Theodore Roosevelt: The Navy

As the latest zinger of the Obama Romney campaign has been that President Obama has somehow reduced the Navy to it's lowest level since 1917, it's appropriate to talk about the man himself who pushed for a robust Navy, Theodore Roosevelt.

TR was truly a Naval enthusiast, having authored a book on the history of Naval Warfare in the War of 1812 that was so well written it's still studied in the Navy today.  In addition to writing a best selling book on the Navy, he also served as Assistent Secretary of the Navy under President McKinley where he constantly lobbied President McKinley for a more robust Navy and foreign policy.

He viewed America's failures in the War of 1812 as due in large part to the lack of a Navy that could stand up to British might.  The British at the time were by far the largest and best Naval power in the world.  It was their Navy that build the empire on which the sun never set.  He felt the answer to avoiding  military defeat in another potential invasion from a rival power was to drastically increase the number of ships in the United States Navy as well as professionalizing the maritime military forces.

It's not too surprising then that TR pushed a strong Navy in his budget when he came into office.  The Navy was expanded from 59 ships before TR was the Secretary of Navy for McKinley in 1897 to 141 when McKinley left office in 1901. By the time TR left office as President in 1913, the Navy was up to 214 active ships.

By 1916 or 1917, the Navy ballooned to 342 active ships and then nearly doubled in the two years following.  This is where the comparison loses meaning.

There are a few major factors to why Romney's argument that a lower active number of ships in the Navy means America is projecting an image of weakness.

The primary factor is that in the turn of the twentieth century, wars were fought very differently than they are now.  For starters, there were no airplanes then.  Navies were the primary vehicle of empire building and they could be used both offensively and defensively.  The steam engine was invented, so the Navies also became much more reliable since they did not always need to also rely on good winds as the Navies have had to do in the past.  Having a lot of ships roving the North and South American coastline deterred europeon invaders and were good tools to enforce America's interests in Latin America.  Then as now, superior and more technologically advanced forces could easily win wars. 


The Income Tax

Wars were fought over it, philosophers argued about it then and still do now.  Taxation is something that's always been and still is controversial. 

The income tax has been one of the most controversial.  Many don't realize that the country actually didn't even have an income tax until 1913 through a constitutional amendment, well into the industrial revolution.  This was at a time where the role of government was even more unsettled than it is now.

The government was entering into areas of people's lives that would have been unthinkable by much of the population 10 or 20 years before.  The urbanization of America led to things such as the regulation of food, traffic laws, housing and labor protections.  All of these new ventures increased the demand for revenue, as did the concern among many in society to reduce the inequality that came about from the South's defeat in the civil war and new industries that earned vast fortunes for early tycoons in the oil, gas and railroad industry.

In addition, wealth was being created in very different ways than when America was an agricultural society.  In the 1700's, most income came from owning land and selling produce or renting it out.  It was easy for the the government to know how much income an acre of land would generate and tax it accordingly.  With the industrial revolution, the relationship between labor and capital was different.  In a minimal amount of space, fantastic wealth could be generated from a factory setting.  Much of this wealth was going un-taxed. 

It was in this environment of Teddy Roosevelt's term that the income tax started to be agitated for and was towards the end of Taft's term in 1913 that it was passed.  Up until this time, it would have been nearly unthinkable to tax the income that someone earned.  Land was taxed, there was a sales tax and a whole host of other random taxes, but income was not something people were used to having taxed.

There are still people to this day that insist the income tax is unconstitutional.  Wesley Snipes, the demolition man himself went to jail for tax evasion because he doesn't accept that the government has the right to tax his income.