Dear Congress: Obama’s Amnesty Executive Order

Dear Senators and Representatives,

I am writing to ask what you intend to do about the president’s executive order tonight, the 20th of November; if anything. If you do not intend to do anything to prevent the abdication of congressional powers, then I ask that you please provide the specific reference within the United States Constitution that permits this action.

While some defend this as an action well within the executive power and may even attempt to equate it to the actions of past Republican presidents, it fails upon one simple train of logic. What the President did tonight is the same as if President Bush had requested tax reform from congress and after such reform not being produced; he then decides that he cannot sit idly with Congress’s inaction. An executive order is then executed stating that certain tax laws will no longer be enforced for people who have been in the top one percent since January 1, 2005. Of course, this would be outrageous, has no basis in law, would be declared an abomination by the Democrats (and hopefully Republicans) and outrageous by the media. Immediate calls for impeachment would follow. Yet its foundation differs not from today’s exploit.

The argument of past presidents doing the same is a red herring since both those executive actions were based on a statute passed by congress in 1986, which could have forced children and spouses of those just granted amnesty to be deported. I’m sure that separating these families was not the intent of congress, the presidential actions were within one and three years of it becoming law, and congress later codified it. Will you please provide me one statute passed by congress within the past 10 years that is amended by this current presidential order?

Whether Democrat or Republican should not matter to any congressional representative today, what matters is that this is yet another usurping of authority; which left unchecked proves another example of Congress’s abdication of power. Article I, Section 8, clearly gives you the power in determining paths to naturalization; Article II, Section 3, clearly says that your laws will be “faithfully executed” by the executive. Should we start using the Constitution as toilet paper, or is there anyone in Congress that still believes in the oath they took?   Roads dangerous to our Republic and our kin are being paved before our eyes.

I appreciate your work for our state and will be grateful for your response on this pivotal decision. Congress’s reaction to this power grab will clearly portray their character and what they represent. The tools of the Constitution give Congress the means of protecting it…if they have fortitude to utilize them. I pray that your strengths, your love of country, and your dedication to the American People permit your influence upon others in defense of our Constitution. If you believe this is a non-issue then my fear for our country is ever more warranted.

May God bless you and these United States!


You are permitted to use this letter in its entirety, as long as no changes are made except for salutation and signature. If posting to another website, credit and link to this page must accompany your post. -ML.

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Power of the Purse: The Most Complete and Effectual Weapon.

For all those who are concerned that a Congressional exercise of its constitutional power of the purse will lead to a government shutdown & a default on the debt, lets look at history. For goodness sake! The Democrats shutdown the government 5 times when they controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress! We survived every shutdown, and not once have we defaulted on our debt because of it!  While a shutdown should be avoided if possible, we must remember that a shutdown takes two; like both houses of congress with disagreements between each other as we saw in the 1970’s, and the more common tiffs between Congress and the President.  The more representative Congress passes the bill; it’s up to the President to sign it.

Another point to keep this in perspective is that the longest shutdown since 1976 was 21 days, yet the federal government is already shutdown 104 days a year…not including holidays.Gov Shutdown Hx “This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.” -James Madison; The Federalist, No. 58 We are currently not dealing with just a simple budget fight, but an overreach of the executive into the powers of the legislative, as granted to congress alone in Article I of the Constitution.  If there were ever a time to use any tool provided to Congress to defend the Constitution and prevent the abdication of their powers…it is now.  Now is not the time for Republicans to be squeamish of a fight and to take such tools “off the table,” it is the time fulfill the oath that they took! I applaud Mark Levin (or should I call him Paul) for getting the word out and educating the People, and ask that all those concerned for their kin and country do the same.  If Paul were to ever read these words…I hope that I did the message justice. ML

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The Liberty Amendments!

Get a sneak peak of the first chapter of THE LIBERTY AMENDMENTS!The Liberty Amendments Time to put a leash on Washington using the tools our founding fathers included in the Constitution! Those “dead old white men” left us a peaceful emergency handle for when our government got out of control…LEARN ABOUT IT THIS WEEKEND!!! Mark Levin has made this available and I highly recommend you take the time to read this first chapter and share.

Then I recommend you buy, read, share the book, and share your newfound knowledge. The price of this book is $10. The price of the American people not learning about its contents could very well be our children’s liberty.

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Why immigration from a century ago will not work today.

