The Union and national politics
"The rise of a young republic composed of thirteen states, each governed by officials popularly elected under constitutions drafted by "the plain people," was the most significant feature of the eighteenth century".Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard *
Part III. The Union and national politicsChapter VII - The formation of the Constitution
The Promise and the Difficulties of AmericaThe rise of a young republic composed of thirteen states, each governed by officials popularly elected under constitutions drafted by "the plain people," was the most significant feature of the eighteenth century. The majority of the patriots whose labors and sacrifices had made this possible naturally looked upon their work and pronounced it good. Those Americans, however, who peered beneath the surface of things, saw that the Declaration of Independence, even if splendidly phrased, and paper constitutions, drawn by finest enthusiasm "uninstructed by experience," could not alone make the republic great and prosperous or even free. All around them they saw chaos in finance and in industry and perils for the immediate future.
The Weakness of the Articles of Confederation.—The government under the Articles of Confederation had neither the strength nor the resources necessary to cope with the problems of reconstruction left by the war. The sole organ of government was a Congress composed of from two to seven members from each state chosen as the legislature might direct and paid by the state. In determining all questions, each state had one vote—Delaware thus enjoying the same weight as Virginia. There was no president to enforce the laws. Congress was given power to select a committee of thirteen—one from each state—to act as an executive body when it was not in session; but this device, on being tried out, proved a failure. There was no system of national courts to which citizens and states could appeal for the protection of their rights or through which they could compel obedience to law. The two great powers of government, military and financial, were withheld. Congress, it is true, could authorize expenditures but had to rely upon the states for the payment of contributions to meet its bills. It could also order the establishment of an army, but it could only request the states to supply their respective quotas of soldiers. It could not lay taxes nor bring any pressure to bear upon a single citizen in the whole country. It could act only through the medium of the state governments.
Financial and Commercial Disorders.—In the field of public finance, the disorders were pronounced. The huge debt incurred during the war was still outstanding. Congress was unable to pay either the interest or the principal. Public creditors were in despair, as the market value of their bonds sank to twenty-five or even ten cents on the dollar. The current bills of Congress were unpaid. As some one complained, there was not enough money in the treasury to buy pen and ink with which to record the transactions of the shadow legislature. The currency was in utter chaos. Millions of dollars in notes issued by Congress had become mere trash worth a cent or two on the dollar. There was no other expression of contempt so forceful as the popular saying: "not worth a Continental." To make matters worse, several of the states were pouring new streams of paper money from the press. Almost the only good money in circulation consisted of English, French, and Spanish coins, and the public was even defrauded by them because money changers were busy clipping and filing away the metal. Foreign commerce was unsettled. The entire British system of trade discrimination was turned against the Americans, and Congress, having no power to regulate foreign commerce, was unable to retaliate or to negotiate treaties which it could enforce. Domestic commerce was impeded by the jealousies of the states, which erected tariff barriers against their neighbors. The condition of the currency made the exchange of money and goods extremely difficult, and, as if to increase the confusion, backward states enacted laws hindering the prompt collection of debts within their borders—an evil which nothing but a national system of courts could cure.
Congress in Disrepute.—With treaties set at naught by the states, the laws unenforced, the treasury empty, and the public credit gone, the Congress of the United States fell into utter disrepute. It called upon the states to pay their quotas of money into the treasury, only to be treated with contempt. Even its own members looked upon it as a solemn futility. Some of the ablest men refused to accept election to it, and many who did take the doubtful honor failed to attend the sessions. Again and again it was impossible to secure a quorum for the transaction of business.
Troubles of the State Governments.—The state governments, free to pursue their own course with no interference from without, had almost as many difficulties as the Congress. They too were loaded with revolutionary debts calling for heavy taxes upon an already restive population. Oppressed by their financial burdens and discouraged by the fall in prices which followed the return of peace, the farmers of several states joined in a concerted effort and compelled their legislatures to issue large sums of paper money. The currency fell in value, but nevertheless it was forced on unwilling creditors to square old accounts.
In every part of the country legislative action fluctuated violently. Laws were made one year only to be repealed the next and reënacted the third year. Lands were sold by one legislature and the sales were canceled by its successor. Uncertainty and distrust were the natural consequences. Men of substance longed for some power that would forbid states to issue bills of credit, to make paper money legal tender in payment of debts, or to impair the obligation of contracts. Men heavily in debt, on the other hand, urged even more drastic action against creditors.
So great did the discontent of the farmers in New Hampshire become in 1786 that a mob surrounded the legislature, demanding a repeal of the taxes and the issuance of paper money. It was with difficulty that an armed rebellion was avoided. In Massachusetts the malcontents, under the leadership of Daniel Shays, a captain in the Revolutionary army, organized that same year open resistance to the government of the state. Shays and his followers protested against the conduct of creditors in foreclosing mortgages upon the debt-burdened farmers, against the lawyers for increasing the costs of legal proceedings, against the senate of the state the members of which were apportioned among the towns on the basis of the amount of taxes paid, against heavy taxes, and against the refusal of the legislature to issue paper money. They seized the towns of Worcester and Springfield and broke up the courts of justice. All through the western part of the state the revolt spread, sending a shock of alarm to every center and section of the young republic. Only by the most vigorous action was Governor Bowdoin able to quell the uprising; and when that task was accomplished, the state government did not dare to execute any of the prisoners because they had so many sympathizers. Moreover, Bowdoin and several members of the legislature who had been most zealous in their attacks on the insurgents were defeated at the ensuing election. The need of national assistance for state governments in times of domestic violence was everywhere emphasized by men who were opposed to revolutionary acts.
Alarm over Dangers to the Republic.—Leading American citizens, watching the drift of affairs, were slowly driven to the conclusion that the new ship of state so proudly launched a few years before was careening into anarchy. "The facts of our peace and independence," wrote a friend of Washington, "do not at present wear so promising an appearance as I had fondly painted in my mind. The prejudices, jealousies, and turbulence of the people at times almost stagger my confidence in our political establishments; and almost occasion me to think that they will show themselves unworthy of the noble prize for which we have contended."
Washington himself was profoundly discouraged. On hearing of Shays's rebellion, he exclaimed: "What, gracious God, is man that there should be such inconsistency and perfidiousness in his conduct! It is but the other day that we were shedding our blood to obtain the constitutions under which we now live—constitutions of our own choice and making—and now we are unsheathing our sword to overturn them." The same year he burst out in a lament over rumors of restoring royal government. "I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical government without horror. From thinking proceeds speaking. Hence to acting is often but a single step. But how irresistible and tremendous! What a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves!"
Congress Attempts Some Reforms.—The Congress was not indifferent to the events that disturbed Washington. On the contrary it put forth many efforts to check tendencies so dangerous to finance, commerce, industries, and the Confederation itself. In 1781, even before the treaty of peace was signed, the Congress, having found out how futile were its taxing powers, carried a resolution of amendment to the Articles of Confederation, authorizing the levy of a moderate duty on imports. Yet this mild measure was rejected by the states. Two years later the Congress prepared another amendment sanctioning the levy of duties on imports, to be collected this time by state officers and applied to the payment of the public debt. This more limited proposal, designed to save public credit, likewise failed. In 1786, the Congress made a third appeal to the states for help, declaring that they had been so irregular and so negligent in paying their quotas that further reliance upon that mode of raising revenues was dishonorable and dangerous.
The Calling of a Constitutional ConventionHamilton and Washington Urge Reform.—The attempts at reform by the Congress were accompanied by demand for, both within and without that body, a convention to frame a new plan of government. In 1780, the youthful Alexander Hamilton, realizing the weakness of the Articles, so widely discussed, proposed a general convention for the purpose of drafting a new constitution on entirely different principles. With tireless energy he strove to bring his countrymen to his view. Washington, agreeing with him on every point, declared, in a circular letter to the governors, that the duration of the union would be short unless there was lodged somewhere a supreme power "to regulate and govern the general concerns of the confederated republic." The governor of Massachusetts, disturbed by the growth of discontent all about him, suggested to the state legislature in 1785 the advisability of a national convention to enlarge the powers of the Congress. The legislature approved the plan, but did not press it to a conclusion.
The Annapolis Convention.—Action finally came from the South. The Virginia legislature, taking things into its own hands, called a conference of delegates at Annapolis to consider matters of taxation and commerce. When the convention assembled in 1786, it was found that only five states had taken the trouble to send representatives. The leaders were deeply discouraged, but the resourceful Hamilton, a delegate from New York, turned the affair to good account. He secured the adoption of a resolution, calling upon the Congress itself to summon another convention, to meet at Philadelphia.
A National Convention Called (1787).—The Congress, as tardy as ever, at last decided in February, 1787, to issue the call. Fearing drastic changes, however, it restricted the convention to "the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation." Jealous of its own powers, it added that any alterations proposed should be referred to the Congress and the states for their approval.
Every state in the union, except Rhode Island, responded to this call. Indeed some of the states, having the Annapolis resolution before them, had already anticipated the Congress by selecting delegates before the formal summons came. Thus, by the persistence of governors, legislatures, and private citizens, there was brought about the long-desired national convention. In May, 1787, it assembled in Philadelphia.
The Eminent Men of the Convention.—On the roll of that memorable convention were fifty-five men, at least half of whom were acknowledged to be among the foremost statesmen and thinkers in America. Every field of statecraft was represented by them: war and practical management in Washington, who was chosen president of the convention; diplomacy in Franklin, now old and full of honor in his own land as well as abroad; finance in Alexander Hamilton and Robert Morris; law in James Wilson of Pennsylvania; the philosophy of government in James Madison, called the "father of the Constitution." They were not theorists but practical men, rich in political experience and endowed with deep insight into the springs of human action. Three of them had served in the Stamp Act Congress: Dickinson of Delaware, William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, and John Rutledge of South Carolina. Eight had been signers of the Declaration of Independence: Read of Delaware, Sherman of Connecticut, Wythe of Virginia, Gerry of Massachusetts, Franklin, Robert Morris, George Clymer, and James Wilson of Pennsylvania. All but twelve had at some time served in the Continental Congress and eighteen were members of that body in the spring of 1787. Washington, Hamilton, Mifflin, and Charles Pinckney had been officers in the Revolutionary army. Seven of the delegates had gained political experience as governors of states. "The convention as a whole," according to the historian Hildreth, "represented in a marked manner the talent, intelligence, and especially the conservative sentiment of the country."
The Framing of the ConstitutionProblems Involved.—The great problems before the convention were nine in number: (1) Shall the Articles of Confederation be revised or a new system of government constructed? (2) Shall the government be founded on states equal in power as under the Articles or on the broader and deeper foundation of population? (3) What direct share shall the people have in the election of national officers? (4) What shall be the qualifications for the suffrage? (5) How shall the conflicting interests of the commercial and the planting states be balanced so as to safeguard the essential rights of each? (6) What shall be the form of the new government? (7) What powers shall be conferred on it? (8) How shall the state legislatures be restrained from their attacks on property rights such as the issuance of paper money? (9) Shall the approval of all the states be necessary, as under the Articles, for the adoption and amendment of the Constitution?
Revision of the Articles or a New Government?—The moment the first problem was raised, representatives of the small states, led by William Paterson of New Jersey, were on their feet. They feared that, if the Articles were overthrown, the equality and rights of the states would be put in jeopardy. Their protest was therefore vigorous. They cited the call issued by the Congress in summoning the convention which specifically stated that they were assembled for "the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation." They cited also their instructions from their state legislatures, which authorized them to "revise and amend" the existing scheme of government, not to make a revolution in it. To depart from the authorization laid down by the Congress and the legislatures would be to exceed their powers, they argued, and to betray the trust reposed in them by their countrymen.
To their contentions, Randolph of Virginia replied: "When the salvation of the republic is at stake, it would be treason to our trust not to propose what we find necessary." Hamilton, reminding the delegates that their work was still subject to the approval of the states, frankly said that on the point of their powers he had no scruples. With the issue clear, the convention cast aside the Articles as if they did not exist and proceeded to the work of drawing up a new constitution, "laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form" as to the delegates seemed "most likely to affect their safety and happiness."
A Government Founded on States or on People?—The Compromise.—Defeated in their attempt to limit the convention to a mere revision of the Articles, the spokesmen of the smaller states redoubled their efforts to preserve the equality of the states. The signal for a radical departure from the Articles on this point was given early in the sessions when Randolph presented "the Virginia plan." He proposed that the new national legislature consist of two houses, the members of which were to be apportioned among the states according to their wealth or free white population, as the convention might decide. This plan was vehemently challenged. Paterson of New Jersey flatly avowed that neither he nor his state would ever bow to such tyranny. As an alternative, he presented "the New Jersey plan" calling for a national legislature of one house representing states as such, not wealth or people—a legislature in which all states, large or small, would have equal voice. Wilson of Pennsylvania, on behalf of the more populous states, took up the gauntlet which Paterson had thrown down. It was absurd, he urged, for 180,000 men in one state to have the same weight in national counsels as 750,000 men in another state. "The gentleman from New Jersey," he said, "is candid. He declares his opinion boldly.... I will be equally candid.... I will never confederate on his principles." So the bitter controversy ran on through many exciting sessions.
Greek had met Greek. The convention was hopelessly deadlocked and on the verge of dissolution, "scarce held together by the strength of a hair," as one of the delegates remarked. A crash was averted only by a compromise. Instead of a Congress of one house as provided by the Articles, the convention agreed upon a legislature of two houses. In the Senate, the aspirations of the small states were to be satisfied, for each state was given two members in that body. In the formation of the House of Representatives, the larger states were placated, for it was agreed that the members of that chamber were to be apportioned among the states on the basis of population, counting three-fifths of the slaves.
