Historian, author of The Triumph of Liberty

Jim Powell is Senior Fellow at a libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., with which he has been associated since 1988. He has also done work for the Manhattan Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the National Right to Work Committee and Americans for Free Choice in Medicine.


About Jim Powell
Cato Institute


Cato Institute, Senior Fellow


Agenda for Liberty: A Biography of John Lilburne, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay
"A number of times throughout history, tyranny has stimulated breakthrough thinking about liberty. This was certainly the case in England with the mid-17th century era of repression, rebellion and civil war. There was a tremendous outpouring of political pamphlets and tracts. By far the most influential writings emerged from the pen of John Lilburne. ... Behind many of our most fundamental civil liberties there stood John Lilburne, a mere apprentice who helped develop a bold new vision of liberty, took a principled stand, risked his life, defied tyrants and got his story out. He suffered that we might be free."
Albert Jay Nock: A Gifted Pen for Radical Individualism, The Freeman, Mar 1997
Biographical essay, including his early life, editorship of The Freeman, and notable books and essays
"American individualism had virtually died out by the time Mark Twain was buried in 1910. ... Yet author Albert Jay Nock dared declare that collectivism was evil. He denounced the use of force to impose one's will on others. He opposed military intervention in the affairs of other nations. He believed America should stay out of foreign wars that inevitably subvert liberty. He insisted individuals have the unalienable right to pursue happiness as long as they don't hurt anybody."
An Independent Judiciary: Edward Coke, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay
"Edward Coke was a great English jurist, scholar, and reformer. He opposed absolute monarchy and promoted the common law. ... The king continued to make demands, and on May 8th Coke proposed that Parliament adopt a Petition of Right ... On June 8th, Charles met both Houses of Parliament at 4:00 in the afternoon. He capitulated and accepted the Petition of Right as law. ... Charles disregarded the Petition of Right and refused to call another Parliament for 11 years. But Coke's principles inspired John Lilburne and other English freedom fighters."
Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Who First Put Laissez-Faire Principles into Action, The Freeman, Aug 1997
Biographical essay, covering his life, works and involvement with the Physiocrats, as well as his accomplishments as an administrator
"Turgot displayed remarkable vision. For instance, he predicted the American Revolution in 1750, more than two decades before George Washington and Benjamin Franklin saw it coming. In 1778, Turgot warned Americans that slavery is incompatible with a good political constitution. He warned that Americans had more to fear from civil war than foreign enemies. He predicted that Americans are bound to become great, not by war but by culture. Turgot warned French King Louis XVI that unless taxes and government spending were cut, there would be a revolution which might cost him his head."
A Salute to Bettina Bien Greaves, The Freeman, Jul 1997
Written for Greaves' 80th birthday to show an appreciation and the extent of her work for liberty
"Bettina Bien Greaves is an extraordinary, unsung resource for liberty. Now FEE's Resident Scholar, a FEE Trustee, Freeman Contributing Editor, and two-time Guest Editor, she has done so many things for so many people for so long, it's past time to publicly acknowledge her myriad contributions. .... This month marks Bettina's 80th birthday, something that she doesn't really want to be reminded of. But so many people have expressed gratitude for what she has done that we're glad to report she continues to enjoy good health—she regularly drives nearly 60 miles to participate in discussions about liberty. "
Barack Obama: The Anti Economic Growth President, 29 Feb 2012
Lists and criticizes several of Obama's policies and proposals and discusses why economic growth and progress is beneficial
"For several hundred years, a consensus developed in Western nations that economic growth — human progress — is a good thing. But now economic growth is under attack. Economic growth has meant more jobs, higher incomes, more wealth and all the good things that become possible — a more comfortable life, better nutrition, better health care, more education, a cleaner environment, a secure retirement, a higher life expectancy and confidence that our children will be living even better. ... the stakes are high. If the anti-growth view prevails, we might find ourselves slipping into a new dark age."
Benjamin Franklin: The Man Who Invented the American Dream, The Freeman, Apr 1997
"Benjamin Franklin pioneered the spirit of self-help in America. ... When Franklin saw that something needed doing, he did it. ... Franklin was a late-blooming radical. ... Franklin urged that the Declaration be adopted unanimously, saying we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."
Blockading with Trade Restrictions, 27 Oct 2010
Explores the writings of Henry George in his book Protection or Free Trade offering advice to current waves of protectionism
"A whiff of protectionism is in the air. Battered by the recession, many Americans are beginning to blame some of their woes on foreigners. There's talk that the federal government ought to take action against Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Europeans and others. ... Such observations inspired George’s most famous lines: 'Protective tariffs are as much applications of force as are blockading squadrons, and their object is the same — to prevent trade. ... What protection teaches us is to do to ourselves in time of peace what enemies seek to do to us in time of war.'"