It is one thing to have free immigration




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The Case for Repealing Dodd-Frank

Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

English: The Fannie Moss Miller House located ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peter J. Wallison-American Enterprise Institute

We will never know, of course, what would have happened if these emergency actions had not been taken, but it is possible to gain an understanding of why they were considered necessary—that is, the causes of the crisis.
* * *
Why is it important at this point to examine the causes of the crisis? After all, it was five years ago, and Congress and financial regulators have acted, or are acting, to prevent a recurrence. Even if we can’t pinpoint the exact cause of the crisis, some will argue that the new regulations now being put in place under Dodd-Frank will make a repetition unlikely. Perhaps. But these new regulations have almost certainly slowed economic growth and the recovery from the post-crisis recession, and they will continue to do so in the future. If regulations this pervasive were really necessary to prevent a recurrence of the financial crisis, then we might be facing a legitimate trade-off in which we are obliged to sacrifice economic freedom and growth for the sake of financial stability. But if the crisis did not stem from a lack of regulation, we have needlessly restricted what most Americans want for themselves and their children.

It is not at all clear that what happened in 2008 was the result of insufficient regulation or an economic system that is inherently unstable. On the contrary, there is compelling evidence that the financial crisis was the result of the government’s own housing policies. These in turn, as we will see, were based on an idea—still popular on the political left—that underwriting standards in housing finance are discriminatory and unnecessary. In today’s vernacular, it’s called “opening the credit box.” These policies, as I will describe them, were what caused the insolvency of the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and ultimately the financial crisis. They are driven ideologically by the left, but the political muscle in Washington is supplied by what we should call the Government Mortgage Complex—the realtors, the homebuilders, and the banks—for whom freely available government-backed mortgage money is a source of great profit.

The Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, established in 1934, was authorized to insure mortgages up to 100 percent, but it required a 20 percent down payment and operated with very few delinquencies for 25 years. However, in the serious recession of 1957, Congress loosened these standards to stimulate the growth of housing, moving down payments to three percent between 1957 and 1961. Predictably, this resulted in a boom in
FHA insured mortgages and a bust in the late ,60s. The pattern keeps recurring, and no one seems to remember the earlier mistakes. We loosen mortgage standards, there’s a bubble, and then there’s a crash. Other than the taxpayers, who have to cover the government’s losses, most of the people who are hurt are those who bought in the bubble years, and found—when the bubble deflated—that they couldn’t afford their homes.

Exactly this happened in the period leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, again as a result of the government’s housing policies. Only this time, as I’ll describe, the government’s policies were so pervasive and were pursued with such vigor by two administrations that they caused a financial crisis as well as the usual cyclical housing market collapse.
* * *
Congress planted the seeds of the crisis in 1992, with the enactment of what were called “affordable housing” goals for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Before 1992, these two firms dominated the housing finance market, especially after the federal savings and loan industry—another government mistake—had collapsed in the late 1980s. Fannie and Freddie’s role, as initially envisioned and as it developed until 1992, was to conduct what were called secondary market operations, to create a liquid market in mortgages. They were prohibited from making loans themselves, but they were authorized to buy mortgages from banks and other lenders. Their purchases provided cash for lenders and thus encouraged home ownership by making more funds available for more mortgages. Although Fannie and Freddie were shareholder-owned, they were chartered by Congress and granted numerous government privileges. For example, they were exempt from state and local taxes and from SEC regulations. The president appointed a minority of the members of their boards of directors, and they had a $2.25 billion line of credit at the Treasury. As a result, market participants believed that Fannie and Freddie were government backed, and would be rescued by the government if they ever encountered financial difficulties.

This widely assumed government support enabled these GSEs to borrow at rates only slightly higher than the U.S. Treasury itself, and with these low-cost funds they were able to drive all competition out of the secondary mortgage market for middle-class mortgages—about 70 percent of the $11 trillion housing finance market. Between 1991 and 2003, Fannie and Freddie’s market share increased from 28 to 46 percent. From this dominant position, they were able to set the underwriting standards for the market as a whole; few mortgage lenders would make middle-class mortgages that could not be sold to Fannie or Freddie.

Over time, these two GSEs had learned from experience what underwriting standards kept delinquencies and defaults low. These required down payments of 10 to 20 percent, good credit histories for borrowers, and low debt-to-income ratios after the mortgage was closed. These were the foundational elements of what was called a prime loan or a traditional mortgage, and they contributed to a stable mortgage market through the 1970s and most of the 1980s, with mortgage defaults generally under one percent in normal times and only slightly higher in rough economic waters. Despite these strict credit standards, the homeownership rate in the United States remained relatively high, hovering around 64 percent for the 30 years between 1964 and 1994.