The Question of Popular Election.—The method of selecting federal officers and members of Congress also produced an acrimonious debate which revealed how deep-seated was the distrust of the capacity of the people to govern themselves. Few there were who believed that no branch of the government should be elected directly by the voters; still fewer were there, however, who desired to see all branches so chosen. One or two even expressed a desire for a monarchy. The dangers of democracy were stressed by Gerry of Massachusetts: "All the evils we experience flow from an excess of democracy. The people do not want virtue but are the dupes of pretended patriots.... I have been too republican heretofore but have been taught by experience the danger of a leveling spirit." To the "democratic licentiousness of the state legislatures," Randolph sought to oppose a "firm senate." To check the excesses of popular government Charles Pinckney of South Carolina declared that no one should be elected President who was not worth $100,000 and that high property qualifications should be placed on members of Congress and judges. Other members of the convention were stoutly opposed to such "high-toned notions of government." Franklin and Wilson, both from Pennsylvania, vigorously championed popular election; while men like Madison insisted that at least one part of the government should rest on the broad foundation of the people.
Out of this clash of opinion also came compromise. One branch, the House of Representatives, it was agreed, was to be elected directly by the voters, while the Senators were to be elected indirectly by the state legislatures. The President was to be chosen by electors selected as the legislatures of the states might determine, and the judges of the federal courts, supreme and inferior, by the President and the Senate.
The Question of the Suffrage.—The battle over the suffrage was sharp but brief. Gouverneur Morris proposed that only land owners should be permitted to vote. Madison replied that the state legislatures, which had made so much trouble with radical laws, were elected by freeholders. After the debate, the delegates, unable to agree on any property limitations on the suffrage, decided that the House of Representatives should be elected by voters having the "qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature." Thus they accepted the suffrage provisions of the states.
The Balance between the Planting and the Commercial States.—After the debates had gone on for a few weeks, Madison came to the conclusion that the real division in the convention was not between the large and the small states but between the planting section founded on slave labor and the commercial North. Thus he anticipated by nearly three-quarters of a century "the irrepressible conflict." The planting states had neither the free white population nor the wealth of the North. There were, counting Delaware, six of them as against seven commercial states. Dependent for their prosperity mainly upon the sale of tobacco, rice, and other staples abroad, they feared that Congress might impose restraints upon their enterprise. Being weaker in numbers, they were afraid that the majority might lay an unfair burden of taxes upon them.
Representation and Taxation.—The Southern members of the convention were therefore very anxious to secure for their section the largest possible representation in Congress, and at the same time to restrain the taxing power of that body. Two devices were thought adapted to these ends. One was to count the slaves as people when apportioning representatives among the states according to their respective populations; the other was to provide that direct taxes should be apportioned among the states, in proportion not to their wealth but to the number of their free white inhabitants. For obvious reasons the Northern delegates objected to these proposals. Once more a compromise proved to be the solution. It was agreed that not all the slaves but three-fifths of them should be counted for both purposes—representation and direct taxation.
Commerce and the Slave Trade.—Southern interests were also involved in the project to confer upon Congress the power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. To the manufacturing and trading states this was essential. It would prevent interstate tariffs and trade jealousies; it would enable Congress to protect American manufactures and to break down, by appropriate retaliations, foreign discriminations against American commerce. To the South the proposal was menacing because tariffs might interfere with the free exchange of the produce of plantations in European markets, and navigation acts might confine the carrying trade to American, that is Northern, ships. The importation of slaves, moreover, it was feared might be heavily taxed or immediately prohibited altogether.
The result of this and related controversies was a debate on the merits of slavery. Gouverneur Morris delivered his mind and heart on that subject, denouncing slavery as a nefarious institution and the curse of heaven on the states in which it prevailed. Mason of Virginia, a slaveholder himself, was hardly less outspoken, saying: "Slavery discourages arts and manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. They prevent the migration of whites who really strengthen and enrich a country."
The system, however, had its defenders. Representatives from South Carolina argued that their entire economic life rested on slave labor and that the high death rate in the rice swamps made continuous importation necessary. Ellsworth of Connecticut took the ground that the convention should not meddle with slavery. "The morality or wisdom of slavery," he said, "are considerations belonging to the states. What enriches a part enriches the whole." To the future he turned an untroubled face: "As population increases, poor laborers will be so plenty as to render slaves useless. Slavery in time will not be a speck in our country." Virginia and North Carolina, already overstocked with slaves, favored prohibiting the traffic in them; but South Carolina was adamant. She must have fresh supplies of slaves or she would not federate.
So it was agreed that, while Congress might regulate foreign trade by majority vote, the importation of slaves should not be forbidden before the lapse of twenty years, and that any import tax should not exceed $10 a head. At the same time, in connection with the regulation of foreign trade, it was stipulated that a two-thirds vote in the Senate should be necessary in the ratification of treaties. A further concession to the South was made in the provision for the return of runaway slaves—a provision also useful in the North, where indentured servants were about as troublesome as slaves in escaping from their masters.
The Form of the Government.—As to the details of the frame of government and the grand principles involved, the opinion of the convention ebbed and flowed, decisions being taken in the heat of debate, only to be revoked and taken again.
The Executive.—There was general agreement that there should be an executive branch; for reliance upon Congress to enforce its own laws and treaties had been a broken reed. On the character and functions of the executive, however, there were many views. The New Jersey plan called for a council selected by the Congress; the Virginia plan provided that the executive branch should be chosen by the Congress but did not state whether it should be composed of one or several persons. On this matter the convention voted first one way and then another; finally it agreed on a single executive chosen indirectly by electors selected as the state legislatures might decide, serving for four years, subject to impeachment, and endowed with regal powers in the command of the army and the navy and in the enforcement of the laws.
The Legislative Branch—Congress.—After the convention had made the great compromise between the large and small commonwealths by giving representation to states in the Senate and to population in the House, the question of methods of election had to be decided. As to the House of Representatives it was readily agreed that the members should be elected by direct popular vote. There was also easy agreement on the proposition that a strong Senate was needed to check the "turbulence" of the lower house. Four devices were finally selected to accomplish this purpose. In the first place, the Senators were not to be chosen directly by the voters but by the legislatures of the states, thus removing their election one degree from the populace. In the second place, their term was fixed at six years instead of two, as in the case of the House. In the third place, provision was made for continuity by having only one-third of the members go out at a time while two-thirds remained in service. Finally, it was provided that Senators must be at least thirty years old while Representatives need be only twenty-five.
The Judiciary.—The need for federal courts to carry out the law was hardly open to debate. The feebleness of the Articles of Confederation was, in a large measure, attributed to the want of a judiciary to hold states and individuals in obedience to the laws and treaties of the union. Nevertheless on this point the advocates of states' rights were extremely sensitive. They looked with distrust upon judges appointed at the national capital and emancipated from local interests and traditions; they remembered with what insistence they had claimed against Britain the right of local trial by jury and with what consternation they had viewed the proposal to make colonial judges independent of the assemblies in the matter of their salaries. Reluctantly they yielded to the demand for federal courts, consenting at first only to a supreme court to review cases heard in lower state courts and finally to such additional inferior courts as Congress might deem necessary.
The System of Checks and Balances.—It is thus apparent that the framers of the Constitution, in shaping the form of government, arranged for a distribution of power among three branches, executive, legislative, and judicial. Strictly speaking we might say four branches, for the legislature, or Congress, was composed of two houses, elected in different ways, and one of them, the Senate, was made a check on the President through its power of ratifying treaties and appointments. "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judicial, in the same hands," wrote Madison, "whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." The devices which the convention adopted to prevent such a centralization of authority were exceedingly ingenious and well calculated to accomplish the purposes of the authors.
The legislature consisted of two houses, the members of which were to be apportioned on a different basis, elected in different ways, and to serve for different terms. A veto on all its acts was vested in a President elected in a manner not employed in the choice of either branch of the legislature, serving for four years, and subject to removal only by the difficult process of impeachment. After a law had run the gantlet of both houses and the executive, it was subject to interpretation and annulment by the judiciary, appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate and serving for life. Thus it was made almost impossible for any political party to get possession of all branches of the government at a single popular election. As Hamilton remarked, the friends of good government considered "every institution calculated to restrain the excess of law making and to keep things in the same state in which they happen to be at any given period as more likely to do good than harm."
The Powers of the Federal Government.—On the question of the powers to be conferred upon the new government there was less occasion for a serious dispute. Even the delegates from the small states agreed with those from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia that new powers should be added to those intrusted to Congress by the Articles of Confederation. The New Jersey plan as well as the Virginia plan recognized this fact. Some of the delegates, like Hamilton and Madison, even proposed to give Congress a general legislative authority covering all national matters; but others, frightened by the specter of nationalism, insisted on specifying each power to be conferred and finally carried the day.
Taxation and Commerce.—There were none bold enough to dissent from the proposition that revenue must be provided to pay current expenses and discharge the public debt. When once the dispute over the apportionment of direct taxes among the slave states was settled, it was an easy matter to decide that Congress should have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises. In this way the national government was freed from dependence upon stubborn and tardy legislatures and enabled to collect funds directly from citizens. There were likewise none bold enough to contend that the anarchy of state tariffs and trade discriminations should be longer endured. When the fears of the planting states were allayed and the "bargain" over the importation of slaves was reached, the convention vested in Congress the power to regulate foreign and interstate commerce.
National Defense.—The necessity for national defense was realized, though the fear of huge military establishments was equally present. The old practice of relying on quotas furnished by the state legislatures was completely discredited. As in the case of taxes a direct authority over citizens was demanded. Congress was therefore given full power to raise and support armies and a navy. It could employ the state militia when desirable; but it could at the same time maintain a regular army and call directly upon all able-bodied males if the nature of a crisis was thought to require it.
The "Necessary and Proper" Clause.—To the specified power vested in Congress by the Constitution, the advocates of a strong national government added a general clause authorizing it to make all laws "necessary and proper" for carrying into effect any and all of the enumerated powers. This clause, interpreted by that master mind, Chief Justice Marshall, was later construed to confer powers as wide as the requirements of a vast country spanning a continent and taking its place among the mighty nations of the earth.
Restraints on the States.—Framing a government and endowing it with large powers were by no means the sole concern of the convention. Its very existence had been due quite as much to the conduct of the state legislatures as to the futilities of a paralyzed Continental Congress. In every state, explains Marshall in his Life of Washington, there was a party of men who had "marked out for themselves a more indulgent course. Viewing with extreme tenderness the case of the debtor, their efforts were unceasingly directed to his relief. To exact a faithful compliance with contracts was, in their opinion, a harsh measure which the people could not bear. They were uniformly in favor of relaxing the administration of justice, of affording facilities for the payment of debts, or of suspending their collection, and remitting taxes."
The legislatures under the dominance of these men had enacted paper money laws enabling debtors to discharge their obligations more easily. The convention put an end to such practices by providing that no state should emit bills of credit or make anything but gold or silver legal tender in the payment of debts. The state legislatures had enacted laws allowing men to pay their debts by turning over to creditors land or personal property; they had repealed the charter of an endowed college and taken the management from the hands of the lawful trustees; and they had otherwise interfered with the enforcement of private agreements. The convention, taking notice of such matters, inserted a clause forbidding states "to impair the obligation of contracts." The more venturous of the radicals had in Massachusetts raised the standard of revolt against the authorities of the state. The convention answered by a brief sentence to the effect that the President of the United States, to be equipped with a regular army, would send troops to suppress domestic insurrections whenever called upon by the legislature or, if it was not in session, by the governor of the state. To make sure that the restrictions on the states would not be dead letters, the federal Constitution, laws, and treaties were made the supreme law of the land, to be enforced whenever necessary by a national judiciary and executive against violations on the part of any state authorities.
Provisions for Ratification and Amendment.—When the frame of government had been determined, the powers to be vested in it had been enumerated, and the restrictions upon the states had been written into the bond, there remained three final questions. How shall the Constitution be ratified? What number of states shall be necessary to put it into effect? How shall it be amended in the future?
On the first point, the mandate under which the convention was sitting seemed positive. The Articles of Confederation were still in effect. They provided that amendments could be made only by unanimous adoption in Congress and the approval of all the states. As if to give force to this provision of law, the call for the convention had expressly stated that all alterations and revisions should be reported to Congress for adoption or rejection, Congress itself to transmit the document thereafter to the states for their review.
To have observed the strict letter of the law would have defeated the purposes of the delegates, because Congress and the state legislatures were openly hostile to such drastic changes as had been made. Unanimous ratification, as events proved, would have been impossible. Therefore the delegates decided that the Constitution should be sent to Congress with the recommendation that it, in turn, transmit the document, not to the state legislatures, but to conventions held in the states for the special object of deciding upon ratification. This process was followed. It was their belief that special conventions would be more friendly than the state legislatures.
The convention was equally positive in dealing with the problem of the number of states necessary to establish the new Constitution. Attempts to change the Articles had failed because amendment required the approval of every state and there was always at least one recalcitrant member of the union. The opposition to a new Constitution was undoubtedly formidable. Rhode Island had even refused to take part in framing it, and her hostility was deep and open. So the convention cast aside the provision of the Articles of Confederation which required unanimous approval for any change in the plan of government; it decreed that the new Constitution should go into effect when ratified by nine states.
In providing for future changes in the Constitution itself the convention also thrust aside the old rule of unanimous approval, and decided that an amendment could be made on a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. This change was of profound significance. Every state agreed to be bound in the future by amendments duly adopted even in case it did not approve them itself. America in this way set out upon the high road that led from a league of states to a nation.
The Struggle over Ratification
On September 17, 1787, the Constitution, having been finally drafted in clear and simple language, a model to all makers of fundamental law, was adopted. The convention, after nearly four months of debate in secret session, flung open the doors and presented to the Americans the finished plan for the new government. Then the great debate passed to the people.
