by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Perhaps it’s time to bring back the American Liberty League.
Forgotten by everyone save a few history buffs, primarily on the libertarian right and the Marxist left, the League was formed early in Franklin Roosevelt’s first term by John Jakob Raskob, a former head of the Democratic party. Its leadership comprised mostly conservative small-government Democrats, including the party’s two previous presidential nominees — Al Smith, who ran in 1928 (the first major Catholic presidential candidate), and John Davis, who lost to Calvin Coolidge in 1924. It received considerable funding from some industrial titans, but it was also a legitimate grass-roots educational and political organization with more than 100,000 active members.
The League saw itself as a platform for constitutionalists and classical liberals who felt estranged from both Roosevelt’s Democratic party and Herbert Hoover’s Republican party. …
… [A]t the time, if you were a free-market constitutionalist, you could see how switching from Hoover to Roosevelt felt like falling out of the frying pan into the fire.
So in 1934 the group formed to stand up for ideas that had been called liberal for most of the preceding century. Its members weren’t anarchists. In its literature, the League said it “thoroughly recognizes the obligations of our government to come to the relief of the men and women who are in distress through no fault of their own.”
But they were passionate champions of economic liberty. “There is one very clear lesson to be learned from history — namely, that governmental disregard for property rights soon leads to disregard for other rights,” one of its pamphlets declared. “A bureaucracy or despotism that robs citizens of their property does not like to be haunted by its victims.”