Related Topics: Free Trade, Henry George, Monopoly, War
Brilliant but Absent-Minded Adam Smith, The Freeman, Mar 1995
Biographical essay
"Before Adam Smith, it seemed that most people believed government was necessary to make an economy work. In Britain and Europe, governments promoted economic self-sufficiency as a bulwark of national security. They subsidized 'strategic' industries like mining and silk-making. ... Nobel Laureate George Stigler dubbed Smith 'the patron saint of free enterprise.' H.L. Mencken declared: 'There is no more engrossing book in the English language than Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations.' He remains a commanding presence as liberty is being reborn at the dawn of the twenty-first century."
Frederic Bastiat, Ingenious Champion for Liberty and Peace, The Freeman, Jun 1997
Lengthy biographical essay, covering those who influenced Bastiat as well as those influenced by him, his writings (including correspondence with his friend Félix Coudroy), his roles in the French Constituent and Legistative Assemblies and his legacy
"Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek called Bastiat 'a publicist of genius.' The great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises saluted Bastiat's 'immortal contributions.' ... Said intellectual historian Murray N. Rothbard: 'Bastiat was indeed a lucid and superb writer, whose brilliant and witty essays and fables to this day are remarkable and devastating demolitions of protectionism and of all forms of government subsidy and control. He was a truly scintillating advocate of an untrammelled free market.'"
Great Thinkers: Lord Acton
Includes short profile, photograph and links to other resources on Acton
"Historian Lord Acton (1834-1902) issued epic warnings that political power is the most serious threat to liberty. ... While he never wrote the history of liberty he dreamed about, his essays and letters abound with memorable insights. ... In his inaugural lecture as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, Lord Acton told students: 'I exhort you never to debase the moral currency or to lower the standard of rectitude, but to try others by the final maxim that governs your own lives, and to suffer no man and no cause to escape the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong.'"
Related Topic: John Dalberg-Acton
Herbert Spencer: Liberty and Unlimited Human Progress, The Freeman, Apr 1995
Lengthy biographical profile, highlighting Social Statics and his acquaintance with Andrew Carnegie
"Spencer showed why the theory of evolution, which naturalist Charles Darwin documented, meant that human progress occurs spontaneously as long as people are free, and governments stay out of the way. He stood as the most passionate defender of liberty when socialism and militarism gathered momentum throughout Europe. Spencer was a prolific writer who produced books and articles on biology, education, ethics, psychology, sociology, and government policy, among other subjects."
H. L. Mencken, America's Wittiest Defender of Liberty: Mencken Was America's Foremost Newspaperman and Literary Critic, The Freeman, Sep 1995
Biographical essay, highlighting Mencken's tenure at the Baltimore Sun, the books he authored, the founding and his work at the American Mercury monthly and his brief relationship with Sara Haardt
"During the first half of the twentieth century, H. L. Mencken was the most outspoken defender of liberty in America. He spent thousands of dollars challenging restrictions on freedom of the press. ... Though intensely controversial, Mencken earned respect as America’s foremost newspaperman and literary critic. He produced an estimated ten million words ... Someday, hopefully more people will appreciate Mencken's vital role in nourishing a love for liberty during some of America's darkest decades."
John Locke: Natural Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property, The Freeman, Aug 1996
Extensive biographical essay, including summaries of his major works
"Thomas Jefferson ranked Locke, along with Locke's compatriot Algernon Sidney, as the most important thinkers on liberty. Locke helped inspire Thomas Paine's radical ideas about revolution. Locke fired up George Mason. From Locke, James Madison drew his most fundamental principles of liberty and government. ... The French philosopher Voltaire called Locke 'the man of the greatest wisdom. What he has not seen clearly, I despair of ever seeing.'"
Related Topic: John Locke
Ludwig von Mises, socialism's greatest enemy: His life and times
Lengthy biographical essay on Mises, including details on Menger and Böhm-Bawerk
"Socialism's most outspoken adversary was the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. ... Mises explained how only capitalism enabled human beings to arise from barbarism ... Mises showed how, at a faster and faster pace, capitalism transformed luxuries for an elite into pleasures for millions. ... Mises did a more complete job than anyone else describing a vision of liberty ... Mises persisted in expressing these radical views even though it meant being treated as an outcast."
Milton and Rose Friedman: Capitalism's Greatest Living Champions: Eight ways you can learn from their success, Jul 1992
Written on occasion of Milton Friedman's 80th birthday; discusses eight techniques used by the Friedmans to reach and persuade others with their message of freedom and free markets