The Opposition.—Storms of criticism at once descended upon the Constitution. "Fraudulent usurpation!" exclaimed Gerry, who had refused to sign it. "A monster" out of the "thick veil of secrecy," declaimed a Pennsylvania newspaper. "An iron-handed despotism will be the result," protested a third. "We, 'the low-born,'" sarcastically wrote a fourth, "will now admit the 'six hundred well-born' immediately to establish this most noble, most excellent, and truly divine constitution." The President will become a king; Congress will be as tyrannical as Parliament in the old days; the states will be swallowed up; the rights of the people will be trampled upon; the poor man's justice will be lost in the endless delays of the federal courts—such was the strain of the protests against ratification.
Defense of the Constitution.—Moved by the tempest of opposition, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay took up their pens in defense of the Constitution. In a series of newspaper articles they discussed and expounded with eloquence, learning, and dignity every important clause and provision of the proposed plan. These papers, afterwards collected and published in a volume known as The Federalist, form the finest textbook on the Constitution that has ever been printed. It takes its place, moreover, among the wisest and weightiest treatises on government ever written in any language in any time. Other men, not so gifted, were no less earnest in their support of ratification. In private correspondence, editorials, pamphlets, and letters to the newspapers, they urged their countrymen to forget their partisanship and accept a Constitution which, in spite of any defects great or small, was the only guarantee against dissolution and warfare at home and dishonor and weakness abroad.
The Action of the State Conventions.—Before the end of the year, 1787, three states had ratified the Constitution: Delaware and New Jersey unanimously and Pennsylvania after a short, though savage, contest. Connecticut and Georgia followed early the next year. Then came the battle royal in Massachusetts, ending in ratification in February by the narrow margin of 187 votes to 168. In the spring came the news that Maryland and South Carolina were "under the new roof." On June 21, New Hampshire, where the sentiment was at first strong enough to defeat the Constitution, joined the new republic, influenced by the favorable decision in Massachusetts. Swift couriers were sent to carry the news to New York and Virginia, where the question of ratification was still undecided. Nine states had accepted it and were united, whether more saw fit to join or not.
Meanwhile, however, Virginia, after a long and searching debate, had given her approval by a narrow margin, leaving New York as the next seat of anxiety. In that state the popular vote for the delegates to the convention had been clearly and heavily against ratification. Events finally demonstrated the futility of resistance, and Hamilton by good judgment and masterly arguments was at last able to marshal a majority of thirty to twenty-seven votes in favor of ratification.
The great contest was over. All the states, except North Carolina and Rhode Island, had ratified. "The sloop Anarchy," wrote an ebullient journalist, "when last heard from was ashore on Union rocks."
The First Election.—In the autumn of 1788, elections were held to fill the places in the new government. Public opinion was overwhelmingly in favor of Washington as the first President. Yielding to the importunities of friends, he accepted the post in the spirit of public service. On April 30, 1789, he took the oath of office at Federal Hall in New York City. "Long live George Washington, President of the United States!" cried Chancellor Livingston as soon as the General had kissed the Bible. The cry was caught by the assembled multitude and given back. A new experiment in popular government was launched.
ReferencesM. Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States.
P.L. Ford, Essays on the Constitution of the United States.
The Federalist (in many editions).
G. Hunt, Life of James Madison.
A.C. McLaughlin, The Confederation and the Constitution (American Nation Series).
Questions1. Account for the failure of the Articles of Confederation.
2. Explain the domestic difficulties of the individual states.
3. Why did efforts at reform by the Congress come to naught?
4. Narrate the events leading up to the constitutional convention.
5. Who were some of the leading men in the convention? What had been their previous training?
6. State the great problems before the convention.
7. In what respects were the planting and commercial states opposed? What compromises were reached?
8. Show how the "check and balance" system is embodied in our form of government.
9. How did the powers conferred upon the federal government help cure the defects of the Articles of Confederation?
10. In what way did the provisions for ratifying and amending the Constitution depart from the old system?
11. What was the nature of the conflict over ratification?
Research TopicsEnglish Treatment of American Commerce.—Callender, Economic History of the United States, pp. 210-220.
Financial Condition of the United States.—Fiske, Critical Period of American History, pp. 163-186.
Disordered Commerce.—Fiske, pp. 134-162.
Selfish Conduct of the States.—Callender, pp. 185-191.
The Failure of the Confederation.—Elson, History of the United States, pp. 318-326.
Formation of the Constitution.—(1) The plans before the convention, Fiske, pp. 236-249; (2) the great compromise, Fiske, pp. 250-255; (3) slavery and the convention, Fiske, pp. 256-266; and (4) the frame of government, Fiske, pp. 275-301; Elson, pp. 328-334.
Biographical Studies.—Look up the history and services of the leaders in the convention in any good encyclopedia.
Ratification of the Constitution.—Hart, History Told by Contemporaries, Vol. III, pp. 233-254; Elson, pp. 334-340.
Source Study.—Compare the Constitution and Articles of Confederation under the following heads: (1) frame of government; (2) powers of Congress; (3) limits on states; and (4) methods of amendment. Every line of the Constitution should be read and re-read in the light of the historical circumstances set forth in this chapter.
THE CLASH OF POLITICAL PARTIES
The Men and Measures of the New GovernmentFriends of the Constitution in Power.—In the first Congress that assembled after the adoption of the Constitution, there were eleven Senators, led by Robert Morris, the financier, who had been delegates to the national convention. Several members of the House of Representatives, headed by James Madison, had also been at Philadelphia in 1787. In making his appointments, Washington strengthened the new system of government still further by a judicious selection of officials. He chose as Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, who had been the most zealous for its success; General Knox, head of the War Department, and Edmund Randolph, the Attorney-General, were likewise conspicuous friends of the experiment. Every member of the federal judiciary whom Washington appointed, from the Chief Justice, John Jay, down to the justices of the district courts, had favored the ratification of the Constitution; and a majority of them had served as members of the national convention that framed the document or of the state ratifying conventions. Only one man of influence in the new government, Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State, was reckoned as a doubter in the house of the faithful. He had expressed opinions both for and against the Constitution; but he had been out of the country acting as the minister at Paris when the Constitution was drafted and ratified.
An Opposition to Conciliate.—The inauguration of Washington amid the plaudits of his countrymen did not set at rest all the political turmoil which had been aroused by the angry contest over ratification. "The interesting nature of the question," wrote John Marshall, "the equality of the parties, the animation produced inevitably by ardent debate had a necessary tendency to embitter the dispositions of the vanquished and to fix more deeply in many bosoms their prejudices against a plan of government in opposition to which all their passions were enlisted." The leaders gathered around Washington were well aware of the excited state of the country. They saw Rhode Island and North Carolina still outside of the union. They knew by what small margins the Constitution had been approved in the great states of Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York. They were equally aware that a majority of the state conventions, in yielding reluctant approval to the Constitution, had drawn a number of amendments for immediate submission to the states.
The First Amendments—a Bill of Rights.—To meet the opposition, Madison proposed, and the first Congress adopted, a series of amendments to the Constitution. Ten of them were soon ratified and became in 1791 a part of the law of the land. These amendments provided, among other things, that Congress could make no law respecting the establishment of religion, abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances. They also guaranteed indictment by grand jury and trial by jury for all persons charged by federal officers with serious crimes. To reassure those who still feared that local rights might be invaded by the federal government, the tenth amendment expressly provided that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively or to the people. Seven years later, the eleventh amendment was written in the same spirit as the first ten, after a heated debate over the action of the Supreme Court in permitting a citizen to bring a suit against "the sovereign state" of Georgia. The new amendment was designed to protect states against the federal judiciary by forbidding it to hear any case in which a state was sued by a citizen.
Funding the National Debt.—Paper declarations of rights, however, paid no bills. To this task Hamilton turned all his splendid genius. At the very outset he addressed himself to the problem of the huge public debt, daily mounting as the unpaid interest accumulated. In a Report on Public Credit under date of January 9, 1790, one of the first and greatest of American state papers, he laid before Congress the outlines of his plan. He proposed that the federal government should call in all the old bonds, certificates of indebtedness, and other promises to pay which had been issued by the Congress since the beginning of the Revolution. These national obligations, he urged, should be put into one consolidated debt resting on the credit of the United States; to the holders of the old paper should be issued new bonds drawing interest at fixed rates. This process was called "funding the debt." Such a provision for the support of public credit, Hamilton insisted, would satisfy creditors, restore landed property to its former value, and furnish new resources to agriculture and commerce in the form of credit and capital.
Assumption and Funding of State Debts.—Hamilton then turned to the obligations incurred by the several states in support of the Revolution. These debts he proposed to add to the national debt. They were to be "assumed" by the United States government and placed on the same secure foundation as the continental debt. This measure he defended not merely on grounds of national honor. It would, as he foresaw, give strength to the new national government by making all public creditors, men of substance in their several communities, look to the federal, rather than the state government, for the satisfaction of their claims.
Funding at Face Value.—On the question of the terms of consolidation, assumption, and funding, Hamilton had a firm conviction. That millions of dollars' worth of the continental and state bonds had passed out of the hands of those who had originally subscribed their funds to the support of the government or had sold supplies for the Revolutionary army was well known. It was also a matter of common knowledge that a very large part of these bonds had been bought by speculators at ruinous figures—ten, twenty, and thirty cents on the dollar. Accordingly, it had been suggested, even in very respectable quarters, that a discrimination should be made between original holders and speculative purchasers. Some who held this opinion urged that the speculators who had paid nominal sums for their bonds should be reimbursed for their outlays and the original holders paid the difference; others said that the government should "scale the debt" by redeeming, not at full value but at a figure reasonably above the market price. Against the proposition Hamilton set his face like flint. He maintained that the government was honestly bound to redeem every bond at its face value, although the difficulty of securing revenue made necessary a lower rate of interest on a part of the bonds and the deferring of interest on another part.
Funding and Assumption Carried.—There was little difficulty in securing the approval of both houses of Congress for the funding of the national debt at full value. The bill for the assumption of state debts, however, brought the sharpest division of opinions. To the Southern members of Congress assumption was a gross violation of states' rights, without any warrant in the Constitution and devised in the interest of Northern speculators who, anticipating assumption and funding, had bought up at low prices the Southern bonds and other promises to pay. New England, on the other hand, was strongly in favor of assumption; several representatives from that section were rash enough to threaten a dissolution of the union if the bill was defeated. To this dispute was added an equally bitter quarrel over the location of the national capital, then temporarily at New York City.
A deadlock, accompanied by the most surly feelings on both sides, threatened the very existence of the young government. Washington and Hamilton were thoroughly alarmed. Hearing of the extremity to which the contest had been carried and acting on the appeal from the Secretary of the Treasury, Jefferson intervened at this point. By skillful management at a good dinner he brought the opposing leaders together; and thus once more, as on many other occasions, peace was purchased and the union saved by compromise. The bargain this time consisted of an exchange of votes for assumption in return for votes for the capital. Enough Southern members voted for assumption to pass the bill, and a majority was mustered in favor of building the capital on the banks of the Potomac, after locating it for a ten-year period at Philadelphia to satisfy Pennsylvania members.
The United States Bank.—Encouraged by the success of his funding and assumption measures, Hamilton laid before Congress a project for a great United States Bank. He proposed that a private corporation be chartered by Congress, authorized to raise a capital stock of $10,000,000 (three-fourths in new six per cent federal bonds and one-fourth in specie) and empowered to issue paper currency under proper safeguards. Many advantages, Hamilton contended, would accrue to the government from this institution. The price of the government bonds would be increased, thus enhancing public credit. A national currency would be created of uniform value from one end of the land to the other. The branches of the bank in various cities would make easy the exchange of funds so vital to commercial transactions on a national scale. Finally, through the issue of bank notes, the money capital available for agriculture and industry would be increased, thus stimulating business enterprise. Jefferson hotly attacked the bank on the ground that Congress had no power whatever under the Constitution to charter such a private corporation. Hamilton defended it with great cogency. Washington, after weighing all opinions, decided in favor of the proposal. In 1791 the bill establishing the first United States Bank for a period of twenty years became a law.
The Protective Tariff.—A third part of Hamilton's program was the protection of American industries. The first revenue act of 1789, though designed primarily to bring money into the empty treasury, declared in favor of the principle. The following year Washington referred to the subject in his address to Congress. Thereupon Hamilton was instructed to prepare recommendations for legislative action. The result, after a delay of more than a year, was his Report on Manufactures, another state paper worthy, in closeness of reasoning and keenness of understanding, of a place beside his report on public credit. Hamilton based his argument on the broadest national grounds: the protective tariff would, by encouraging the building of factories, create a home market for the produce of farms and plantations; by making the United States independent of other countries in times of peace, it would double its security in time of war; by making use of the labor of women and children, it would turn to the production of goods persons otherwise idle or only partly employed; by increasing the trade between the North and South it would strengthen the links of union and add to political ties those of commerce and intercourse. The revenue measure of 1792 bore the impress of these arguments.
The Rise of Political PartiesDissensions over Hamilton's Measures.—Hamilton's plans, touching deeply as they did the resources of individuals and the interests of the states, awakened alarm and opposition. Funding at face value, said his critics, was a government favor to speculators; the assumption of state debts was a deep design to undermine the state governments; Congress had no constitutional power to create a bank; the law creating the bank merely allowed a private corporation to make paper money and lend it at a high rate of interest; and the tariff was a tax on land and labor for the benefit of manufacturers.
Hamilton's reply to this bill of indictment was simple and straightforward. Some rascally speculators had profited from the funding of the debt at face value, but that was only an incident in the restoration of public credit. In view of the jealousies of the states it was a good thing to reduce their powers and pretensions. The Constitution was not to be interpreted narrowly but in the full light of national needs. The bank would enlarge the amount of capital so sorely needed to start up American industries, giving markets to farmers and planters. The tariff by creating a home market and increasing opportunities for employment would benefit both land and labor. Out of such wise policies firmly pursued by the government, he concluded, were bound to come strength and prosperity for the new government at home, credit and power abroad. This view Washington fully indorsed, adding the weight of his great name to the inherent merits of the measures adopted under his administration.
