The Clash Of Political Parties


Friends 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 1
87. 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.[1] 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.


Dissensions 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


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.


The 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


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" Genet, 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. Genet 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 Genet 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 Genet 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


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.[2]