Boaz points out, correctly, that there were great restrictions on the freedom of many Americans during these periods:
But in 1776 black Americans were held in chattel slavery, and married women had no legal existence except as agents of their husbands. In 1910 and even 1950, blacks still suffered under the legal bonds of Jim Crow—and we all faced confiscatory tax rates throughout the postwar period.
I have never been inclined to a "reactionary" political stance. I never think in terms of returning to the past. While I have no problem appealing to the libertarian rhetoric of Thomas Jefferson, my political vision starts at the status quo and focuses on reforms that expand individual liberty by shrinking the size and scope of government. A possible return to prohibiting women from holding property, much less making African-Americans into property, hardly arise from a forward-looking approach to libertarian politics.
Boaz quotes from an essay by Jacob Hornberger. Hornberber is also a committed and knowledgeable libertarian. Hornberger was defending the "Tea Party" movement against accusations of insanity by "liberals." Roughly, Hornberger's essay is guilty of the pre-Progessive era and Founders' era nostalgia. (He is especially hard on the New Deal, pointing to the parallels with fascism.)
I thought Hornberger's essay was fine, but reading it in the context of Boaz's criticism, I do think he could have added something about the economic liberties of the enslaved and women. There were plenty of libertarians in the 19th century who demanded equal individual rights for all people. Sadly, their influence was limited.
Since Hornberger's essay was about how liberals criticize the Tea Party movement, and given the stream of attacks on the Tea Party movement as being racist, pointing out the libertarian position that the rhetoric of the Founder's really should apply to everyone, men and women of all ethnic backgrounds, would have been especially appropriate.
I was surprised by the comments on Boaz's article. Apparently, many of those commenting on the article first read comments on Lew Rockwell's blog.
Karen Kwiatkowski started the process. She commented that she used to like the Cato Institute, (where Boaz works,) but now prefers the Future of Freedom Foundation, (of which Hornberger is President,) and the Mises Institute. She was especially incensed that Boaz quoted Brink Lindsey. Lindsey takes the optimistic view that the U.S. has become more libertarian since the sixties. (I agree.) Kwiatkowski didn't really take issue with his position, but rather considers him beyond the pale because he supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Continuing on in the vein of inter-libertarian squabbling and rhetorical purges, Tom DiLorenzo added that Boaz "lies" when he claims that "we ignore the issue of slavery." "Lies?" "We?" Of course, many libertarians have written about the evils of slavery. As Boaz explains:
I know he (Hornberger) isn't indifferent to the crime of slavery. But too many of us who extol the Founders and deplore the growth of the American state forget that that state held millions of people in chains.
I would add that I doubt Hornberger or many other libertarians ever forget this, but they often fail to mention it when writing sweeping generalizations about individual liberty and U.S. history. Boaz's constructive criticism of Hornberger's essay, with which I agree, is that libertarians should be sure to mention that we support individual liberty for everyone yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
P.S. No one should be surprised that I don't generally argue that we should return to the glorius era of monetary freedom that existed before the Federal Reserve Act. Like most advocates of free banking, I consider U.S. banking regulations in the pre-Fed era to be a disaster.
P.P.S. Hornberger responds to Boaz here. He includes a long list of articles showing that he makes a habit of adding a disclaimer about exceptions, especially slavery, when using 19th century America as an example of a golden era of freedom.