In a sense, government backing of the GSEs and their market domination was their undoing. Community activists had kept the two firms in their sights for many years, arguing that Fannie and Freddie’s underwriting standards were so tight that they
were keeping many low- and moderate income families from buying homes. The fact that the GSEs had government support gave Congress a basis for intervention, and in 1992 Congress directed the GSEs to meet a quota of loans to low- and middle-income borrowers when they acquired mortgages. The initial quota was 30 percent: In any year, at least 30 percent of the loans Fannie and Freddie acquired must have been made to low- and moderate income borrowers—defined as borrowers at or below the median income level in their communities. Although 30 percent was not a difficult goal, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was given authority to increase the goals, and Congress cleared the way for far more ambitious requirements by suggesting in the legislation that down payments could be reduced below five percent without seriously impairing mortgage quality. In succeeding years, HUD raised the goal, with many intermediate steps, to 42 percent in 1996, 50 percent in 2000, and 56 percent in 2008.

In order to meet these ever-increasing goals, Fannie and Freddie had to reduce their underwriting standards. In fact that was explicitly HUD’s purpose, as many statements by the department at the time made clear. As early as 1995, the GSEs were buying mortgages with three percent down payments, and by 2000 Fannie and Freddie were accepting loans with zero down payments. At the same time, they were also compromising other underwriting standards, such as borrower credit standards, in order to find the subprime and other non-traditional mortgages they needed to meet the affordable housing goals.

These new easy credit terms spread far beyond the low-income borrowers that the loosened standards were intended to help. Mortgage lending is a competitive business; once Fannie and Freddie started to reduce their underwriting standards, many borrowers who could have afforded prime mortgages sought the easier terms now available so they could buy larger homes with smaller down payments. Thus, home buyers above the median income were gaining leverage through lower down payments, and loans to them were decreasing in quality. In many cases, these homeowners were withdrawing cash from the equity in their homes through cash-out refinancing as home prices went up and interest rates declined in the mid-2000s. By 2007, 37 percent of loans with down payments of three percent went to borrowers with incomes above the median.

As a result of the gradual deterioration in loan quality over the preceding 16 years, by 2008, just before the crisis, 56 percent of all mortgages in the U.S.—32 million loans—were subprime or otherwise low quality. Of this 32 million, 76 percent were on the books of government agencies or institutions like the GSEs that were controlled by government policies. This shows incontrovertibly where the demand for these mortgages originated.
* * *
With all the new buyers entering the market because of the affordable housing goals, housing prices began to rise. By 2000, the developing bubble was already larger than any bubble in U.S. history, and it kept growing until 2007, when—at nine times the size of any previous bubble—it finally topped out and housing prices began to fall.

Housing bubbles tend to suppress delinquencies and defaults while the bubble is growing. This happens because as prices rise, it becomes possible or borrowers who are having difficulty meeting their mortgage obligations to refinance or sell the home for more than the principal amount of the mortgage. In these conditions, potential investors in mortgages or in mortgage-backed securities receive a strong affirmative signal; they see high-yielding mortgages—loans that reflect the riskiness of lending to a borrower with a weak credit history—but the expected delinquencies and defaults have not occurred. They come to think, “This time it’s different”—that the risks of investing in subprime or other weak mortgages are not as great as they’d thought.

Housing bubbles are also procyclical. When they are growing, they feed on themselves, as buyers bid up prices so they won’t lose a home they want. Appraisals, based on comparable homes, keep pace with rising prices. And loans keep pace with appraisals, until home prices get so high that buyers can’t afford them no matter how lenient the terms of the mortgage. But when bubbles begin to deflate,
the process reverses. It then becomes impossible to refinance or sell a home when the mortgage is larger than the home’s appraised value. Financial losses cause creditors to pull back and tighten lending standards, recessions frequently occur, and would-be purchasers can’t get financing. Sadly, many are likely to have lost their jobs in the recession while being unable to move where jobs are more plentiful, because they couldn’t sell their homes without paying off the mortgage balances. In these circumstances, many homeowners are tempted to walk away from the mortgage, knowing that in most states the lender has recourse only to the home itself.