"More than anyone else, Milton and Rose Friedman took a compelling case for free markets to the world. Ayn Rand has sold more books, but the Friedmans reached millions who probably never read a good book about freedom--through countless lectures, TV appearances and, of course, their Free to Choose TV series. ... Smuggled versions of their work helped keep the torch of liberty burning in brutal police states."
Related Topic: Milton Friedman
Natural Law and Peace: A Biography of Hugo Grotius, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Biographical essay
"For centuries, rulers had pursued wars to spread their religion, gain territory, seize assets or in other ways expand their power. The Florentine political thinker Niccolo Machiavelli had described war as a perfectly legitimate government policy. Then the early 17th century Dutch legal scholar and philosopher Hugo Grotius declared that war was wretched and that it harmed all participants. ... He told how to improve the prospects for peace. The greatest peace settlements, like those ending World War II and the Cold War, displayed his wisdom and generous spirit as they helped turn enemies into friends."
Related Topics: Hugo Grotius, Law, Netherlands, Rights, War
Popular Sovereignty: A Biography of Algernon Sidney, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Biographical essay
"The influential English agitator and thinker Algernon Sidney championed popular sovereignty back when kings ruled the earth. For years, he stirred opposition to the English king Charles II, for which he was hunted by assassins. He spoke out against slavery in the British West Indies. There were two attempts on his life, and he suffered an ultimate tragedy—beheading. He became the most famous English martyr for liberty. ... In 1996, Cambridge University Press issued Sidney's unpublished Court Maxims, the lost manuscript for which turned up in Warwick Castle during the 1970s. Sidney truly died that his bold ideas could live."
Ralph Raico, RIP, 16 Dec 2016
Memorial and biographical note, including short bibliography
"As it happened, in 1962, when I had to decide on a college, I received a subscription flyer for New Individualist Review. I was familiar with a number of the authors, because I had read issues of The Freeman that my father had in his home office, and they published some of the same authors. So, the University of Chicago was where I had to go. While many college kids did fraternities or football, I did NIR. I met Ralph, joined the staff of New Individualist Review, and altogether 17 issues were published. ... I was the last editor-in-chief (1968)."
Richard Cobden's Triumphant Crusade for Free Trade and Peace: With Trade Liberalization, England Prospered, The Freeman, Jun 1995
Extensive biographical essay, including Cobden's relationship with John Bright as they campaigned for repeal of the Corn Laws, and his later peace activism
"In all this, one name towers above the rest: Richard Cobden, the straight-talking English textile entrepreneur who gave up his business to crusade during three crucial decades. He pursued the most successful political strategies for free trade. He articulated the moral case which proved decisive. His inspired speeches attracted thousands of people at a time and raised plenty of money."
Related Topics: Richard Cobden, Free Trade
Robert A. Heinlein's Soaring Spirit of Liberty, The Freeman, Jul 1997
Biographical essay, including multiple quotes from fellow authors and significant excerpts from Heinlein's novels and stories
"A pioneering master of speculative fiction, Robert Heinlein has captured the imagination of millions for liberty. Five of his novels chronicle rebellion against tyranny, other novels are about different struggles for liberty, and his writings abound with declarations on liberty. ... 'When the Science Fiction Writers of America began to hand out their Grand Master Awards in 1975, Heinlein received the first by general acclamation,' noted Isaac Asimov, himself the respected author of more than 300 books, including much science fiction. "
Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Paterson, and Ayn Rand: Three Women Who Inspired the Modern Libertarian Movement, The Freeman, May 1996
Triple biographical essay on the women who in 1943 published The Discovery of Freedom, The God of the Machine and The Fountainhead
"... at one point during the 1930s she was so financially distressed that her electricity was shut off. Yet she soared with great eloquence as she helped revive the radical principles of the American Revolution, and she inspired millions of adults and children alike as the editor of the beloved 'Little House' books about individual responsibility, hard work, stubborn persistence, strong families, and human liberty."
Russian-born novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand's inspiring moral defense of individualism and liberty
Biographical essay with links to several other resources
"Ayn Rand (1905-1982) won over millions to the the moral values of individualism and liberty which had fallen out of fashion more than a century ago. There continues to be a lively interest in her ideas. ... The Fountainhead, about an architect battling collectivists all around him to maintain the integrity of his ideas, gradually gained a big following and was made into a movie in 1949. Rand expanded on her views of liberty, sex, money and other issues in Atlas Shrugged."
Related Topic: Ayn Rand
The life and times of F.A. Hayek, who explained why political liberty is impossible without economic liberty
Lengthy biographical essay, with extensive quotes both from Hayek and others (including Keynes)
