The Jeffersonian Republicans In Power


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
r /> 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


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 reestablish 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.


Expansion 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 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 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


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


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


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 reelection. 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


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 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


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 cooeperate. 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

cooeperating 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


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


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 deg. 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.


John 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


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, cooerdinate 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."


During 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


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.