With the largest housing bubble in history deflating in 2007, and more than half of all mortgages made to borrowers who had weak credit or little equity in their homes, the number of delinquencies and defaults in 2008 was unprecedented. One immediate effect was the collapse of the market for mortgage-backed securities that were issued by banks, investment banks, and subprime lenders, and held by banks, financial institutions, and other investors around the world. These were known as private label securities or private mortgage-backed securities, to distinguish them from mortgage-backed securities issued by Fannie and Freddie. Investors, shocked by the sheer number of mortgage defaults that seemed to be underway, fled the market for private label securities; there were now no buyers, causing a sharp drop in market values for these securities.
* * *
This had a disastrous effect on financial institutions. Since 1994, they had been required to use what was called “fair value accounting” in setting the balance sheet value of their assets and liabilities. The most significant element of fair value accounting was the
requirement that assets and liabilities be marked-to-market, meaning that the balance sheet value of assets and liabilities was to reflect their current market value instead of their amortized cost or other valuation methods.

Marking-to-market worked effectively as long as there was a market for the assets in question, but it was destructive when the market collapsed in 2007. With buyers pulling away, there were only distress-level prices for private mortgage-backed securities. Although there were alternative ways for assets to be valued in the absence of market prices, auditors—worried about their potential liability if  hey permitted their clients to overstate assets in the midst of the financial crisis—would not allow the use of these alternatives. Accordingly, financial firms were compelled to write down significant portions of their private mortgage-backed securities assets and take losses that substantially reduced their capital positions and created worrisome declines in earnings. When Lehman Brothers, a major investment bank, declared bankruptcy, a full scale panic ensued in which financial institutions started to hoard cash. They wouldn’t lend to one another, even overnight, for fear that they would not have immediate cash available when panicky investors or depositors came for it. This radical withdrawal of  liquidity from the market was the financial crisis.

Thus, the crisis was not caused by insufficient regulation, let alone by an inherently unstable financial system. It was caused by government housing policies that forced the dominant factors in the trillion dollar housing market—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—to reduce their underwriting standards. These lax standards then spread to the wider market, creating an enormous bubble and a financial system in which well more  than half of all mortgages were subprime or otherwise weak. When the bubble deflated, these mortgages failed in unprecedented numbers, driving down housing values and the values of mortgage- backed securities on the balance sheets of financial institutions. With these institutions looking unstable and possibly insolvent, a full-scale financial panic ensued when Lehman Brothers, a large financial firm, failed.
* * *
Given these facts, further regulation of the financial system through the Dodd-Frank Act was a disastrously wrong response. The vast new regulatory restrictions in the act have created uncertainty and sapped the appetite for risk-taking that had once made the U.S.
financial system the largest and most successful in the world.

What, then, should have been done? The answer is a thorough reorientation of the U.S. housing finance system away from the kind of government control that makes it hostage to narrow political imperatives—that is, providing benefits to constituents—rather than responsive to the competition and efficiency imperatives of a market system. This does not mean that we should have no regulation. What it means is that we should have only regulation that is necessary when the self-correcting elements in a market system fail. We can see exactly that kind of failure in the effect of a bubble on housing prices. A bubble energizes itself by reducing defaults as prices rise. This sends the wrong signal to investors: Instead of increasing risk, they tend to see increasing opportunity. They know that in the past there have been painful bubble deflations in housing, but it is human nature to believe that “this time it’s different.” Requiring that only high quality mortgages are eligible for securitization would be the kind of limited regulatory intervention that addresses the real problem, not the smothering regulation in Dodd-Frank that depresses economic growth.

The Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare, has received all the attention as the  orst expression of the Obama presidency, but Dodd-Frank deserves a look. Just as ObamaCare was the wrong prescription for health care, Dodd-Frank was based on a faulty diagnosis of the financial crisis. Until that diagnosis is corrected—until it is made clear to the American people that the financial crisis was caused by the government rather than by deregulation or insufficient regulation—economic growth will be impeded. It follows that when the true causes of the financial crisis have been made clear, it will become possible to
repeal Dodd-Frank.

This has happened before. During the 1930s, the dominant view was that the Depression was caused by excessive competition. It seems crackpot now, but the New Dealers thought that too much competition drove down prices, caused firms to fail, and thus increased unemployment. The Dodd-Frank of the time was the National Industrial Recovery Act. Although it was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, its purpose was to cartelize industry and limit competition so that businesses could raise their prices. It was only in the 1960s, when Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz showed that the Depression was caused by the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, that national policies began to move away from regulation and toward competition. What followed was a flood of deregulation—of trucking, air travel, securities, and communications, among others— which has given us the Internet, affordable air travel for families instead of just business, securities transactions at a penny a share, and Fedex. Ironically, however, the regulation of banking increased, accounting for the problems of the industry today.