The Sharpness of the Partisan Conflict.—As a result of the clash of opinion, the people of the country gradually divided into two parties: Federalists and Anti-Federalists, the former led by Hamilton, the latter by Jefferson. The strength of the Federalists lay in the cities—Boston, Providence, Hartford, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston—among the manufacturing, financial, and commercial groups of the population who were eager to extend their business operations. The strength of the Anti-Federalists lay mainly among the debt-burdened farmers who feared the growth of what they called "a money power" and planters in all sections who feared the dominance of commercial and manufacturing interests. The farming and planting South, outside of the few towns, finally presented an almost solid front against assumption, the bank, and the tariff. The conflict between the parties grew steadily in bitterness, despite the conciliatory and engaging manner in which Hamilton presented his cause in his state papers and despite the constant efforts of Washington to soften the asperity of the contestants.
The Leadership and Doctrines of Jefferson.—The party dispute had not gone far before the opponents of the administration began to look to Jefferson as their leader. Some of Hamilton's measures he had approved, declaring afterward that he did not at the time understand their significance. Others, particularly the bank, he fiercely assailed. More than once, he and Hamilton, shaking violently with anger, attacked each other at cabinet meetings, and nothing short of the grave and dignified pleas of Washington prevented an early and open break between them. In 1794 it finally came. Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State and retired to his home in Virginia to assume, through correspondence and negotiation, the leadership of the steadily growing party of opposition.
Shy and modest in manner, halting in speech, disliking the turmoil of public debate, and deeply interested in science and philosophy, Jefferson was not very well fitted for the strenuous life of political contest. Nevertheless, he was an ambitious and shrewd negotiator. He was also by honest opinion and matured conviction the exact opposite of Hamilton. The latter believed in a strong, active, "high-toned" government, vigorously compelling in all its branches. Jefferson looked upon such government as dangerous to the liberties of citizens and openly avowed his faith in the desirability of occasional popular uprisings. Hamilton distrusted the people. "Your people is a great beast," he is reported to have said. Jefferson professed his faith in the people with an abandon that was considered reckless in his time.
On economic matters, the opinions of the two leaders were also hopelessly at variance. Hamilton, while cherishing agriculture, desired to see America a great commercial and industrial nation. Jefferson was equally set against this course for his country. He feared the accumulation of riches and the growth of a large urban working class. The mobs of great cities, he said, are sores on the body politic; artisans are usually the dangerous element that make revolutions; workshops should be kept in Europe and with them the artisans with their insidious morals and manners. The only substantial foundation for a republic, Jefferson believed to be agriculture. The spirit of independence could be kept alive only by free farmers, owning the land they tilled and looking to the sun in heaven and the labor of their hands for their sustenance. Trusting as he did in the innate goodness of human nature when nourished on a free soil, Jefferson advocated those measures calculated to favor agriculture and to enlarge the rights of persons rather than the powers of government. Thus he became the champion of the individual against the interference of the government, and an ardent advocate of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of scientific inquiry. It was, accordingly, no mere factious spirit that drove him into opposition to Hamilton.
The Whisky Rebellion.—The political agitation of the Anti-Federalists was accompanied by an armed revolt against the government in 1794. The occasion for this uprising was another of Hamilton's measures, a law laying an excise tax on distilled spirits, for the purpose of increasing the revenue needed to pay the interest on the funded debt. It so happened that a very considerable part of the whisky manufactured in the country was made by the farmers, especially on the frontier, in their own stills. The new revenue law meant that federal officers would now come into the homes of the people, measure their liquor, and take the tax out of their pockets. All the bitterness which farmers felt against the fiscal measures of the government was redoubled. In the western districts of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, they refused to pay the tax. In Pennsylvania, some of them sacked and burned the houses of the tax collectors, as the Revolutionists thirty years before had mobbed the agents of King George sent over to sell stamps. They were in a fair way to nullify the law in whole districts when Washington called out the troops to suppress "the Whisky Rebellion." Then the movement collapsed; but it left behind a deep-seated resentment which flared up in the election of several obdurate Anti-Federalist Congressmen from the disaffected regions.
Foreign Influences and Domestic PoliticsThe French Revolution.—In this exciting period, when all America was distracted by partisan disputes, a storm broke in Europe—the epoch-making French Revolution—which not only shook the thrones of the Old World but stirred to its depths the young republic of the New World. The first scene in this dramatic affair occurred in the spring of 1789, a few days after Washington was inaugurated. The king of France, Louis XVI, driven into bankruptcy by extravagance and costly wars, was forced to resort to his people for financial help. Accordingly he called, for the first time in more than one hundred fifty years, a meeting of the national parliament, the "Estates General," composed of representatives of the "three estates"—the clergy, nobility, and commoners. Acting under powerful leaders, the commoners, or "third estate," swept aside the clergy and nobility and resolved themselves into a national assembly. This stirred the country to its depths.
Great events followed in swift succession. On July 14, 1789, the Bastille, an old royal prison, symbol of the king's absolutism, was stormed by a Paris crowd and destroyed. On the night of August 4, the feudal privileges of the nobility were abolished by the national assembly amid great excitement. A few days later came the famous Declaration of the Rights of Man, proclaiming the sovereignty of the people and the privileges of citizens. In the autumn of 1791, Louis XVI was forced to accept a new constitution for France vesting the legislative power in a popular assembly. Little disorder accompanied these startling changes. To all appearances a peaceful revolution had stripped the French king of his royal prerogatives and based the government of his country on the consent of the governed.
American Influence in France.—In undertaking their great political revolt the French had been encouraged by the outcome of the American Revolution. Officers and soldiers, who had served in the American war, reported to their French countrymen marvelous tales. At the frugal table of General Washington, in council with the unpretentious Franklin, or at conferences over the strategy of war, French noblemen of ancient lineage learned to respect both the talents and the simple character of the leaders in the great republican commonwealth beyond the seas. Travelers, who had gone to see the experiment in republicanism with their own eyes, carried home to the king and ruling class stories of an astounding system of popular government.
On the other hand the dalliance with American democracy was regarded by French conservatives as playing with fire. "When we think of the false ideas of government and philanthropy," wrote one of Lafayette's aides, "which these youths acquired in America and propagated in France with so much enthusiasm and such deplorable success—for this mania of imitation powerfully aided the Revolution, though it was not the sole cause of it—we are bound to confess that it would have been better, both for themselves and for us, if these young philosophers in red-heeled shoes had stayed at home in attendance on the court."
Early American Opinion of the French Revolution.—So close were the ties between the two nations that it is not surprising to find every step in the first stages of the French Revolution greeted with applause in the United States. "Liberty will have another feather in her cap," exultantly wrote a Boston editor. "In no part of the globe," soberly wrote John Marshall, "was this revolution hailed with more joy than in America.... But one sentiment existed." The main key to the Bastille, sent to Washington as a memento, was accepted as "a token of the victory gained by liberty." Thomas Paine saw in the great event "the first ripe fruits of American principles transplanted into Europe." Federalists and Anti-Federalists regarded the new constitution of France as another vindication of American ideals.
The Reign of Terror.—While profuse congratulations were being exchanged, rumors began to come that all was not well in France. Many noblemen, enraged at the loss of their special privileges, fled into Germany and plotted an invasion of France to overthrow the new system of government. Louis XVI entered into negotiations with his brother monarchs on the continent to secure their help in the same enterprise, and he finally betrayed to the French people his true sentiments by attempting to escape from his kingdom, only to be captured and taken back to Paris in disgrace.
A new phase of the revolution now opened. The working people, excluded from all share in the government by the first French constitution, became restless, especially in Paris. Assembling on the Champs de Mars, a great open field, they signed a petition calling for another constitution giving them the suffrage. When told to disperse, they refused and were fired upon by the national guard. This "massacre," as it was called, enraged the populace. A radical party, known as "Jacobins," then sprang up, taking its name from a Jacobin monastery in which it held its sessions. In a little while it became the master of the popular convention convoked in September, 1792. The monarchy was immediately abolished and a republic established. On January 21, 1793, Louis was sent to the scaffold. To the war on Austria, already raging, was added a war on England. Then came the Reign of Terror, during which radicals in possession of the convention executed in large numbers counter-revolutionists and those suspected of sympathy with the monarchy. They shot down peasants who rose in insurrection against their rule and established a relentless dictatorship. Civil war followed. Terrible atrocities were committed on both sides in the name of liberty, and in the name of monarchy. To Americans of conservative temper it now seemed that the Revolution, so auspiciously begun, had degenerated into anarchy and mere bloodthirsty strife.
Burke Summons the World to War on France.—In England, Edmund Burke led the fight against the new French principles which he feared might spread to all Europe. In his Reflections on the French Revolution, written in 1790, he attacked with terrible wrath the whole program of popular government; he called for war, relentless war, upon the French as monsters and outlaws; he demanded that they be reduced to order by the restoration of the king to full power under the protection of the arms of European nations.
Paine's Defense of the French Revolution.—To counteract the campaign of hate against the French, Thomas Paine replied to Burke in another of his famous tracts, The Rights of Man, which was given to the American public in an edition containing a letter of approval from Jefferson. Burke, said Paine, had been mourning about the glories of the French monarchy and aristocracy but had forgotten the starving peasants and the oppressed people; had wept over the plumage and neglected the dying bird. Burke had denied the right of the French people to choose their own governors, blandly forgetting that the English government in which he saw final perfection itself rested on two revolutions. He had boasted that the king of England held his crown in contempt of the democratic societies. Paine answered: "If I ask a man in America if he wants a king, he retorts and asks me if I take him for an idiot." To the charge that the doctrines of the rights of man were "new fangled," Paine replied that the question was not whether they were new or old but whether they were right or wrong. As to the French disorders and difficulties, he bade the world wait to see what would be brought forth in due time.
The Effect of the French Revolution on American Politics.—The course of the French Revolution and the controversies accompanying it, exercised a profound influence on the formation of the first political parties in America. The followers of Hamilton, now proud of the name "Federalists," drew back in fright as they heard of the cruel deeds committed during the Reign of Terror. They turned savagely upon the revolutionists and their friends in America, denouncing as "Jacobin" everybody who did not condemn loudly enough the proceedings of the French Republic. A Massachusetts preacher roundly assailed "the atheistical, anarchical, and in other respects immoral principles of the French Republicans"; he then proceeded with equal passion to attack Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists, whom he charged with spreading false French propaganda and betraying America. "The editors, patrons, and abettors of these vehicles of slander," he exclaimed, "ought to be considered and treated as enemies to their country.... Of all traitors they are the most aggravatedly criminal; of all villains, they are the most infamous and detestable."
The Anti-Federalists, as a matter of fact, were generally favorable to the Revolution although they deplored many of the events associated with it. Paine's pamphlet, indorsed by Jefferson, was widely read. Democratic societies, after the fashion of French political clubs, arose in the cities; the coalition of European monarchs against France was denounced as a coalition against the very principles of republicanism; and the execution of Louis XVI was openly celebrated at a banquet in Philadelphia. Harmless titles, such as "Sir," "the Honorable," and "His Excellency," were decried as aristocratic and some of the more excited insisted on adopting the French title, "Citizen," speaking, for example, of "Citizen Judge" and "Citizen Toastmaster." Pamphlets in defense of the French streamed from the press, while subsidized newspapers kept the propaganda in full swing.
The European War Disturbs American Commerce.—This battle of wits, or rather contest in calumny, might have gone on indefinitely in America without producing any serious results, had it not been for the war between England and France, then raging. The English, having command of the seas, claimed the right to seize American produce bound for French ports and to confiscate American ships engaged in carrying French goods. Adding fuel to a fire already hot enough, they began to search American ships and to carry off British-born sailors found on board American vessels.
The French Appeal for Help.—At the same time the French Republic turned to the United States for aid in its war on England and sent over as its diplomatic representative "Citizen" Genêt, an ardent supporter of the new order. On his arrival at Charleston, he was greeted with fervor by the Anti-Federalists. As he made his way North, he was wined and dined and given popular ovations that turned his head. He thought the whole country was ready to join the French Republic in its contest with England. Genêt therefore attempted to use the American ports as the base of operations for French privateers preying on British merchant ships; and he insisted that the United States was in honor bound to help France under the treaty of 1778.
The Proclamation of Neutrality and the Jay Treaty.—Unmoved by the rising tide of popular sympathy for France, Washington took a firm course. He received Genêt coldly. The demand that the United States aid France under the old treaty of alliance he answered by proclaiming the neutrality of America and warning American citizens against hostile acts toward either France or England. When Genêt continued to hold meetings, issue manifestoes, and stir up the people against England, Washington asked the French government to recall him. This act he followed up by sending the Chief Justice, John Jay, on a pacific mission to England.
The result was the celebrated Jay treaty of 1794. By its terms Great Britain agreed to withdraw her troops from the western forts where they had been since the war for independence and to grant certain slight trade concessions. The chief sources of bitterness—the failure of the British to return slaves carried off during the Revolution, the seizure of American ships, and the impressment of sailors—were not touched, much to the distress of everybody in America, including loyal Federalists. Nevertheless, Washington, dreading an armed conflict with England, urged the Senate to ratify the treaty. The weight of his influence carried the day.
At this, the hostility of the Anti-Federalists knew no bounds. Jefferson declared the Jay treaty "an infamous act which is really nothing more than an alliance between England and the Anglo-men of this country, against the legislature and the people of the United States." Hamilton, defending it with his usual courage, was stoned by a mob in New York and driven from the platform with blood streaming from his face. Jay was burned in effigy. Even Washington was not spared. The House of Representatives was openly hostile. To display its feelings, it called upon the President for the papers relative to the treaty negotiations, only to be more highly incensed by his flat refusal to present them, on the ground that the House did not share in the treaty-making power.