"Hayek was an extraordinarily learned man. His knowledge and insights spanned not only economics, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1974, but also philosophy, history and even psychology. ... Hayek transcended nationality like few others in the 20th century. Stephen Kresge, Editor of The Collected Works of F.A. Hayek, which the University of Chicago Press is publishing in 22 volumes, likens Hayek's global reputation to that of the physicists Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein."
The life and times of Murray N. Rothbard, who showed why private individuals can do just about everything that needs to be done
Lengthy biographical essay
"Economist Murray N. Rothbard mounted the most comprehensive intellectual challenge ever attempted against the legitimacy of government. During a career that spanned more than 40 years, he explained why private individuals, private companies and other voluntary associations can do whatever needs to be done. ... Murray Rothbard did more than anyone else to show that people generally do just fine without government interference. He did much to inspire confidence in the wonders people achieve when they are free."
Related Topic: Murray Rothbard
The man who financed the American Revolution
"The Continental Congress was broke, there was runaway inflation, and Morris dealt with anxious creditors. ... Revisionist historians like E. James Ferguson have emphasized how Morris profited from the Revolutionary War. ... He proposed a land tax, a poll tax, an excise tax and a house tax to help generate revenue for paying debts, but the states wouldn't agree."
Thomas Jefferson's Sophisticated, Radical Vision of Liberty, The Freeman, Jul 1995
Biographical essay, highlighting Jefferson's "felicity of expression" that led him to write the famous words in the Declaration of Independence
"Jefferson expressed a sophisticated, radical vision of liberty with awesome grace and eloquence. He affirmed that all people are entitled to liberty, regardless what laws might say. If laws don’t protect liberty, he declared, then the laws are illegitimate, and people may rebel. While Jefferson didn’t originate this idea, he put it in a way that set afire the imagination of people around the world. Moreover, he developed a doctrine for strictly limiting the power of government, the most dangerous threat to liberty everywhere."
Thomas Paine-Passionate Pamphleteer for Liberty: A Singleminded Private Individual Aroused Millions to Throw Off Their Oppressors, The Freeman, Jan 1996
Biographical essay, highlighting Paine's writings in Common Sense, American Crisis, Rights of Man and Age of Reason
"As nobody before, Thomas Paine stirred ordinary people to defend their liberty. He wrote the three top-selling literary works of the eighteenth century, which inspired the American Revolution, issued a historic battle cry for individual rights and challenged the corrupt power of government churches. His radical vision and dramatic, plainspoken style connected with artisans, servants, soldiers, merchants, farmers, and laborers alike."
To Defeat the Assault on Liberty, Our Appeals Must Be Moral, 13 May 2013
Argues, by providing several historical examples, that "compelling moral appeals for liberty" are needed to confront various current problems such as government spending and debt, higher taxes and disregard of constitutional limits on executive power
"American liberty is under assault now more than at any time since the 1930s, because of runaway spending, soaring debt, ever higher taxes, proliferating regulations, implementation of Obamacare and the president's disregard for constitutional limits on his power. ... In recent times, Ronald Reagan stood out as a rare leader who could express moral appeals for liberty. He said, for instance, 'Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals have a personal stake in their success — only then can societies remain dynamic, prosperous and free.'"
Why Should a Supreme Court Justice Care about Natural Rights?, 9 Jul 2010
Discusses the evasiveness of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan when asked about the Declaration of Independence, and argues why justices should heed the natural rights philosophy embodied by its most famous lines
"Elena Kagan, President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, seemed to shock many people when she dodged questions about the Declaration of Independence during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her seeming dismissal of the Declaration shouldn't have come as a surprise. Kagan is a progressive, and progressives have long been impatient with limitations on government power, such as those enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. ... Surely it's not asking too much to have a prospective Supreme Court justice understand and affirm the principles of the Declaration of Independence."


Jim Powell Interview, by Jim Powell, Scott Horton, The Weekend Interview Show with Scott Horton, 16 Apr 2005
"Scott and Jim Powell talk about his new book Wilson's War: How Woodrow Wilson's Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War II."

Books Authored

Wilson's War: How Woodrow Wilson's Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War II, 29 Mar 2005
Partial contents: Arrogance and Power - Why Did Wilson Decide He Must Break the Stalemate? - How Did Hitler Exploit Wilson's Blunder to Recruit 50,000 Nazis? - How Did Lenin Take Advantage of Wilson's Blunder and Secure Power?
Related Topic: Woodrow Wilson

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Jim Powell (historian)" as of 14 Mar 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.