If the American people come to recognize that the financial crisis was caused by the housing policies of their own government—rather than insufficient regulation or the inherent instability of the U.S. financial system—Dodd-Frank will be seen as an illegitimate response to the crisis. Only then will it be possible to repeal or substantially modify this repressive law.

Peter J. Wallison holds the Arthur F. Burns Chair in Financial Policy
Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Previously he
practiced banking, corporate, and financial law at Gibson, Dunn
& Crutcher in Washington, D.C., and in New York. He also
served as White House Counsel in the Reagan Administration. A
graduate of Harvard College, Mr. Wallison received his law degree
from Harvard Law School and is a regular contributor to the Wall
Street Journal, among many other publications. He is the editor,
co-editor, author, or co-author of numerous books, including
Ronald Reagan: The Power of Conviction and the Success of His Presidency and Bad
History, Worse Policy: How a False Narrative about the Financial Crisis Led to the
Dodd-Frank Act.
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Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot

Despotism may govern without faith,

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Is That Law Consitutional?

So, is that law constitutional?  Most people seem to believe that it’s  up to the Supreme Court to decide and that’s final.  Is it?  President Lincoln obviously didn’t think so, as expressed during his first inaugural address in 1861:

“…the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government, upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.” [Emphasis mine]

Think about it.  All branches of government; the legislative, executive, and judicial; take an oath before starting their jobs.  Nowhere in the oath does it say that they will protect the land of these United States.  Nowhere in the oath does it say they will protect you, me, or the people as a whole.  Nowhere in the oath does it say that they will provide for anyone.  What they pledge is to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  The President’s adds “preserve” to the beginning of that, and the Supreme Court’s variant “will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as [TITLE] under the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

So how should this play out?  Well, Congress should not pass any law that is not constitutional; but if they do, then the President is the next line of defense with his veto power; and should that fail, the Supreme Court is generally recognized as the last bulwark.  Sadly, history tells us that this is not always enough, as even the Supreme Court will be on the wrong side, as it was during the infamous Dred Scott case (what Lincoln’s quote targeted) and most recently with National Federation of Independent Business v. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services (the Affordable Care Act; and the irony is evident if you read the opinion of the court).

One of the great things about our Constitution is that its makers foresaw such events through their own knowledge of history, and built into its foundation the mechanisms to keep its pages standing.  This is why we have terms of office (the Supreme Courts is simply during “good Behaviour [sic]”), and modes of removal that allow us to oust those passing or supporting laws in violation thereof (yes, even Supreme Court judges can be impeached).  The new representatives, president, or jurors can then make changes to the laws to align them with our Constitution or outright abolish them.  This is only way most people are aware of to control our governmental overreach, and there is yet another.

People are often shocked to hear that there is a way for “We the People” to go completely around Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court, to pass amendments to the Constitution…but it’s true!  It is found just after the “or” in Article V and reads, “on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which…shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths Thereof.”  This can be used to place needed restrictions upon the Washington establishment (we know they wouldn’t do that on their own), to curtail certain laws, or strip deceptive ways of passing laws.  There is no need of suggesting the use of this power to extend the powers of government, because they are already doing this in spite of the Constitution.

These modes of change do take time, yet they also answer our question: Who makes the final determination on the constitutionality of a law?  It is not the lawmakers. It is not the enforcer.  Nor the jurors.  It is us!  Are we willing to accept such responsibility?!


A great source of information on this is a book by Mark Levin called “The Liberty Amendments,” which not only discusses this in much greater detail, it gives historical examples and reference, and it even has 10 suggestions for amendments.  His first suggestion, term limits, is a perfect example for utilizing the Constitution’s Article V.  Does anyone believe today’s congress would ever pass a law or amendment limiting their terms?


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Football and the American Character

Image:Wilsonnflfootball.jpg, modified to have ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

By John J. Miller

When we talk about football, we usually talk about our favorite teams and the games they play. The biggest ongoing story in the sport right now, however, is something else entirely. It’s not about the Bears vs. the Packers or Michigan vs. Ohio State, but rather the controversy over concussions and the long-term health effects of head injuries.

On August 29, 2013, the National Football League agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit involving more than 4,500 players and their families, who had claimed that the league covered up data on the harmful effects of concussions. Although medical research into football and long-term effects of head injuries is hardly conclusive, some data suggest a connection. A number of legal experts believe the NFL, which will generate about $10 billion in revenue this year, dodged an even bigger payout.