Washington Retires from Politics.—Such angry contests confirmed the President in his slowly maturing determination to retire at the end of his second term in office. He did not believe that a third term was unconstitutional or improper; but, worn out by his long and arduous labors in war and in peace and wounded by harsh attacks from former friends, he longed for the quiet of his beautiful estate at Mount Vernon.
In September, 1796, on the eve of the presidential election, Washington issued his Farewell Address, another state paper to be treasured and read by generations of Americans to come. In this address he directed the attention of the people to three subjects of lasting interest. He warned them against sectional jealousies. He remonstrated against the spirit of partisanship, saying that in government "of the popular character, in government purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged." He likewise cautioned the people against "the insidious wiles of foreign influence," saying: "Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it would be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.... Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation?... It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.... Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies."
The Campaign of 1796—Adams Elected.—On hearing of the retirement of Washington, the Anti-Federalists cast off all restraints. In honor of France and in opposition to what they were pleased to call the monarchical tendencies of the Federalists, they boldly assumed the name "Republican"; the term "Democrat," then applied only to obscure and despised radicals, had not come into general use. They selected Jefferson as their candidate for President against John Adams, the Federalist nominee, and carried on such a spirited campaign that they came within four votes of electing him.
The successful candidate, Adams, was not fitted by training or opinion for conciliating a determined opposition. He was a reserved and studious man. He was neither a good speaker nor a skillful negotiator. In one of his books he had declared himself in favor of "government by an aristocracy of talents and wealth"—an offense which the Republicans never forgave. While John Marshall found him "a sensible, plain, candid, good-tempered man," Jefferson could see in him nothing but a "monocrat" and "Anglo-man." Had it not been for the conduct of the French government, Adams would hardly have enjoyed a moment's genuine popularity during his administration.
The Quarrel with France.—The French Directory, the executive department established under the constitution of 1795, managed, however, to stir the anger of Republicans and Federalists alike. It regarded the Jay treaty as a rebuke to France and a flagrant violation of obligations solemnly registered in the treaty of 1778. Accordingly it refused to receive the American minister, treated him in a humiliating way, and finally told him to leave the country. Overlooking this affront in his anxiety to maintain peace, Adams dispatched to France a commission of eminent men with instructions to reach an understanding with the French Republic. On their arrival, they were chagrined to find, instead of a decent reception, an indirect demand for an apology respecting the past conduct of the American government, a payment in cash, and an annual tribute as the price of continued friendship. When the news of this affair reached President Adams, he promptly laid it before Congress, referring to the Frenchmen who had made the demands as "Mr. X, Mr. Y, and Mr. Z."
This insult, coupled with the fact that French privateers, like the British, were preying upon American commerce, enraged even the Republicans who had been loudest in the profession of their French sympathies. They forgot their wrath over the Jay treaty and joined with the Federalists in shouting: "Millions for defense, not a cent for tribute!" Preparations for war were made on every hand. Washington was once more called from Mount Vernon to take his old position at the head of the army. Indeed, fighting actually began upon the high seas and went on without a formal declaration of war until the year 1800. By that time the Directory had been overthrown. A treaty was readily made with Napoleon, the First Consul, who was beginning his remarkable career as chief of the French Republic, soon to be turned into an empire.
Alien and Sedition Laws.—Flushed with success, the Federalists determined, if possible, to put an end to radical French influence in America and to silence Republican opposition. They therefore passed two drastic laws in the summer of 1798: the Alien and Sedition Acts.
The first of these measures empowered the President to expel from the country or to imprison any alien whom he regarded as "dangerous" or "had reasonable grounds to suspect" of "any treasonable or secret machinations against the government."
The second of the measures, the Sedition Act, penalized not only those who attempted to stir up unlawful combinations against the government but also every one who wrote, uttered, or published "any false, scandalous, and malicious writing ... against the government of the United States or either House of Congress, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame said government ... or to bring them or either of them into contempt or disrepute." This measure was hurried through Congress in spite of the opposition and the clear provision in the Constitution that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. Even many Federalists feared the consequences of the action. Hamilton was alarmed when he read the bill, exclaiming: "Let us not establish a tyranny. Energy is a very different thing from violence." John Marshall told his friends in Virginia that, had he been in Congress, he would have opposed the two bills because he thought them "useless" and "calculated to create unnecessary discontents and jealousies."
The Alien law was not enforced; but it gave great offense to the Irish and French whose activities against the American government's policy respecting Great Britain put them in danger of prison. The Sedition law, on the other hand, was vigorously applied. Several editors of Republican newspapers soon found themselves in jail or broken by ruinous fines for their caustic criticisms of the Federalist President and his policies. Bystanders at political meetings, who uttered sentiments which, though ungenerous and severe, seem harmless enough now, were hurried before Federalist judges and promptly fined and imprisoned. Although the prosecutions were not numerous, they aroused a keen resentment. The Republicans were convinced that their political opponents, having saddled upon the country Hamilton's fiscal system and the British treaty, were bent on silencing all censure. The measures therefore had exactly the opposite effect from that which their authors intended. Instead of helping the Federalist party, they made criticism of it more bitter than ever.
The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions.—Jefferson was quick to take advantage of the discontent. He drafted a set of resolutions declaring the Sedition law null and void, as violating the federal Constitution. His resolutions were passed by the Kentucky legislature late in 1798, signed by the governor, and transmitted to the other states for their consideration. Though receiving unfavorable replies from a number of Northern states, Kentucky the following year reaffirmed its position and declared that the nullification of all unconstitutional acts of Congress was the rightful remedy to be used by the states in the redress of grievances. It thus defied the federal government and announced a doctrine hostile to nationality and fraught with terrible meaning for the future. In the neighboring state of Virginia, Madison led a movement against the Alien and Sedition laws. He induced the legislature to pass resolutions condemning the acts as unconstitutional and calling upon the other states to take proper means to preserve their rights and the rights of the people.
The Republican Triumph in 1800.—Thus the way was prepared for the election of 1800. The Republicans left no stone unturned in their efforts to place on the Federalist candidate, President Adams, all the odium of the Alien and Sedition laws, in addition to responsibility for approving Hamilton's measures and policies. The Federalists, divided in councils and cold in their affection for Adams, made a poor campaign. They tried to discredit their opponents with epithets of "Jacobins" and "Anarchists"—terms which had been weakened by excessive use. When the vote was counted, it was found that Adams had been defeated; while the Republicans had carried the entire South and New York also and secured eight of the fifteen electoral votes cast by Pennsylvania. "Our beloved Adams will now close his bright career," lamented a Federalist newspaper. "Sons of faction, demagogues and high priests of anarchy, now you have cause to triumph!"
Jefferson's election, however, was still uncertain. By a curious provision in the Constitution, presidential electors were required to vote for two persons without indicating which office each was to fill, the one receiving the highest number of votes to be President and the candidate standing next to be Vice President. It so happened that Aaron Burr, the Republican candidate for Vice President, had received the same number of votes as Jefferson; as neither had a majority the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, where the Federalists held the balance of power. Although it was well known that Burr was not even a candidate for President, his friends and many Federalists began intriguing for his election to that high office. Had it not been for the vigorous action of Hamilton the prize might have been snatched out of Jefferson's hands. Not until the thirty-sixth ballot on February 17, 1801, was the great issue decided in his favor.
ReferencesJ.S. Bassett, The Federalist System (American Nation Series).
C.A. Beard, Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy.
H. Lodge, Alexander Hamilton.
J.T. Morse, Thomas Jefferson.
Questions1. Who were the leaders in the first administration under the Constitution?
2. What step was taken to appease the opposition?
3. Enumerate Hamilton's great measures and explain each in detail.
4. Show the connection between the parts of Hamilton's system.
5. Contrast the general political views of Hamilton and Jefferson.
6. What were the important results of the "peaceful" French Revolution (1789-92)?
7. Explain the interaction of opinion between France and the United States.
8. How did the "Reign of Terror" change American opinion?
9. What was the Burke-Paine controversy?
10. Show how the war in Europe affected American commerce and involved America with England and France.
11. What were American policies with regard to each of those countries?
12. What was the outcome of the Alien and Sedition Acts?
Research TopicsEarly Federal Legislation.—Coman, Industrial History of the United States, pp. 133-156; Elson, History of the United States, pp. 341-348.
Hamilton's Report on Public Credit.—Macdonald, Documentary Source Book, pp. 233-243.
The French Revolution.—Robinson and Beard, Development of Modern Europe, Vol. I, pp. 224-282; Elson, pp. 351-354.
The Burke-Paine Controversy.—Make an analysis of Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution and Paine's Rights of Man.
The Alien and Sedition Acts.—Macdonald, Documentary Source Book, pp. 259-267; Elson, pp. 367-375.
Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions.—Macdonald, pp. 267-278.
Source Studies.—Materials in Hart, American History Told by Contemporaries, Vol. III, pp. 255-343.
Biographical Studies.—Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Gallatin.
The Twelfth Amendment.—Contrast the provision in the original Constitution with the terms of the Amendment. See Appendix.
THE JEFFERSONIAN REPUBLICANS IN POWERRepublican Principles and Policies
Opposition to Strong Central Government.—Cherishing especially the agricultural interest, as Jefferson said, the Republicans were in the beginning provincial in their concern and outlook. Their attachment to America was, certainly, as strong as that of Hamilton; but they regarded the state, rather than the national government, as the proper center of power and affection. Indeed, a large part of the rank and file had been among the opponents of the Constitution in the days of its adoption. Jefferson had entertained doubts about it and Monroe, destined to be the fifth President, had been one of the bitter foes of ratification. The former went so far in the direction of local autonomy that he exalted the state above the nation in the Kentucky resolutions of 1798, declaring the Constitution to be a mere compact and the states competent to interpret and nullify federal law. This was provincialism with a vengeance. "It is jealousy, not confidence, which prescribes limited constitutions," wrote Jefferson for the Kentucky legislature. Jealousy of the national government, not confidence in it—this is the ideal that reflected the provincial and agricultural interest.
Republican Simplicity.—Every act of the Jeffersonian party during its early days of power was in accord with the ideals of government which it professed. It had opposed all pomp and ceremony, calculated to give weight and dignity to the chief executive of the nation, as symbols of monarchy and high prerogative. Appropriately, therefore, Jefferson's inauguration on March 4, 1801, the first at the new capital at Washington, was marked by extreme simplicity. In keeping with this procedure he quit the practice, followed by Washington and Adams, of reading presidential addresses to Congress in joint assembly and adopted in its stead the plan of sending his messages in writing—a custom that was continued unbroken until 1913 when President Wilson returned to the example set by the first chief magistrate.
Republican Measures.—The Republicans had complained of a great national debt as the source of a dangerous "money power," giving strength to the federal government; accordingly they began to pay it off as rapidly as possible. They had held commerce in low esteem and looked upon a large navy as a mere device to protect it; consequently they reduced the number of warships. They had objected to excise taxes, particularly on whisky; these they quickly abolished, to the intense satisfaction of the farmers. They had protested against the heavy cost of the federal government; they reduced expenses by discharging hundreds of men from the army and abolishing many offices.
They had savagely criticized the Sedition law and Jefferson refused to enforce it. They had been deeply offended by the assault on freedom of speech and press and they promptly impeached Samuel Chase, a justice of the Supreme Court, who had been especially severe in his attacks upon offenders under the Sedition Act. Their failure to convict Justice Chase by a narrow margin was due to no lack of zeal on their part but to the Federalist strength in the Senate where the trial was held. They had regarded the appointment of a large number of federal judges during the last hours of Adams' administration as an attempt to intrench Federalists in the judiciary and to enlarge the sphere of the national government. Accordingly, they at once repealed the act creating the new judgeships, thus depriving the "midnight appointees" of their posts. They had considered the federal offices, civil and military, as sources of great strength to the Federalists and Jefferson, though committed to the principle that offices should be open to all and distributed according to merit, was careful to fill most of the vacancies as they occurred with trusted Republicans. To his credit, however, it must be said that he did not make wholesale removals to find room for party workers.
The Republicans thus hewed to the line of their general policy of restricting the weight, dignity, and activity of the national government. Yet there were no Republicans, as the Federalists asserted, prepared to urge serious modifications in the Constitution. "If there be any among us who wish to dissolve this union or to change its republican form," wrote Jefferson in his first inaugural, "let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." After reciting the fortunate circumstances of climate, soil, and isolation which made the future of America so full of promise, Jefferson concluded: "A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement and shall not take from the mouth of labour the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government; and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities."
In all this the Republicans had not reckoned with destiny. In a few short years that lay ahead it was their fate to double the territory of the country, making inevitable a continental nation; to give the Constitution a generous interpretation that shocked many a Federalist; to wage war on behalf of American commerce; to reëstablish the hated United States Bank; to enact a high protective tariff; to see their Federalist opponents in their turn discredited as nullifiers and provincials; to announce high national doctrines in foreign affairs; and to behold the Constitution exalted and defended against the pretensions of states by a son of old Virginia, John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
The Republicans and the Great WestExpansion and Land Hunger.—The first of the great measures which drove the Republicans out upon this new national course—the purchase of the Louisiana territory—was the product of circumstances rather than of their deliberate choosing. It was not the lack of land for his cherished farmers that led Jefferson to add such an immense domain to the original possessions of the United States. In the Northwest territory, now embracing Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and a portion of Minnesota, settlements were mainly confined to the north bank of the Ohio River. To the south, in Kentucky and Tennessee, where there were more than one hundred thousand white people who had pushed over the mountains from Virginia and the Carolinas, there were still wide reaches of untilled soil. The Alabama and Mississippi regions were vast Indian frontiers of the state of Georgia, unsettled and almost unexplored. Even to the wildest imagination there seemed to be territory enough to satisfy the land hunger of the American people for a century to come.
