greatest

Today’s recommended reading is another great history lesson by Alexander Green, at Spiritual Wealth. It is a companion piece to his Robert E. Lee essay of last year, and concerns Lee’s great rival, Ullysses S. Grant. While Grant won the war that would assure that the United States would remain united, he also made a significant contribution to the American literary tradition.

After the war, Grant served two terms as President. Yet, in a world where speechmaking was popular entertainment and politicians routinely spoke for hours, Grant was largely silent. His Presidency was less than inspiring, as well. The government was saddled with an enormous war debt. Huge parts of the country remained broken, starving and mired in catastrophic defeat. The South’s economy was virtually destroyed. And Grant had the misfortune of presiding over America’s first economic depression, including the Panic of 1873.

However, he was trusted in the South as well as the North. That made him the perfect figure to reunify the nation. As President, he also signed legislation that created the national park system, declared that the Indians required as much protection from the whites as the whites did from the Indians, and avoided foreign wars and entanglements. In short, Grant affirmed the integrity of American institutions and demonstrated decency, good intentions and common sense.

Unfortunately, he had little understanding of money and no business sense whatsoever. In 1880, Ferdinand Ward, a 28-year-old con man – and business associate of Grant’s son Buck – invited the former President to become a partner in his Wall Street brokerage house. Grant – a trusting man who seldom bothered to read documents before signing them – agreed.

Before long Ward reported stupendous profits and doled out generous amounts of cash to partners. Grant believed he was rich. But Ward was running a multi-million-dollar Ponzi scheme and in 1884 it blew up, devastating investors and bankrupting Grant and his family. It was the most colossal swindle of the age.

In 1877 retiring Presidents did not have the benefits they do today – no generous pension, no office and staff at government expense, no lucrative speaking engagements. The former President – who had blundered in every business opportunity – had nothing to fall back on.

Worse, he had recently been diagnosed with throat and mouth cancer, an incurable disease before the advent of radiation and chemotherapy. Grant knew he was beginning a slow and painful death, one that would leave his wife Julia not just penniless but deeply in debt.

Fortunately, his friend Mark Twain, the second most famous American of the day, offered to publish Grant’s memoirs with a generous royalty agreement. Grant accepted, though he realized his poor health meant he had only a few months to complete the task.

Under overwhelming pressure, he wrote an astonishing 10 thousand words a day. First he dictated them, but as he lost his ability to speak, he wrote them down by hand on a yellow legal pad. The writing was slow, laborious work. Yet he carefully figured out how much pain he could endure and how much morphine he could take before it clouded his mind and stopped his pen. Grant completed the massive work in a matter of months, finishing the last chapter three days before he died. On his deathbed, he was still struggling with the maps and proofs.

Grant did not have researchers, assistants or draft writers. Yet his prose is clear and direct and demonstrates an amazing memory. The words that make up the two-volume work are his own. And they are exceptional.

Twain was astounded when he read the manuscript, claiming that there was not one literary man in a hundred who could furnish copy as clean as Grant’s. He had offered to publish the memoirs because he assumed that the book would be a financial success. Now he saw its remarkable literary quality. “There is no higher literature than these modern, simple Memoirs,” he said. “Their style is flawless… no man can improve upon it.” Coming from the single greatest figure in American letters, this was high praise indeed.

The book was not just an immediate sensation. It was the biggest bestseller in American history. Biographer Michael Korda notes that in the late 1800s, you could count on finding two books in every American home, the Bible and Grant’s Memoirs.

If you’d like to finish reading the article, and for more of Alexander Green’s great writing, check out Spiritual Wealth.

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Doug Casey on the America That Was – Now the United (Police) State of America

A great interview of a brave thinker…

(Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator)

L: Doug, after conversations like the one we had last week, we often get letters from angry readers who accuse you of hating America, disloyalty, and perhaps even treason. These people don’t know or understand what I do about you – that you love the idea that was America. It’s the United State it has become for which you have nothing but contempt. Perhaps we should try to explain this to them?

Doug: I doubt it would work; it’s a tough row to hoe, trying to explain things to people who are so set in their thinking that they truly and literally don’t want to hear anything that might threaten their notions. A person who feels threatened by ideas and who responds with emotion is acting irrationally. How can we have a discussion with someone whose emotion trumps their reason? How do we even begin to untangle the thinking of people who will gather this week to give thanks for the bounty produced by freedom and hard work – the famous puritan work ethic – by eating a turkey bought with food stamps?