Football, of course, is much bigger than the NFL and its players, whose average yearly salary is nearly $2 million. Football’s ranks include about 50,000 men who play in college and four million boys who play for schools or in youth leagues whose pockets aren’t nearly so deep. A Colorado jury recently awarded $11.5 million to a boy who suffered a paralyzing injury at his high school football practice in 2008. How long will it be before school districts begin to think football isn’t worth the cost?

Earlier this year, President Obama waded into the debate. “If I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” he said. He also called for football “to reduce some of the violence.” Others have called for a more dramatic solution: Malcolm Gladwell, the bestselling author of The Tipping Point and other books, thinks football should go the way of dogfighting. He would like to see America’s favorite sport run out of polite society.

So football’s future is uncertain. But the past may offer important lessons. After all, football’s problems today are nothing compared to what they were about a century ago: In 1905, 18 people died playing the sport. Football became embroiled in a long-running dispute over violence and safety—and it was almost banned through the efforts of Progressive-era prohibitionists. Had these enemies of football gotten their way, they might have erased one of America’s great pastimes from our culture. But they lost—and it took the efforts of Theodore Roosevelt to thwart them.

On November 18, 1876, Theodore Roosevelt, a freshman at Harvard who had just turned 18, attended his first football game. Destined for great things, he was enthusiastic about athletics in general and eager to see the new sport of football in particular. So here he was at the second game ever played between Harvard and its great rival Yale.

As Roosevelt shivered in the cold and windy fall weather, he watched a game that was quite different from the sport we know today. There were no quarterbacks or wide receivers, no first downs or forward passes. Before play began, the teams met to discuss rules. What number of men would play? What would count for a score? How long would the game last? They were like school kids today who have to set up boundaries, choose between a game of touch or tackle, and decide how to count blitzes.

Harvard’s veterans agreed to a couple of suggestions proposed by Yale. The first would carry a lasting legacy: Rather than playing with 15 men to a side, as was the current custom, the teams would play with eleven men. So this was the first football game to feature eleven players on the field per team.

The second suggestion would not shape the sport’s future, but it would affect the game that afternoon: Touchdowns would not count for points. Only goals—balls sailed over a rope tied between two poles—kicked after touchdowns or kicked from the field during play would contribute to the score.

In the first half, Harvard scored a touchdown but missed the kick. By the rules of the day, this meant that Harvard earned no points. At halftime, the game was a scoreless tie.

After the break, Yale pushed into Harvard territory and a lanky freshman named Walter Camp tried to shovel the ball to a teammate. It was a poor lateral pass that hit the ground and bounced upward, taking one of those funny hops that can befuddle even skilled players. In a split second, Oliver Thompson decided to take a chance on a kick from about 35 yards away and at a wide angle. The ball soared into the air, over the rope and through the uprights, giving Yale a lead of 1-0. No more points were scored that afternoon.

In a letter to his mother the next day, Roosevelt gave voice to the frustration that so often accompanies defeat in sports. “I am sorry to say we were beaten,” he wrote, “principally because our opponents played very foul.”

More about Teddy Roosevelt and what he did for football in a moment. But first, let me discuss briefly why football matters.

Love for a college football team, whether it’s the Texas Longhorns or the Hillsdale Chargers, is almost tribal. In some cases the affiliation is practically inherited, in others chosen. Whatever the origin, football has the power to form lifelong loyalties and passions and has supplanted baseball as America’s favorite pastime. Yet it almost died 100 years ago. Over the course of an ordinary football season in those days, a dozen or more people would die playing it, and many more suffered serious injuries. A lot of the casualties were kids in sandlot games, but big-time college teams also paid a price.

Football isn’t a contact sport—it’s a collision sport that has always prized size, strength, and power. This was especially true in its early years, when even the era of leatherheads lay in the future: Nobody wore helmets, facemasks, or shoulder pads. During the frequent pileups, hidden from the view of referees, players would wrestle for advantage by throwing punches and jabbing elbows. The most unsporting participants would even try to gouge their opponents’ eyes.

The deaths were the worst. They were not freak accidents as much as the inevitable toll of a violent game. And they horrified a group of activists who crusaded against football itself—wanting not merely to remove violence from the sport, but to ban the sport altogether. At the dawn of the Progressive era, the social and political movement to prohibit football became a major cause.

The New York Evening Post attacked the sport, as did The Nation, an influential magazine of news and opinion. The latter worried that colleges were becoming “huge training grounds for young gladiators, around whom as many spectators roar as roared in the [Roman] amphitheatre.” The New York Times bemoaned football’s tendency toward “mayhem and homicide.” Two weeks later, the Times ran a new editorial entitled “Two Curable Evils.” The first evil it addressed was lynching. The second was football.