The Significance of the Mississippi River.—At all events the East, then the center of power, saw no good reason for expansion. The planters of the Carolinas, the manufacturers of Pennsylvania, the importers of New York, the shipbuilders of New England, looking to the seaboard and to Europe for trade, refinements, and sometimes their ideas of government, were slow to appreciate the place of the West in national economy. The better educated the Easterners were, the less, it seems, they comprehended the destiny of the nation. Sons of Federalist fathers at Williams College, after a long debate decided by a vote of fifteen to one that the purchase of Louisiana was undesirable.
On the other hand, the pioneers of Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, unlearned in books, saw with their own eyes the resources of the wilderness. Many of them had been across the Mississippi and had beheld the rich lands awaiting the plow of the white man. Down the great river they floated their wheat, corn, and bacon to ocean-going ships bound for the ports of the seaboard or for Europe. The land journeys over the mountain barriers with bulky farm produce, they knew from experience, were almost impossible, and costly at best. Nails, bolts of cloth, tea, and coffee could go or come that way, but not corn and bacon. A free outlet to the sea by the Mississippi was as essential to the pioneers of the Kentucky region as the harbor of Boston to the merchant princes of that metropolis.
Louisiana under Spanish Rule.—For this reason they watched with deep solicitude the fortunes of the Spanish king to whom, at the close of the Seven Years' War, had fallen the Louisiana territory stretching from New Orleans to the Rocky Mountains. While he controlled the mouth of the Mississippi there was little to fear, for he had neither the army nor the navy necessary to resist any invasion of American trade. Moreover, Washington had been able, by the exercise of great tact, to secure from Spain in 1795 a trading privilege through New Orleans which satisfied the present requirements of the frontiersmen even if it did not allay their fears for the future. So things stood when a swift succession of events altered the whole situation.
Louisiana Transferred to France.—In July, 1802, a royal order from Spain instructed the officials at New Orleans to close the port to American produce. About the same time a disturbing rumor, long current, was confirmed—Napoleon had coerced Spain into returning Louisiana to France by a secret treaty signed in 1800. "The scalers of the Alps and conquerors of Venice" now looked across the sea for new scenes of adventure. The West was ablaze with excitement. A call for war ran through the frontier; expeditions were organized to prevent the landing of the French; and petitions for instant action flooded in upon Jefferson.
Jefferson Sees the Danger.—Jefferson, the friend of France and sworn enemy of England, compelled to choose in the interest of America, never winced. "The cession of Louisiana and the Floridas by Spain to France," he wrote to Livingston, the American minister in Paris, "works sorely on the United States. It completely reverses all the political relations of the United States and will form a new epoch in our political course.... There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market.... France, placing herself in that door, assumes to us an attitude of defiance. Spain might have retained it quietly for years. Her pacific dispositions, her feeble state would induce her to increase our facilities there.... Not so can it ever be in the hands of France.... The day that France takes possession of New Orleans fixes the sentence which is to restrain her forever within her low water mark.... It seals the union of the two nations who in conjunction can maintain exclusive possession of the ocean. From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation.... This is not a state of things we seek or desire. It is one which this measure, if adopted by France, forces on us as necessarily as any other cause by the laws of nature brings on its necessary effect."
Louisiana Purchased.—Acting on this belief, but apparently seeing only the Mississippi outlet at stake, Jefferson sent his friend, James Monroe, to France with the power to buy New Orleans and West Florida. Before Monroe arrived, the regular minister, Livingston, had already convinced Napoleon that it would be well to sell territory which might be wrested from him at any moment by the British sea power, especially as the war, temporarily stopped by the peace of Amiens, was once more raging in Europe. Wise as he was in his day, Livingston had at first no thought of buying the whole Louisiana country. He was simply dazed when Napoleon offered to sell the entire domain and get rid of the business altogether. Though staggered by the proposal, he and Monroe decided to accept. On April 30, they signed the treaty of cession, agreeing to pay $11,250,000 in six per cent bonds and to discharge certain debts due French citizens, making in all approximately fifteen millions. Spain protested, Napoleon's brother fumed, French newspapers objected; but the deed was done.
Jefferson and His Constitutional Scruples.—When the news of this extraordinary event reached the United States, the people were filled with astonishment, and no one was more surprised than Jefferson himself. He had thought of buying New Orleans and West Florida for a small sum, and now a vast domain had been dumped into the lap of the nation. He was puzzled. On looking into the Constitution he found not a line authorizing the purchase of more territory and so he drafted an amendment declaring "Louisiana, as ceded by France,—a part of the United States." He had belabored the Federalists for piling up a big national debt and he could hardly endure the thought of issuing more bonds himself.
In the midst of his doubts came the news that Napoleon might withdraw from the bargain. Thoroughly alarmed by that, Jefferson pressed the Senate for a ratification of the treaty. He still clung to his original idea that the Constitution did not warrant the purchase; but he lamely concluded: "If our friends shall think differently, I shall certainly acquiesce with satisfaction; confident that the good sense of our country will correct the evil of construction when it shall produce ill effects." Thus the stanch advocate of "strict interpretation" cut loose from his own doctrine and intrusted the construction of the Constitution to "the good sense" of his countrymen.
The Treaty Ratified.—This unusual transaction, so favorable to the West, aroused the ire of the seaboard Federalists. Some denounced it as unconstitutional, easily forgetting Hamilton's masterly defense of the bank, also not mentioned in the Constitution. Others urged that, if "the howling wilderness" ever should be settled, it would turn against the East, form new commercial connections, and escape from federal control. Still others protested that the purchase would lead inevitably to the dominance of a "hotch potch of wild men from the Far West." Federalists, who thought "the broad back of America" could readily bear Hamilton's consolidated debt, now went into agonies over a bond issue of less than one-sixth of that amount. But in vain. Jefferson's party with a high hand carried the day. The Senate, after hearing the Federalist protest, ratified the treaty. In December, 1803, the French flag was hauled down from the old government buildings in New Orleans and the Stars and Stripes were hoisted as a sign that the land of Coronado, De Soto, Marquette, and La Salle had passed forever to the United States.
By a single stroke, the original territory of the United States was more than doubled. While the boundaries of the purchase were uncertain, it is safe to say that the Louisiana territory included what is now Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and large portions of Louisiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming. The farm lands that the friends of "a little America" on the seacoast declared a hopeless wilderness were, within a hundred years, fully occupied and valued at nearly seven billion dollars—almost five hundred times the price paid to Napoleon.
Western Explorations.—Having taken the fateful step, Jefferson wisely began to make the most of it. He prepared for the opening of the new country by sending the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore it, discover its resources, and lay out an overland route through the Missouri Valley and across the Great Divide to the Pacific. The story of this mighty exploit, which began in the spring of 1804 and ended in the autumn of 1806, was set down with skill and pains in the journal of Lewis and Clark; when published even in a short form, it invited the forward-looking men of the East to take thought about the western empire. At the same time Zebulon Pike, in a series of journeys, explored the sources of the Mississippi River and penetrated the Spanish territories of the far Southwest. Thus scouts and pioneers continued the work of diplomats.
The Republican War for Commercial IndependenceThe English and French Blockades.—In addition to bringing Louisiana to the United States, the reopening of the European War in 1803, after a short lull, renewed in an acute form the commercial difficulties that had plagued the country all during the administrations of Washington and Adams. The Republicans were now plunged into the hornets' nest. The party whose ardent spirits had burned Jay in effigy, stoned Hamilton for defending his treaty, jeered Washington's proclamation of neutrality, and spoken bitterly of "timid traders," could no longer take refuge in criticism. It had to act.
Its troubles took a serious turn in 1806. England, in a determined effort to bring France to her knees by starvation, declared the coast of Europe blockaded from Brest to the mouth of the Elbe River. Napoleon retaliated by his Berlin Decree of November, 1806, blockading the British Isles—a measure terrifying to American ship owners whose vessels were liable to seizure by any French rover, though Napoleon had no navy to make good his proclamation. Great Britain countered with a still more irritating decree—the Orders in Council of 1807. It modified its blockade, but in so doing merely authorized American ships not carrying munitions of war to complete their voyage to the Continent, on condition of their stopping at a British port, securing a license, and paying a tax. This, responded Napoleon, was the height of insolence, and he denounced it as a gross violation of international law. He then closed the circle of American troubles by issuing his Milan Decree of December, 1807. This order declared that any ship which complied with the British rules would be subject to seizure and confiscation by French authorities.
The Impressment of Seamen.—That was not all. Great Britain, in dire need of men for her navy, adopted the practice of stopping American ships, searching them, and carrying away British-born sailors found on board. British sailors were so badly treated, so cruelly flogged for trivial causes, and so meanly fed that they fled in crowds to the American marine. In many cases it was difficult to tell whether seamen were English or American. They spoke the same language, so that language was no test. Rovers on the deep and stragglers in the ports of both countries, they frequently had no papers to show their nativity. Moreover, Great Britain held to the old rule—"Once an Englishman, always an Englishman"—a doctrine rejected by the United States in favor of the principle that a man could choose the nation to which he would give allegiance. British sea captains, sometimes by mistake, and often enough with reckless indifference, carried away into servitude in their own navy genuine American citizens. The process itself, even when executed with all the civilities of law, was painful enough, for it meant that American ships were forced to "come to," and compelled to rest submissively under British guns until the searching party had pried into records, questioned seamen, seized and handcuffed victims. Saints could not have done this work without raising angry passions, and only saints could have endured it with patience and fortitude.
Had the enactment of the scenes been confined to the high seas and knowledge of them to rumors and newspaper stories, American resentment might not have been so intense; but many a search and seizure was made in sight of land. British and French vessels patrolled the coasts, firing on one another and chasing one another in American waters within the three-mile limit. When, in the summer of 1807, the American frigate Chesapeake refused to surrender men alleged to be deserters from King George's navy, the British warship Leopard opened fire, killing three men and wounding eighteen more—an act which even the British ministry could hardly excuse. If the French were less frequently the offenders, it was not because of their tenderness about American rights but because so few of their ships escaped the hawk-eyed British navy to operate in American waters.
The Losses in American Commerce.—This high-handed conduct on the part of European belligerents was very injurious to American trade. By their enterprise, American shippers had become the foremost carriers on the Atlantic Ocean. In a decade they had doubled the tonnage of American merchant ships under the American flag, taking the place of the French marine when Britain swept that from the seas, and supplying Britain with the sinews of war for the contest with the Napoleonic empire. The American shipping engaged in foreign trade embraced 363,110 tons in 1791; 669,921 tons in 1800; and almost 1,000,000 tons in 1810. Such was the enterprise attacked by the British and French decrees. American ships bound for Great Britain were liable to be captured by French privateers which, in spite of the disasters of the Nile and Trafalgar, ranged the seas. American ships destined for the Continent, if they failed to stop at British ports and pay tribute, were in great danger of capture by the sleepless British navy and its swarm of auxiliaries. American sea captains who, in fear of British vengeance, heeded the Orders in Council and paid the tax were almost certain to fall a prey to French vengeance, for the French were vigorous in executing the Milan Decree.
Jefferson's Policy.—The President's dilemma was distressing. Both the belligerents in Europe were guilty of depredations on American commerce. War on both of them was out of the question. War on France was impossible because she had no territory on this side of the water which could be reached by American troops and her naval forces had been shattered at the battles of the Nile and Trafalgar. War on Great Britain, a power which Jefferson's followers feared and distrusted, was possible but not inviting. Jefferson shrank from it. A man of peace, he disliked war's brazen clamor; a man of kindly spirit, he was startled at the death and destruction which it brought in its train. So for the eight years Jefferson steered an even course, suggesting measure after measure with a view to avoiding bloodshed. He sent, it is true, Commodore Preble in 1803 to punish Mediterranean pirates preying upon American commerce; but a great war he evaded with passionate earnestness, trying in its place every other expedient to protect American rights.
The Embargo and Non-intercourse Acts.—In 1806, Congress passed and Jefferson approved a non-importation act closing American ports to certain products from British dominions—a measure intended as a club over the British government's head. This law, failing in its purpose, Jefferson proposed and Congress adopted in December, 1807, the Embargo Act forbidding all vessels to leave American harbors for foreign ports. France and England were to be brought to terms by cutting off their supplies.
The result of the embargo was pathetic. England and France refused to give up search and seizure. American ship owners who, lured by huge profits, had formerly been willing to take the risk were now restrained by law to their home ports. Every section suffered. The South and West found their markets for cotton, rice, tobacco, corn, and bacon curtailed. Thus they learned by bitter experience the national significance of commerce. Ship masters, ship builders, longshoremen, and sailors were thrown out of employment while the prices of foreign goods doubled. Those who obeyed the law were ruined; violators of the law smuggled goods into Canada and Florida for shipment abroad.
Jefferson's friends accepted the medicine with a wry face as the only alternative to supine submission or open war. His opponents, without offering any solution of their own, denounced it as a contemptible plan that brought neither relief nor honor. Beset by the clamor that arose on all sides, Congress, in the closing days of Jefferson's administration, repealed the Embargo law and substituted a Non-intercourse act forbidding trade with England and France while permitting it with other countries—a measure equally futile in staying the depredations on American shipping.
Jefferson Retires in Favor of Madison.—Jefferson, exhausted by endless wrangling and wounded, as Washington had been, by savage criticism, welcomed March 4, 1809. His friends urged him to "stay by the ship" and accept a third term. He declined, saying that election for life might result from repeated reëlection. In following Washington's course and defending it on principle, he set an example to all his successors, making the "third term doctrine" a part of American unwritten law.
His intimate friend, James Madison, to whom he turned over the burdens of his high office was, like himself, a man of peace. Madison had been a leader since the days of the Revolution, but in legislative halls and council chambers, not on the field of battle. Small in stature, sensitive in feelings, studious in habits, he was no man for the rough and tumble of practical politics. He had taken a prominent and distinguished part in the framing and the adoption of the Constitution. He had served in the first Congress as a friend of Hamilton's measures. Later he attached himself to Jefferson's fortunes and served for eight years as his first counselor, the Secretary of State. The principles of the Constitution, which he had helped to make and interpret, he was now as President called upon to apply in one of the most perplexing moments in all American history. In keeping with his own traditions and following in the footsteps of Jefferson, he vainly tried to solve the foreign problem by negotiation.