But we can outline the ideas, for the record.

L: I’ll bring a copy if they ever do put you on trial for thoughtcrime – which is frighteningly close to being real these days and called treason to boot.

Doug: It’s not just close; it’s here. Just try telling an unapproved joke in a security line in an airport these days.

L: True enough. Where to begin?

Doug: At the beginning. America was founded as a confederation of independent countries – that’s what a state is. Or was, in our language. The original United States of America was a confederation of countries that banded together for protection against larger and more powerful countries they feared might be hostile. This is not a disputed interpretation of history, but as solid a fact as the study of history produces – and yet a largely neglected one.

L: We did cover this ground briefly in our conversations on the Civil War and the Constitution.

Doug: So we did… the short version being that the US Constitution was essentially a coup; the delegates to what we now call the Constitutional Convention were not empowered to replace the existing government – only to improve upon the Articles of Confederation between the then-independent states. The framers of the Constitution drafted it with the notion of a national government already in place, but calmed fears of loss of state sovereignty by calling the new government the “United States of America” – a verbal sleight of hand that worked for over half a century. Then the southern states decided to exercise what these words imply; their right to leave the union. While slavery was and is a wholesale criminal activity I object to in every way possible, the southern states did have the right to secede, both legally and ethically. But the question was settled by force, not reason, and the wrong side won.

L: Another coup?

Doug: More like an exposure of the first one for the whole world to see. But by then it was way too late. Despite this, the relative freedom of the US – because it was for many years far freer than other countries – made it possible for artists, engineers, inventors, and businesspeople to flourish and create a society more wealthy and powerful than any the world had ever seen. This is what I call the idea of America – the America That Was.

But the seeds of destruction were already sown at the very beginning – with the Alien and Sedition Acts being perhaps the first highly visible step in the wrong direction. Then came the forceful assertion of one national government, with states reduced to administrative regions via the War of Southern Secession, from 1861-’65. I’m no fan of state governments, incidentally, but at least they’re smaller and closer to their subjects than the federal government. Another major step in the wrong direction occurred with the Spanish-American War of 1898, where the US acquired an overseas empire by force. The next major step downhill was the creation of the Federal Reserve and the income tax, both in 1913, just in time for World War I. It took time for these things to make the system crash, because it was still a fairly free economy.

L: But crash it did in 1929…

Doug: Yes. And it led to the Great Depression of 1929-’46, which lasted so long entirely because of the unmitigated disaster of the New Deal (which we discussed recently). The New Deal injected socialist-fascist ideas into mainstream American thought like a poisonous acid, corrupting the heart of the idea of America that once made the place great. The process was completed with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which really established the basis of the welfare-warfare state. It truly set the stage for the total ethical, economic, social, political, and even military disaster now unfolding before our eyes.

Still, the beating heart of the idea of America – which is to say both social and economic freedom – took time to corrupt. Like a strong man who doesn’t know he’s headed for a heart attack, American culture didn’t really peak until the 1950s. The bullet-finned 1959 Cadillac is a symbol of this peak, in my mind.

L: Then we had Johnson and his “guns and butter” policy – War in Vietnam and War on Poverty at the same time – followed by tricky Dick kicking the last leg out of under the stool by taking the dollar off an even theoretical gold standard.

Doug: Yes. Nixon was arguably even a worse President than Johnson, with the devaluation of the dollar in 1971 and his creation of the War on Drugs. Things have spiraled out of control since then. InThe Casey Report, we’ve written reams about these last decades and how they led to and shaped what’s happening now. But I have to say, the focus has been largely financial.

L: Which is as it should be, in a publication designed to help investors navigate these turbulent times.

Doug: Yes, but the corruption goes way beyond that, beyond even the senseless wars and idiotic foreign policy we discussed last week. America, once the land of the brave and the home of the free, is well on its way to becoming a police state – worse than any we’ve seen in the past, including the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

L: How could it get worse than that?

This is just an excerpt. To read the full interview, go here.

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Dawkins in Playboy

Read this interesting and engaging interview with noted non-believer Richard Dawkins over at Playboy.com.

Here’s a tiny excerpt:

PLAYBOY: You’ve read the Bible.

DAWKINS: I haven’t read it all, but my knowledge of the Bible is a lot better than most fundamentalist Christians’.

PLAYBOY: Do you have a favorite verse?