The main figure in this movement to ban football was Charles W. Eliot, the president of Harvard and probably the single most important person in the history of higher education in the United States. Indeed, Eliot hated team sports in general because competition motivated players to conduct themselves in ways he considered unbecoming of gentlemen. If baseball and football were honorable pastimes, he reasoned, why did they require umpires and referees? “A game that needs to be watched is not fit for genuine sportsmen,” he once said. For Eliot, a pitcher who threw a curve ball was engaging in an act of treachery. But football distressed him even more. Most of all, he despised its violence. Time and again, he condemned the game as “evil.”

One of Eliot’s main adversaries in the battle over football was Walter Camp, one of the players in the game Teddy Roosevelt watched in 1876. A decent player, Camp made his real mark on football as a coach and a rules-maker. Indeed, he is the closest thing there is to football’s founding father.

In the rivalry between Eliot and Camp, we see one of the ongoing controversies in American politics at its outset—the conflict between regulators bent on the dream of a world without risk, and those who resist such an agenda in the name of freedom and responsibility. Eliot and other Progressives identified a genuine problem with football, but their solution was radical. They wanted to regulate football out of existence because they believed that its participants were not capable of making their own judgments in terms of costs and benefits. In their higher wisdom, these elites would ban the sport for all.

Into this struggle stepped Theodore Roosevelt. As a boy, he had suffered from chronic asthma to the point that relatives wondered if he would survive childhood. His mother and father tried everything to improve his health, even resorting to quack cures such as having him smoke cigars. Ultimately they concluded that he simply would have to overcome the disease. They encouraged him to go to a gym, and he worked out daily. The asthma would stay with Roosevelt for years, but by the time he was an adult, it was largely gone. For Roosevelt, the lesson was that a commitment to physical fitness could take a scrawny boy and turn him into a vigorous young man.

This experience was deeply connected to Roosevelt’s love of football. He remained a fan as he graduated from Harvard, entered politics, ranched out west, and became an increasingly visible public figure.

In 1895, shortly before he became president of the New York City police commission, he wrote a letter to Walter Camp that read as follows:

I am very glad to have a chance of expressing to you the obligation which I feel all Americans are under to you for your championship of athletics. The man on the farm and in the workshop here, as in other countries, is apt to get enough physical work; but we were tending steadily in America to produce . . . sedentary classes . . . and from this the athletic spirit has saved us. Of all games I personally like foot ball the best, and I would rather see my boys play it than see them play any other. I have no patience with the people who declaim against it because it necessitates rough play and occasional injuries. The rough play, if confined within manly and honorable limits, is an advantage. It is a good thing to have the personal contact about which the New York Evening Post snarls so much, and no fellow is worth his salt if he minds an occasional bruise or cut. Being near-sighted I was not able to play foot ball in college, and I never cared for rowing or base ball, so that I did all my work in boxing and wrestling. They are both good exercises, but they are not up to foot ball . . . .

I am utterly disgusted with the attitude of President Eliot and the Harvard faculty about foot ball . . . .

I do not give a snap for a good man who can’t fight and hold his own in the world. A citizen has got to be decent of course. That is the first requisite; but the second, and just as important, is that he shall be efficient, and he can’t be efficient unless he is manly. Nothing has impressed me more in meeting college graduates during the fifteen years I have been out of college than the fact that on the average the men who have counted most have been those who had sound bodies.

As this letter indicates, Roosevelt saw football as more than a diversion. He saw it as a positive social good. When he was recruiting the Rough Riders in 1898, he went out of his way to select men who had played football. The Duke of Wellington reportedly once said, “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” Roosevelt never said anything similar about football fields and the Battle of San Juan Hill, but when he emerged from the Spanish-American War as a national hero—and as someone talked about as being of presidential timber—he knew how much he owed not just to the Rough Riders, but to the culture of manliness and risk-taking that had shaped them.

Like Roosevelt, our society values sports, though we don’t always think about why—or why we should. My kids have played football, baseball, hockey, soccer, and lacrosse. As a family, we’re fairly sports-oriented. It has forced me to think about a question that a lot of parents probably ask at one time or another: Why do we want our kids to participate in athletics?

Many parents will point to the obvious fact that sports are good for health and fitness. They’ll also discuss the intangible benefits in terms of character building—sports teach kids to get up after falling down, to play through pain, to deal with failure, to work with teammates, to take direction from coaches, and so on.

