Conservatives have collective amnesia
George Will’s praise for the Homestead Act of 1862 demonstrates modern conservatives’ need to operate with collective amnesia regarding American history. The longer our history, the shorter their memories.
The Homestead Act, with its positive effect on sensible immigration policy, only passed Congress after rural Southern conservatives left Washington with the secession of their respective states. It is not hard to imagine Will as an 1860s pundit bemoaning the radicalness of the Republican Party in passing such a measure. Heck, you can even imagining him disapproving the breakup of the Union, but finding no constitutional authority to save it. Think of Will lecturing his readers on how he understood the original Framers’ intent better than this bumpkin President Abraham Lincoln operating with “the certitude of ignorance.”
What of the Pacific Railroad Act, backed by 30-year U.S. bonds and 10 sections of government land per road mile along the right of way to the private railroad builders? Picture an 1860s Will predicting the demise of the nation’s whole moral fabric with such an affront to laissez faire capitalism.
And the Morrill Act, directly involving the federal government in establishing colleges. Where is education mentioned in the Constitution? Could an 1860s Will have supported that?
Would an 1860s Will have supported the abolition of slavery? After all, the conservative position was that humanity had no role in an argument purely about the relationship between government and private property.
All these acts passed because enough of the day’s conservatives left Congress during the Civil War. The good old days of sound federal policy Will reminisced about were established by that era’s liberals. But the most ironic part of his article is his praise for the immigrants’ role in building a strong American future, without pointing out that the biggest obstacle to sane immigration policy is today’s Southern conservatives.