According to Merriam-Webster, authoritarian means, “of, relating to, or favoring a concentration of power in a leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people.” Many feel the adjective suits Donald Trump’s leadership style to a tee.
Americans, however, are no strangers to authoritarian rulers. Although it has a history of being free and democratic, America has also had periods during which there have been totalitarian restrictions on free speech and repressive political violence.
1. John Adams
John Adams was not fond of being criticized by the press, much like Trump. When the U.S. was having tension with France in the late 1700s, Adams actually criminalized any criticism of the president, the U.S. government, or Congress. Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 and enforced it, according to HistoryNet.com. John Daly Burk, a newspaper editor and Matthew Lyon, a Republican representative criticized the president and his policies. Both were arrested.
Next: The decider
2. George W. Bush
George W. Bush browbeat Congress to pass his Patriot Act, which eliminated some Constitutional protections for Americans. The administration was tapping people’s phone calls, getting information on them via the Internet, and harvesting private information about them — all without a warrant, which is unconstitutional.
In addition, he had Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld created the Office of Special Plans, according to SourceWatch, which basically fabricated a case to invade Iran. And post 9/11, Bush claimed broad presidential powers. Lest we forget he called himself “the decider”?
Next: Espionage and sedition
3. Woodrow Wilson
Wilson’s Espionage Act was passed soon after the U.S. entered the war in April 1917. The act made it a crime to supply nay information that might interfere with the U.S. armed forces’ war effort. On the heels of the Espionage Act came the Sedition Act of 1918, which made any kind of resistance to the U.S. fighting World War I illegal.
Wilson’s administration prosecuted Eugene V. Debs, the socialist candidate delivering an anti-war speech. He went to prison but got out in 1921 when Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence, according to History. The law was appealed in 1920.
Next: Jackson’s Trail of Tears
4. Andrew Jackson
In May 1830, Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. The law gave the president the power to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders, according to History.
Many Native Americas resisted the policy and the U.S. forced the Cherokees to move west during the winter of 1838 — and the ethnic cleansing did damage. Nearly 4,000 Native Americans died on the march, which is known today as the Trail of Tears.
Next: Trump’s travel ban
5. Donald Trump
It seems as though Trump doesn’t cherish the U.S. values of freedom of speech and assembly — and liberty in general. Case in point: his travel ban. Now on its third version, according to The New York Times, the Supreme Court allowed it to go into effect in December 2017.
The ban includes new travel restrictions from Libya, Somalia, Iran, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Chad, and Venezuela. Each nation will have different restrictions, but when you distill the policy, it means that no citizens from these locations can permanently emigrate to the U.S. In addition, many of these citizens won’t be able to study, work, or vacation here, either.
Next: This president ran a socialist nation.
6. Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Supreme Court actually struck down many of Roosevelt’s proposals, calling them unconstitutional, according to Smithsonian.com. By starting a lot of the federal programs that are still in place today, Roosevelt essentially turned the U.S. into a socialist nation.
In Roosevelt’s defense, he was president during the war — and Congress gave him full decision-making power regarding the war. He had to make decisions fast and decisively, and that he did.
Next: Presidential paranoia
7. Richard Nixon
Everyone knows about Nixon’s biggest crime — Watergate — and his subsequent disgraced resignation in 1974. Nixon’s administration, however, is known for keeping things that were going on in the White House secret from the public, according to The New Yorker.
Because there was always the danger the press would uncover some of these secrets, Nixon despised the reporters and frequently accused them of being out to get him. He also believed — despite his being a lawyer — that the law didn’t apply to the president.
Next: This one’s a shocker
8. Abraham Lincoln
Yes, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. He also, however, suspended “writ of habeas corpus” in a special session with Congress in 1861, according to History. When Maryland State Legislator John Merryman tired to stop Union troops from moving to Washington from Baltimore during the Civil War, he was arrested.
His attorney sought a writ of habeas corpus, which protects citizens’ rights against illegal imprisonment. President Abraham Lincoln, however suspended the right of habeas corpus and refused to turn Merryman over to the authorities. The Supreme Court ruled that Lincoln didn’t have the authority to suspend it, but Lincoln never responded, appealed, or ordered Merryman’s release.
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