Guest Essayist: The Honorable John Boehner, 53rd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

The backdrop for President Reagan’s inaugural on January 20, 1981 was unforgettable. The United States had endured a decade of decline in our economy at home and our prestige abroad. Some Americans feared our best days were behind us as they had struggled through years of staggeringly high inflation, persistent unemployment, and shrinking incomes. The gears of American industry were slowed by an ever-expanding barrage of high-handed bureaucracies and policies established by administrations dating back to the New Deal.

But on that cold January day, a special man and a big moment came together. In his inaugural address the new president offered a new direction, but one based on the clear, foundational principles of the U.S. Constitution.

In the address, Reagan described the nation’s severe economic challenges, what he called “this present crisis,” as well as his administration’s objective – “a healthy, vigorous, growing economy.” He then used some of the sharpest language of any modern president to underscore the Constitution’s spirit of limited power guided by the people’s approval. “We are a nation that has a government, not the other way around,” he said. “Our government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.”

At the time of this address, I was a young, small businessman in the plastics and packaging industry. Like many Americans, I was dealing with the effects of out-of-control taxation and regulation. To me, government was killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

To this day, the simplicity of Reagan’s speech and his strong admonitions guides my work in the House of Representatives. He wanted government “to stand by our side, not ride on our back.” He established as “first priorities” the reawakening of America’s manufacturing base and the reduction of punitive taxes.

The latter goal was accomplished seven months after his inauguration and five months after an assassination attempt. On August 13, 1981, President Reagan signed the Kemp-Roth tax cuts, which slashed tax rates for individuals and businesses, rates which had grown to as high as 70 percent. These tax cuts and other initiatives during Reagan’s two terms led to an economic resurgence.

During the 1980s the economy grew by one-third. Seventeen million new workers were working longer hours per day. Household incomes rose. Unemployment dipped to the 5 percent range. Productivity and manufacturing surged, as did the savings rate. Inflation, once at double-digit levels, stabilized and decreased significantly. And interest rates, which had climbed to more than 18 percent in 1981, steadily fell during the Reagan era. It was, as described in the famous 1984 campaign ad, “morning in America.”

But this economic rebound grew from a clear recognition that federal power is constitutionally limited and that ultimately the people make the wisest economic decisions, not bureaucracies in Washington. President Reagan faced his administration’s challenges with this basic truth in mind. His first inaugural address made a transformational impact still remembered” and relevant” today as our nation faces big government power grabs such as ObamaCare.

If America’s long tradition of enlightened self-government is to survive, the people must not only be acquainted with our founding documents; they must also understand the thinking that produced them. The Constitution is not only the starting point of the American republic, as President Reagan made clear; it is the culmination of several centuries of serious thinking about the role of individuals in relation to each other and the Creator, and the most helpful way for each of us to secure our God-given liberties. I want to thank Janine Turner and Cathy Gillespie. I am humbled by their invitation to appear as a guest essayist. Let me also thank everyone at Constituting America for their hard work to, as they put it, “make the Constitution cool” for kids and adults and accurately teach the history of our great nation.

Read Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural Speech here.

The Honorable John Boehner represents the 8th Congressional District of Ohio, and is serving in the 113th Congress as the 53rd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

3 replies
  1. Ron
    Ron says:

    The most perfect final reading for this year’s program; a reading that offers hope and calls us all to action. Thank you Speaker Boehner for your comments. Similar to you, in 1981 I embarked upon a new small business that grew throughout the 1980s. The regulatory framework was a bother, but not a burden. I would not even attempt to start that same business today because the regulatory framework for that same business has evolved to a burden of overwhelming proportions. I pray that you and your conservative members of Congress will keep up the good fight and never give up.

    Janine & Cathy, thank you again for a fourth stimulating study – 360 days of knowledge and wisdom. Your programs plus Hillsdale courses on the Constitution and Progressivism have provided me not only knowledge of our founders and their wisdom in the design of our country’s structure, but also confidence to engage others who don’t understand the path they have intentionally or unintentionally agreed to follow with respect to the direction of our Constitutional Republic. I pray that your work will reach an ever increasing number of our citizens so that more of them also will gain the confidence to speak out in their communities, their online forums, and their families so that President Reagan’s optimism will reboot in our generation and bring about a renewal even stronger than that which occurred during the Reagan administration.

    Blessings to both of you!

  2. Barb Zack
    Barb Zack says:

    I too would like to thank Janine & Cathy for putting together another outstanding reading and essay study series. If we don’t know our Founding documents and the history behind them, this Nation is doomed! For me, the most eye-opening part of the series was to see how far back the Progressive, Socialist theories that seem to permeate our government actually goes. Obama may be trying to complete the transformation of this Nation to a Marxist Utopia, but he had about 110 years of help, dating back to Woodrow Wilson’s earliest days. If we don’t know the history of our nation’s foundation, we cannot effectively fight back or fight for our Nation’s founding principles. President REagan seemed to almost be our Nation’s last hope, because even now, many of the top conservative blogger and commentators and even politicians are zooming in on Obama and not the larger picture. As dangerous as Obama is to this Nation, we have to fight the basic mindset that seems to have taken hold after 110 years of taking root. I won’t give up; I’m sure there are enough people who feel the same way. We can take our Nation back! Again, many blessings to Janine, Cathy and all the essayists who contributed to my understanding of our Nation’s true history, the forces at work and how they often collide with each other. I can’t wait to see what next year’s study will be!!

  3. Janine Turner and Cathy Gillespie
    Janine Turner and Cathy Gillespie says:

    Howdy Barb & Ron and everyone who joined us this year on our 90 Day Study of the Classics That Inspired the Constitution and the Challenges it Faces Today! We hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July and are enjoying a beautiful long weekend!

    We wanted to let you know that Constituting America Founder & Co-Chair Janine Turner will be reading the U.S. Constitution in its entirety on her radio show tonight! Check it out 6pmE/5pmC on XM244, Houston’s KPRC AM 950 or iHeart Radio (search for KPRC)

    Thank you again for all you do for our country!
    Cathy Gillespie

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