DAWKINS: My favorite book is Ecclesiastes. It’s wonderful poetry in 17th century English, and I’m told it’s very good in the Hebrew. “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” The Song of Songs is terrific, and it’s more bawdy in the Hebrew, almost a drinking song.

PLAYBOY: You’ve made the point that if Jesus existed and went to his death as described in the Bible, it was, as you put it, “barking mad.”

DAWKINS: There’s no evidence Jesus himself was barking mad, but the doctrine invented later by Paul that Jesus died for our sins surely is. It’s a truly disgusting idea that the creator of the universe—capable of inventing the laws of physics and designing the evolutionary process—that this protégé of supernatural intellect couldn’t think of a better way to forgive our sins than to have himself tortured to death. And what a terrible lesson to say we’re born in sin because of the original sin of Adam, a man even the Catholic Church now says never existed.

PLAYBOY: We hear constantly that America is a Christian nation and that the founding fathers were all Christians.

DAWKINS: They were deists. They didn’t believe in a personal god, or one who interferes in human affairs. And they were adamant that they did not want to found the United States as a Christian nation.

PLAYBOY: But you hear quite often that if you let atheists run things you end up with Hitler and Stalin.

DAWKINS: Hitler wasn’t an atheist; he was a Roman Catholic. But I don’t care what he was. There is no logical connection between atheism and doing bad things, nor good things for that matter. It’s a philosophical belief about the absence of a creative intelligence in the world. Anybody who thinks you need religion in order to be good is being good for the wrong reason. I’d rather be good for moral reasons. Morals were here before religion, and morals change rather rapidly in spite of religion. Even people who rely on the Bible use nonbiblical criteria. If your criteria are scriptural, you have no basis for choosing the verse that says turn the other cheek rather than the verse that says stone people to death. So you pick and choose without guidance from the Bible.

PLAYBOY: You’ve said that science is losing the war with religion.

DAWKINS: Did I say we were losing? I was just having an off day.

PLAYBOY: You are surprised science is still being challenged.

DAWKINS: I am surprised, but I’m not sure it’s a losing battle. If you take the long view of centuries, there’s an upward trend. Religious people like to point out that Isaac Newton was religious. Well, of course he was—he lived before Darwin. It would have been difficult to be an atheist before Darwin.

Read the rest of the interview here.

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Obama Versus Romney Who Will Win? And Does It Matter?

Over the past several weeks, readers have expressed their interest in the upcoming presidential election and its impact on America’s future. More particularly, many readers see this election as a contest between freedom and capitalism and some newfangled version of socialism… and they are worried that if Obama wins, they will become a lot poorer.

Well, here’s what I think. As far as your financial future is concerned, it doesn’t matter who is elected. Despite differences in ideology and rhetoric, our next president will take essentially the same path in terms of “saving” the economy.

I’m not saying that there is no difference between the candidates’ economic views. Obama wants to redistribute wealth. Romney wants to diminish social spending. But neither of them will make much long-term headway at realizing their ambitions. What they will succeed at is what both Republicans and Democrats have been doing nonstop since World War II: expanding the federal government by increasing its debt.

I’m not an economist. In analyzing our country’s economic policies, I take a businessman’s perspective. Businesses have many goals, some altruistic and some selfish, but they are all ruled by the logic of the balance sheet. Without a positive balance sheet, no business can last.

The Economy Is Out of Control

Our economy, I’m sure we can agree, is in ruins, and our federal government has unprecedented levels of debt. On top of our outstanding debts, we keep spending more money than we’re taking in. But only a partisan fool would suggest that this is due to Obama. The national balance sheet was already $9.9 trillion in the red when he took office. He has done a good job of pumping that up to $15.9 trillion. But had McCain been elected in 2008 we would be in roughly the same place.

The reason for that is simple. Every modern-day president knows that his only chance of being elected or re-elected depends on the economy. If the electorate believes that the president is “doing a good job” with the economy, it will re-elect him. If it believes he has made things worse, it will elect his opponent, who will be arguing that he can fix it.

But today there is no way to fix the economy.

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When Will We Solve the Global Warming Problem?

Technology changes not when it might but when it must.

Sensitive people note problems and talk about them. Writers and other influential people talk it up. Crusades are launched. And these crusades create counter-crusades. The argument soars in the media. And for a while it seems as if nothing will ever be done. But gradually, as the threat becomes more tangible, the counter-arguments subside. Laws are written. Treaties are signed. But still no great progress is made. Finally, the general population begins to make changes. But these changes don’t happen until the threat becomes tangible to the affected population.

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