It turns out that there really is something to all of this. Empirical research shows that kids who play sports stay in school longer. As adults, they vote more often and earn more money. Explaining why this is true is trickier, but it probably has something to do with developing a competitive instinct and a desire for achievement.

Roosevelt was surely correct in believing that sports influence the character of a nation. Americans are much more likely than Europeans to play sports. We’re also more likely to attribute economic success to hard work, as opposed to luck. It may be that sports are a manifestation—or possibly even a source—of American exceptionalism.

When Roosevelt ascended to the presidency, football remained controversial and Harvard’s Eliot continued his crusade for prohibition. In 1905, Roosevelt was persuaded to act. He invited Walter Camp of Yale to the White House, along with the coaches of Harvard and Princeton. These were the three most important football teams in the country. “Football is on trial,” said Roosevelt. “Because I believe in the game, I want to do all I can to save it.” He encouraged the coaches to eliminate brutality, and they promised that they would.

Whether they meant what they said is another matter. Walter Camp didn’t see anything wrong with the way football was played. Harvard’s coach, however, was a young man named Bill Reid. He took Roosevelt more seriously, because he took the threat to football more seriously. Indeed, within weeks of meeting with Roosevelt, he came to fear that Eliot was on the verge of success in having Harvard drop the sport, which would have encouraged other schools to do the same.

At the end of the 1905 season, therefore, Reid plotted with a group of reform-minded colleges to form an organization that today we know as the NCAA and to approve a set of sweeping rules changes to reduce football’s violence. In committee meetings, Reid outmaneuvered Camp while receiving critical behind-the-scenes support from Roosevelt.

As a result, football experienced an extreme makeover: The yardage necessary for a first down increased from five to ten. Rules-makers also created a neutral zone at the line of scrimmage, limited the number of players who could line up in the backfield, made the personal foul a heavily penalized infraction, and banned the tossing of ballcarriers.

These were important revisions, and each was approved with an eye toward improving the safety of players. Yet the change that would transform the sport the most was the introduction of the forward pass. Up to this point, football was a game of running and kicking, not throwing. There were quarterbacks but not wide receivers. It took a few years to get the rule right—footballs needed to evolve away from their watermelon-like shape and become more aerodynamic, and coaches and players had to figure out how to take advantage of this new offensive tool. But on November 1, 1913, football moved irreversibly into the modern era.

Army was one of the best teams in the country, a national championship contender. It was scheduled to play a game against a little-known Catholic school from the Midwest. The headline in the New York Times that morning read: “Army Wants Big Score.” The little-known Catholic school was Notre Dame. Knute Rockne and his teammates launched football’s first true air war, throwing again and again for receptions and touchdowns. And they won, 35-14. Gushed the New York Times:

“The Westerners flashed the most sensational football that has been seen in the East this year. The Army players were hopelessly confused and chagrined before Notre Dame’s great playing, and their style of old-fashioned close line-smashing play was no match for the spectacular and highly perfected attack of the Indiana collegians.”

A West Point cadet named Dwight Eisenhower watched from the sidelines. He was on Army’s team but didn’t play due to injury. “Everything has gone wrong,” he wrote to his girlfriend. “The football team . . . got beaten most gloriously by Notre Dame.”

With that game, football’s long first chapter came to a close. It had reduced the problem of violence, and the game that we enjoy today was born.

The example of Roosevelt shows that a skillful leader can use a light touch to solve a vexing problem. As a general rule, of course, we don’t want politicians interfering with our sports. The only thing that could make the BCS system worse is congressional involvement.

At the same time, our political leaders help to shape our culture and our expectations. They can promise a world without risk, or they can send a different message. As a father myself, I can sympathize with President Obama’s cautious statements about football. At the same time, his comments would have benefited from some context: Gregg Easterbrook, who writes a football column for ESPN, has pointed out that a teen who drives a car for an hour has about a one in a million chance of dying—compared to a one in six million chance for a teen who spends an hour practicing football.

Americans are a self-governing people. We can make our own judgments about whether to drive or play football—and when we make these choices, we can make them in recognition of the fact that although sports can be dangerous, they’re also good for us. They not only make us distinctively American, they make us better Americans.


JOHN J. MILLER is director of the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism at Hillsdale College and national correspondent for National Review. A graduate of the University of Michigan, where he served as editor of the Michigan Review, he has also worked on the staff of The New Republic. A contributing editor of Philanthropy magazine, he writes regularly for newspapers and journals including the Detroit News, the Wall Street Journal, and National Review. He is the author of several books, including The First Assassin, a novel set during the Civil War, and most recently The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football.

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