The Trend of Events.—Whatever difficulties Madison had in making up his mind on war and peace were settled by events beyond his own control. In the spring of 1811, a British frigate held up an American ship near the harbor of New York and impressed a seaman alleged to be an American citizen. Burning with resentment, the captain of the President, an American warship, acting under orders, poured several broadsides into the Little Belt, a British sloop, suspected of being the guilty party. The British also encouraged the Indian chief Tecumseh, who welded together the Indians of the Northwest under British protection and gave signs of restlessness presaging a revolt. This sent a note of alarm along the frontier that was not checked even when, in November, Tecumseh's men were badly beaten at Tippecanoe by William Henry Harrison. The Indians stood in the way of the advancing frontier, and it seemed to the pioneers that, without support from the British in Canada, the Red Men would soon be subdued.
Clay and Calhoun.—While events were moving swiftly and rumors were flying thick and fast, the mastery of the government passed from the uncertain hands of Madison to a party of ardent young men in Congress, dubbed "Young Republicans," under the leadership of two members destined to be mighty figures in American history: Henry Clay of Kentucky and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. The former contended, in a flair of folly, that "the militia of Kentucky alone are competent to place Montreal and Upper Canada at your feet." The latter with a light heart spoke of conquering Canada in a four weeks' campaign. "It must not be inferred," says Channing, "that in advocating conquest, the Westerners were actuated merely by desire for land; they welcomed war because they thought it would be the easiest way to abate Indian troubles. The savages were supported by the fur-trading interests that centred at Quebec and London.... The Southerners on their part wished for Florida and they thought that the conquest of Canada would obviate some Northern opposition to this acquisition of slave territory." While Clay and Calhoun, spokesmen of the West and South, were not unmindful of what Napoleon had done to American commerce, they knew that their followers still remembered with deep gratitude the aid of the French in the war for independence and that the embers of the old hatred for George III, still on the throne, could be readily blown into flame.
Madison Accepts War as Inevitable.—The conduct of the British ministers with whom Madison had to deal did little to encourage him in adhering to the policy of "watchful waiting." One of them, a high Tory, believed that all Americans were alike "except that a few are less knaves than others" and his methods were colored by his belief. On the recall of this minister the British government selected another no less high and mighty in his principles and opinions. So Madison became thoroughly discouraged about the outcome of pacific measures. When the pressure from Congress upon him became too heavy, he gave way, signing on June 18, 1812, the declaration of war on Great Britain. In proclaiming hostilities, the administration set forth the causes which justified the declaration; namely, the British had been encouraging the Indians to attack American citizens on the frontier; they had ruined American trade by blockades; they had insulted the American flag by stopping and searching our ships; they had illegally seized American sailors and driven them into the British navy.
The Course of the War.—The war lasted for nearly three years without bringing victory to either side. The surrender of Detroit by General Hull to the British and the failure of the American invasion of Canada were offset by Perry's victory on Lake Erie and a decisive blow administered to British designs for an invasion of New York by way of Plattsburgh. The triumph of Jackson at New Orleans helped to atone for the humiliation suffered in the burning of the Capitol by the British. The stirring deeds of the Constitution, the United States, and the Argus on the seas, the heroic death of Lawrence and the victories of a hundred privateers furnished consolation for those who suffered from the iron blockade finally established by the British government when it came to appreciate the gravity of the situation. While men love the annals of the sea, they will turn to the running battles, the narrow escapes, and the reckless daring of American sailors in that naval contest with Great Britain.
All this was exciting but it was inconclusive. In fact, never was a government less prepared than was that of the United States in 1812. It had neither the disciplined troops, the ships of war, nor the supplies required by the magnitude of the military task. It was fortune that favored the American cause. Great Britain, harassed, worn, and financially embarrassed by nearly twenty years of fighting in Europe, was in no mood to gather her forces for a titanic effort in America even after Napoleon was overthrown and sent into exile at Elba in the spring of 1814. War clouds still hung on the European horizon and the conflict temporarily halted did again break out. To be rid of American anxieties and free for European eventualities, England was ready to settle with the United States, especially as that could be done without conceding anything or surrendering any claims.
The Treaty of Peace.—Both countries were in truth sick of a war that offered neither glory nor profit. Having indulged in the usual diplomatic skirmishing, they sent representatives to Ghent to discuss terms of peace. After long negotiations an agreement was reached on Christmas eve, 1814, a few days before Jackson's victory at New Orleans. When the treaty reached America the people were surprised to find that it said nothing about the seizure of American sailors, the destruction of American trade, the searching of American ships, or the support of Indians on the frontier. Nevertheless, we are told, the people "passed from gloom to glory" when the news of peace arrived. The bells were rung; schools were closed; flags were displayed; and many a rousing toast was drunk in tavern and private home. The rejoicing could continue. With Napoleon definitely beaten at Waterloo in June, 1815, Great Britain had no need to impress sailors, search ships, and confiscate American goods bound to the Continent. Once more the terrible sea power sank into the background and the ocean was again white with the sails of merchantmen.
The Republicans NationalizedThe Federalists Discredited.—By a strange turn of fortune's wheel, the party of Hamilton, Washington, Adams, the party of the grand nation, became the party of provincialism and nullification. New England, finding its shipping interests crippled in the European conflict and then penalized by embargoes, opposed the declaration of war on Great Britain, which meant the completion of the ruin already begun. In the course of the struggle, the Federalist leaders came perilously near to treason in their efforts to hamper the government of the United States; and in their desperation they fell back upon the doctrine of nullification so recently condemned by them when it came from Kentucky. The Senate of Massachusetts, while the war was in progress, resolved that it was waged "without justifiable cause," and refused to approve military and naval projects not connected with "the defense of our seacoast and soil." A Boston newspaper declared that the union was nothing but a treaty among sovereign states, that states could decide for themselves the question of obeying federal law, and that armed resistance under the banner of a state would not be rebellion or treason. The general assembly of Connecticut reminded the administration at Washington that "the state of Connecticut is a free, sovereign, and independent state." Gouverneur Morris, a member of the convention which had drafted the Constitution, suggested the holding of another conference to consider whether the Northern states should remain in the union.
In October, 1814, a convention of delegates from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and certain counties of New Hampshire and Vermont was held at Hartford, on the call of Massachusetts. The counsels of the extremists were rejected but the convention solemnly went on record to the effect that acts of Congress in violation of the Constitution are void; that in cases of deliberate, dangerous, and palpable infractions the state is duty bound to interpose its authority for the protection of its citizens; and that when emergencies occur the states must be their own judges and execute their own decisions. Thus New England answered the challenge of Calhoun and Clay. Fortunately its actions were not as rash as its words. The Hartford convention merely proposed certain amendments to the Constitution and adjourned. At the close of the war, its proposals vanished harmlessly; but the men who made them were hopelessly discredited.
The Second United States Bank.—In driving the Federalists towards nullification and waging a national war themselves, the Republicans lost all their old taint of provincialism. Moreover, in turning to measures of reconstruction called forth by the war, they resorted to the national devices of the Federalists. In 1816, they chartered for a period of twenty years a second United States Bank—the institution which Jefferson and Madison once had condemned as unsound and unconstitutional. The Constitution remained unchanged; times and circumstances had changed. Calhoun dismissed the vexed question of constitutionality with a scant reference to an ancient dispute, while Madison set aside his scruples and signed the bill.
The Protective Tariff of 1816.—The Republicans supplemented the Bank by another Federalist measure—a high protective tariff. Clay viewed it as the beginning of his "American system" of protection. Calhoun defended it on national principles. For this sudden reversal of policy the young Republicans were taunted by some of their older party colleagues with betraying the "agricultural interest" that Jefferson had fostered; but Calhoun refused to listen to their criticisms. "When the seas are open," he said, "the produce of the South may pour anywhere into the markets of the Old World.... What are the effects of a war with a maritime power—with England? Our commerce annihilated ... our agriculture cut off from its accustomed markets, the surplus of the farmer perishes on his hands.... The recent war fell with peculiar pressure on the growers of cotton and tobacco and the other great staples of the country; and the same state of things will recur in the event of another war unless prevented by the foresight of this body.... When our manufactures are grown to a certain perfection, as they soon will be under the fostering care of the government, we shall no longer experience these evils." With the Republicans nationalized, the Federalist party, as an organization, disappeared after a crushing defeat in the presidential campaign of 1816.
Monroe and the Florida Purchase.—To the victor in that political contest, James Monroe of Virginia, fell two tasks of national importance, adding to the prestige of the whole country and deepening the sense of patriotism that weaned men away from mere allegiance to states. The first of these was the purchase of Florida from Spain. The acquisition of Louisiana let the Mississippi flow "unvexed to the sea"; but it left all the states east of the river cut off from the Gulf, affording them ground for discontent akin to that which had moved the pioneers of Kentucky to action a generation earlier. The uncertainty as to the boundaries of Louisiana gave the United States a claim to West Florida, setting on foot a movement for occupation. The Florida swamps were a basis for Indian marauders who periodically swept into the frontier settlements, and hiding places for runaway slaves. Thus the sanction of international law was given to punitive expeditions into alien territory.
The pioneer leaders stood waiting for the signal. It came. President Monroe, on the occasion of an Indian outbreak, ordered General Jackson to seize the offenders, in the Floridas, if necessary. The high-spirited warrior, taking this as a hint that he was to occupy the coveted region, replied that, if possession was the object of the invasion, he could occupy the Floridas within sixty days. Without waiting for an answer to this letter, he launched his expedition, and in the spring of 1818 was master of the Spanish king's domain to the south.
There was nothing for the king to do but to make the best of the inevitable by ceding the Floridas to the United States in return for five million dollars to be paid to American citizens having claims against Spain. On Washington's birthday, 1819, the treaty was signed. It ceded the Floridas to the United States and defined the boundary between Mexico and the United States by drawing a line from the mouth of the Sabine River in a northwesterly direction to the Pacific. On this occasion even Monroe, former opponent of the Constitution, forgot to inquire whether new territory could be constitutionally acquired and incorporated into the American union. The Republicans seemed far away from the days of "strict construction." And Jefferson still lived!
The Monroe Doctrine.—Even more effective in fashioning the national idea was Monroe's enunciation of the famous doctrine that bears his name. The occasion was another European crisis. During the Napoleonic upheaval and the years of dissolution that ensued, the Spanish colonies in America, following the example set by their English neighbors in 1776, declared their independence. Unable to conquer them alone, the king of Spain turned for help to the friendly powers of Europe that looked upon revolution and republics with undisguised horror.
The Holy Alliance.—He found them prepared to view his case with sympathy. Three of them, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, under the leadership of the Czar, Alexander I, in the autumn of 1815, had entered into a Holy Alliance to sustain by reciprocal service the autocratic principle in government. Although the effusive, almost maudlin, language of the treaty did not express their purpose explicitly, the Alliance was later regarded as a mere union of monarchs to prevent the rise and growth of popular government.
The American people thought their worst fears confirmed when, in 1822, a conference of delegates from Russia, Austria, Prussia, and France met at Verona to consider, among other things, revolutions that had just broken out in Spain and Italy. The spirit of the conference is reflected in the first article of the agreement reached by the delegates: "The high contracting powers, being convinced that the system of representative government is equally incompatible with the monarchical principle and the maxim of the sovereignty of the people with the divine right, mutually engage in the most solemn manner to use all their efforts to put an end to the system of representative government in whatever country it may exist in Europe and to prevent its being introduced in those countries where it is not yet known." The Czar, who incidentally coveted the west coast of North America, proposed to send an army to aid the king of Spain in his troubles at home, thus preparing the way for intervention in Spanish America. It was material weakness not want of spirit, that prevented the grand union of monarchs from making open war on popular government.
The Position of England.—Unfortunately, too, for the Holy Alliance, England refused to coöperate. English merchants had built up a large trade with the independent Latin-American colonies and they protested against the restoration of Spanish sovereignty, which meant a renewal of Spain's former trade monopoly. Moreover, divine right doctrines had been laid to rest in England and the representative principle thoroughly established. Already there were signs of the coming democratic flood which was soon to carry the first reform bill of 1832, extending the suffrage, and sweep on to even greater achievements. British statesmen, therefore, had to be cautious. In such circumstances, instead of coöperating with the autocrats of Russia, Austria, and Prussia, they turned to the minister of the United States in London. The British prime minister, Canning, proposed that the two countries join in declaring their unwillingness to see the Spanish colonies transferred to any other power.
Jefferson's Advice.—The proposal was rejected; but President Monroe took up the suggestion with Madison and Jefferson as well as with his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams. They favored the plan. Jefferson said: "One nation, most of all, could disturb us in this pursuit [of freedom]; she now offers to lead, aid, and accompany us in it. By acceding to her proposition we detach her from the bands, bring her mighty weight into the scale of free government and emancipate a continent at one stroke.... With her on our side we need not fear the whole world. With her then we should most sedulously cherish a cordial friendship."
Monroe's Statement of the Doctrine.—Acting on the advice of trusted friends, President Monroe embodied in his message to Congress, on December 2, 1823, a statement of principles now famous throughout the world as the Monroe Doctrine. To the autocrats of Europe he announced that he would regard "any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety." While he did not propose to interfere with existing colonies dependent on European powers, he ranged himself squarely on the side of those that had declared their independence. Any attempt by a European power to oppress them or control their destiny in any manner he characterized as "a manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States." Referring in another part of his message to a recent claim which the Czar had made to the Pacific coast, President Monroe warned the Old World that "the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintained, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers." The effect of this declaration was immediate and profound. Men whose political horizon had been limited to a community or state were led to consider their nation as a great power among the sovereignties of the earth, taking its part in shaping their international relations.
The Missouri Compromise.—Respecting one other important measure of this period, the Republicans also took a broad view of their obligations under the Constitution; namely, the Missouri Compromise. It is true, they insisted on the admission of Missouri as a slave state, balanced against the free state of Maine; but at the same time they assented to the prohibition of slavery in the Louisiana territory north of the line 36° 30'. During the debate on the subject an extreme view had been presented, to the effect that Congress had no constitutional warrant for abolishing slavery in the territories. The precedent of the Northwest Ordinance, ratified by Congress in 1789, seemed a conclusive answer from practice to this contention; but Monroe submitted the issue to his cabinet, which included Calhoun of South Carolina, Crawford of Georgia, and Wirt of Virginia, all presumably adherents to the Jeffersonian principle of strict construction. He received in reply a unanimous verdict to the effect that Congress did have the power to prohibit slavery in the territories governed by it. Acting on this advice he approved, on March 6, 1820, the bill establishing freedom north of the compromise line. This generous interpretation of the powers of Congress stood for nearly forty years, until repudiated by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case.
The National Decisions of Chief Justice MarshallJohn Marshall, the Nationalist.—The Republicans in the lower ranges of state politics, who did not catch the grand national style of their leaders charged with responsibilities in the national field, were assisted in their education by a Federalist from the Old Dominion, John Marshall, who, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1801 to 1835, lost no occasion to exalt the Constitution above the claims of the provinces. No differences of opinion as to his political views have ever led even his warmest opponents to deny his superb abilities or his sincere devotion to the national idea. All will likewise agree that for talents, native and acquired, he was an ornament to the humble democracy that brought him forth. His whole career was American. Born on the frontier of Virginia, reared in a log cabin, granted only the barest rudiments of education, inured to hardship and rough life, he rose by masterly efforts to the highest judicial honor America can bestow.
On him the bitter experience of the Revolution and of later days made a lasting impression. He was no "summer patriot." He had been a soldier in the Revolutionary army. He had suffered with Washington at Valley Forge. He had seen his comrades in arms starving and freezing because the Continental Congress had neither the power nor the inclination to force the states to do their full duty. To him the Articles of Confederation were the symbol of futility. Into the struggle for the formation of the Constitution and its ratification in Virginia he had thrown himself with the ardor of a soldier. Later, as a member of Congress, a representative to France, and Secretary of State, he had aided the Federalists in establishing the new government. When at length they were driven from power in the executive and legislative branches of the government, he was chosen for their last stronghold, the Supreme Court. By historic irony he administered the oath of office to his bitterest enemy, Thomas Jefferson; and, long after the author of the Declaration of Independence had retired to private life, the stern Chief Justice continued to announce the old Federalist principles from the Supreme Bench.
Marbury vs. Madison—An Act of Congress Annulled.—He had been in his high office only two years when he laid down for the first time in the name of the entire Court the doctrine that the judges have the power to declare an act of Congress null and void when in their opinion it violates the Constitution. This power was not expressly conferred on the Court. Though many able men held that the judicial branch of the government enjoyed it, the principle was not positively established until 1803 when the case of Marbury vs. Madison was decided. In rendering the opinion of the Court, Marshall cited no precedents. He sought no foundations for his argument in ancient history. He rested it on the general nature of the American system. The Constitution, ran his reasoning, is the supreme law of the land; it limits and binds all who act in the name of the United States; it limits the powers of Congress and defines the rights of citizens. If Congress can ignore its limitations and trespass upon the rights of citizens, Marshall argued, then the Constitution disappears and Congress is supreme. Since, however, the Constitution is supreme and superior to Congress, it is the duty of judges, under their oath of office, to sustain it against measures which violate it. Therefore, from the nature of the American constitutional system the courts must declare null and void all acts which are not authorized. "A law repugnant to the Constitution," he closed, "is void and the courts as well as other departments are bound by that instrument." From that day to this the practice of federal and state courts in passing upon the constitutionality of laws has remained unshaken.
This doctrine was received by Jefferson and many of his followers with consternation. If the idea was sound, he exclaimed, "then indeed is our Constitution a complete felo de se [legally, a suicide]. For, intending to establish three departments, coördinate and independent that they might check and balance one another, it has given, according to this opinion, to one of them alone the right to prescribe rules for the government of the others, and to that one, too, which is unelected by and independent of the nation.... The Constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary which they may twist and shape into any form they please. It should be remembered, as an axiom of eternal truth in politics, that whatever power in any government is independent, is absolute also.... A judiciary independent of a king or executive alone is a good thing; but independence of the will of the nation is a solecism, at least in a republican government." But Marshall was mighty and his view prevailed, though from time to time other men, clinging to Jefferson's opinion, likewise opposed the exercise by the Courts of the high power of passing upon the constitutionality of acts of Congress.
Acts of State Legislatures Declared Unconstitutional.—Had Marshall stopped with annulling an act of Congress, he would have heard less criticism from Republican quarters; but, with the same firmness, he set aside acts of state legislatures as well, whenever, in his opinion, they violated the federal Constitution. In 1810, in the case of Fletcher vs. Peck, he annulled an act of the Georgia legislature, informing the state that it was not sovereign, but "a part of a large empire, ... a member of the American union; and that union has a constitution ... which imposes limits to the legislatures of the several states." In the case of McCulloch vs. Maryland, decided in 1819, he declared void an act of the Maryland legislature designed to paralyze the branches of the United States Bank established in that state. In the same year, in the still more memorable Dartmouth College case, he annulled an act of the New Hampshire legislature which infringed upon the charter received by the college from King George long before. That charter, he declared, was a contract between the state and the college, which the legislature under the federal Constitution could not impair. Two years later he stirred the wrath of Virginia by summoning her to the bar of the Supreme Court to answer in a case in which the validity of one of her laws was involved and then justified his action in a powerful opinion rendered in the case of Cohens vs. Virginia.
All these decisions aroused the legislatures of the states. They passed sheaves of resolutions protesting and condemning; but Marshall never turned and never stayed. The Constitution of the United States, he fairly thundered at them, is the supreme law of the land; the Supreme Court is the proper tribunal to pass finally upon the validity of the laws of the states; and "those sovereignties," far from possessing the right of review and nullification, are irrevocably bound by the decisions of that Court. This was strong medicine for the authors of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and for the members of the Hartford convention; but they had to take it.
The Doctrine of Implied Powers.—While restraining Congress in the Marbury case and the state legislatures in a score of cases, Marshall also laid the judicial foundation for a broad and liberal view of the Constitution as opposed to narrow and strict construction. In McCulloch vs. Maryland, he construed generously the words "necessary and proper" in such a way as to confer upon Congress a wide range of "implied powers" in addition to their express powers. That case involved, among other things, the question whether the act establishing the second United States Bank was authorized by the Constitution. Marshall answered in the affirmative. Congress, ran his reasoning, has large powers over taxation and the currency; a bank is of appropriate use in the exercise of these enumerated powers; and therefore, though not absolutely necessary, a bank is entirely proper and constitutional. "With respect to the means by which the powers that the Constitution confers are to be carried into execution," he said, Congress must be allowed the discretion which "will enable that body to perform the high duties assigned to it, in the manner most beneficial to the people." In short, the Constitution of the United States is not a strait jacket but a flexible instrument vesting in Congress the powers necessary to meet national problems as they arise. In delivering this opinion Marshall used language almost identical with that employed by Lincoln when, standing on the battle field of a war waged to preserve the nation, he said that "a government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."
Summary of the Union and National PoliticsDuring the strenuous period between the establishment of American independence and the advent of Jacksonian democracy the great American experiment was under the direction of the men who had launched it. All the Presidents in that period, except John Quincy Adams, had taken part in the Revolution. James Madison, the chief author of the Constitution, lived until 1836. This age, therefore, was the "age of the fathers." It saw the threatened ruin of the country under the Articles of Confederation, the formation of the Constitution, the rise of political parties, the growth of the West, the second war with England, and the apparent triumph of the national spirit over sectionalism.
The new republic had hardly been started in 1783 before its troubles began. The government could not raise money to pay its debts or running expenses; it could not protect American commerce and manufactures against European competition; it could not stop the continual issues of paper money by the states; it could not intervene to put down domestic uprisings that threatened the existence of the state governments. Without money, without an army, without courts of law, the union under the Articles of Confederation was drifting into dissolution. Patriots, who had risked their lives for independence, began to talk of monarchy again. Washington, Hamilton, and Madison insisted that a new constitution alone could save America from disaster.
By dint of much labor the friends of a new form of government induced the Congress to call a national convention to take into account the state of America. In May, 1787, it assembled at Philadelphia and for months it debated and wrangled over plans for a constitution. The small states clamored for equal rights in the union. The large states vowed that they would never grant it. A spirit of conciliation, fair play, and compromise saved the convention from breaking up. In addition, there were jealousies between the planting states and the commercial states. Here, too, compromises had to be worked out. Some of the delegates feared the growth of democracy and others cherished it. These factions also had to be placated. At last a plan of government was drafted—the Constitution of the United States—and submitted to the states for approval. Only after a long and acrimonious debate did enough states ratify the instrument to put it into effect. On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated first President.
The new government proceeded to fund the old debt of the nation, assume the debts of the states, found a national bank, lay heavy taxes to pay the bills, and enact laws protecting American industry and commerce. Hamilton led the way, but he had not gone far before he encountered opposition. He found a formidable antagonist in Jefferson. In time two political parties appeared full armed upon the scene: the Federalists and the Republicans. For ten years they filled the country with political debate. In 1800 the Federalists were utterly vanquished by the Republicans with Jefferson in the lead.
By their proclamations of faith the Republicans favored the states rather than the new national government, but in practice they added immensely to the prestige and power of the nation. They purchased Louisiana from France, they waged a war for commercial independence against England, they created a second United States Bank, they enacted the protective tariff of 1816, they declared that Congress had power to abolish slavery north of the Missouri Compromise line, and they spread the shield of the Monroe Doctrine between the Western Hemisphere and Europe.
Still America was a part of European civilization. Currents of opinion flowed to and fro across the Atlantic. Friends of popular government in Europe looked to America as the great exemplar of their ideals. Events in Europe reacted upon thought in the United States. The French Revolution exerted a profound influence on the course of political debate. While it was in the stage of mere reform all Americans favored it. When the king was executed and a radical democracy set up, American opinion was divided. When France fell under the military dominion of Napoleon and preyed upon American commerce, the United States made ready for war.
The conduct of England likewise affected American affairs. In 1793 war broke out between England and France and raged with only a slight intermission until 1815. England and France both ravaged American commerce, but England was the more serious offender because she had command of the seas. Though Jefferson and Madison strove for peace, the country was swept into war by the vehemence of the "Young Republicans," headed by Clay and Calhoun.
When the armed conflict was closed, one in diplomacy opened. The autocratic powers of Europe threatened to intervene on behalf of Spain in her attempt to recover possession of her Latin-American colonies. Their challenge to America brought forth the Monroe Doctrine. The powers of Europe were warned not to interfere with the independence or the republican policies of this hemisphere or to attempt any new colonization in it. It seemed that nationalism was to have a peaceful triumph over sectionalism.
ReferencesH. Adams, History of the United States, 1800-1817 (9 vols.).
K.C. Babcock, Rise of American Nationality (American Nation Series).
E. Channing, The Jeffersonian System (Same Series).
D.C. Gilman, James Monroe.
W. Reddaway, The Monroe Doctrine.
T. Roosevelt, Naval War of 1812.
Questions1. What was the leading feature of Jefferson's political theory?
2. Enumerate the chief measures of his administration.
3. Were the Jeffersonians able to apply their theories? Give the reasons.
4. Explain the importance of the Mississippi River to Western farmers.
5. Show how events in Europe forced the Louisiana Purchase.
6. State the constitutional question involved in the Louisiana Purchase.
7. Show how American trade was affected by the European war.
8. Compare the policies of Jefferson and Madison.
9. Why did the United States become involved with England rather than with France?
10. Contrast the causes of the War of 1812 with the results.
11. Give the economic reasons for the attitude of New England.
12. Give five "nationalist" measures of the Republicans. Discuss each in detail.
13. Sketch the career of John Marshall.
14. Discuss the case of Marbury vs. Madison.
15. Summarize Marshall's views on: (a) states' rights; and (b) a liberal interpretation of the Constitution.
Research TopicsThe Louisiana Purchase.—Text of Treaty in Macdonald, Documentary Source Book, pp. 279-282. Source materials in Hart, American History Told by Contemporaries, Vol. III, pp. 363-384. Narrative, Henry Adams, History of the United States, Vol. II, pp. 25-115; Elson, History of the United States, pp. 383-388.
The Embargo and Non-Intercourse Acts.—Macdonald, pp. 282-288; Adams, Vol. IV, pp. 152-177; Elson, pp. 394-405.
Congress and the War of 1812.—Adams, Vol. VI, pp. 113-198; Elson, pp. 408-450.
Proposals of the Hartford Convention.—Macdonald, pp. 293-302.
Manufactures and the Tariff of 1816.—Coman, Industrial History of the United States, pp. 184-194.
The Second United States Bank.—Macdonald, pp. 302-306.
Effect of European War on American Trade.—Callender, Economic History of the United States, pp. 240-250.
The Monroe Message.—Macdonald, pp. 318-320.
Lewis and Clark Expedition.—R.G. Thwaites, Rocky Mountain Explorations, pp. 92-187. Schafer, A History of the Pacific Northwest (rev. ed.), pp. 29-61.
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net
Release Date: October 28, 2005 [EBook #16960]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
Read other chapters:
HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
BY CHARLES A. BEARD AND MARY R. BEARD
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
All rights reserved
By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped. Published March, 1921.
J.S. Cushing Co.—Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
All rights reserved
By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped. Published March, 1921.
J.S. Cushing Co.—Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.