THE controversy over the ratification of the federal Constitution had not died away when the country was summoned to take part in a contest over the election of men to direct the new government. In this struggle the disputants appealed to the passions that had been invoked in the previous battle, but they now encountered among the people an astonishing indifference. Senators and presidential electors were chosen by the state legislators without arousing any popular uproar. There were, it is true, lively skirmishes in a few congressional districts, but, as a rule, Representatives were returned by a handful of voters. In Maryland and Massachusetts, for example, not more than one-sixth of the adult males took part in the balloting for members of the lower house. As many times before in history, an informed and active minority managed the play.
When the results of the poll were all in and the new government was organized, it was patent to everyone that the men who had made the recent constitutional revolution were carrying on the work they had begun in 1787. Washington, the chairman of the constitutional convention, was unanimously chosen President of the United States. Of the twenty-four Senators in the first Congress under the Constitution, eleven had helped to draft "the new charter of liberty." In the House of Representatives was a strong contingent from the body of framers and ratifiers, with the "father of the Constitution," James Madison, in the foreground. The Ark of the Covenant was evidently in the house of its friends; or, to put the matter in another way, the machinery of economic and political power was mainly directed by the men who had conceived and established it. And very soon the executive and judicial departments were filled with leaders who had taken part in framing or ratifying the Constitution.
For the most important post in his administration, namely, that of the Treasury, Washington chose Robert Morris, a member of the convention; when that gentleman declined, he turned to another colleague, Alexander Hamilton, a giant of Federalism. For the office of Attorney General, the President selected the spokesman of the Virginia delegation at the Philadelphia assembly, Edmund Randolph. As Secretary of War, he appointed another ardent advocate of the Constitution, General Knox, of Massachusetts. Only one high administrative command went to a statesman whose views on the new government were, to say the least, uncertain; Thomas Jefferson, who had been in Paris during the formation and adoption of the Constitution, was made Secretary of State in charge of foreign affairs. In the judicial department, there was not a single exception: all the federal judgeships created under the Judiciary Act of 1789, high and low, were given to men who had helped to draft the Constitution or had supported it in state conventions or in the ratifying campaigns. In his appointments to minor places in the government Washington was equally discreet; after attempting to conciliate a few opponents by offering them positions, he flatly declared that he would not give an office to any man who attacked the principles of his administration.
The first government was thus in no sense a coalition. When the paper document of Philadelphia became a reality, it lived on in the reason and will of the men who had constructed and adopted it. It was they who enacted the laws, enforced the decrees, raised the army, and collected the taxes, and so made the new Constitution an instrument of power in the direction of national economy and in the distribution of wealth. In their hands mere words on parchment were transformed into an engine of sovereign compulsion that could not be denied anywhere throughout the length and breadth of the land.
Shortly after noon on April 30, 1789, George Washington, escorted by a small guard of cavalry, a committee of Congress, and a cheering throng of citizens, rode from his residence in New York to the new Federal Hall in Wall Street, where, on the balcony of the building facing Broad Street, he took the oath of office as first President of the United States. Immediately afterward, Chancellor Livingston, who had administered the pledge, turned to the crowd below and cried out: "Long live George Washington, President of the United States !" The cry was repeated in the streets and the rest of the day given over to celebrating the great event. Since both houses of Congress were now in session, the new government of America was ready for the heavy tasks ahead the formulation of laws and policies contemplated by the Constitution.
For guidance these directors of affairs had before them, of course, the customs established under the Articles of Confederation but at best such practices formed a poor sailing chart for a government differently constructed and endowed with more extensive powers, in particular for the executive department. Accordingly Washington had to make precedents of his own, with the advice of his friends. His message to Congress he read with grave dignity before the two houses in joint assembly giving a touch of the regal manner to American legislative procedure. The practice of calling the chief officers of the administration together in conference was early adopted, marking the origin of the Cabinet, a modified form of that English institution. As far as he deemed it compatible with public interest, Washington rewarded with civil appointments his companions in the war of the Revolution whose sacrifices and financial condition made them "worthy objects of public recognition." In his dealings with the Senate, he sought to establish the custom of consulting that body formally, and in person, about treaties in process of negotiation; but the Senators, feeling constrained by his presence, gave him such stiff and frigid receptions that he finally forsook his plan.
In the sphere of administration it was also necessary to break new ground and after making arrangements for temporary revenue, Congress turned to the pressing task of completing the machinery of government. The management of foreign affairs, finance, and defense on land and sea was committed to appropriate departments: State, Treasury, and War respectively. Anticipating a growth in the legal requirements of the government, Congress instituted the office of Attorney General. Since the post-office was already in operation, it continued the system without much alteration.
The judicial branch of the government was established by the Judiciary Act of 1789, one of the most remarkable pieces of legislation in the history of this continent. With elaborate detail the law provided for a Supreme Court composed of a Chief Justice and five associates and a federal district court for each state with its own attorney, marshal, and appropriate number of deputies. Such were the agencies of power created to make the will of the national government a living force in every community from New Hampshire to Georgia, from the seaboard to the frontier.
In keeping with the spirit of the new order, precautions were taken to bring state courts and state legislatures under federal control. After contriving an ingenious system of appeals for carrying cases up to the federal Supreme Court, the framers of the Judiciary Act devised a process by which the measures of the local governments could be nullified whenever they came into conflict with the federal Constitution. The terms of the law were explicit. If a state court, having final jurisdiction over any matter, declared an act of Congress void, or if it upheld as valid an act of a state legislature, an appeal could be taken to the high tribunal at the national capital, just as to London in colonial times. Every citizen whose personal liberty or property rights under the Constitution were put in jeopardy by neighboring political authorities now had an agency of relief at hand an agency independent of local authorities, drawing its financial, moral, and physical force from the center. In a word, something like the old British imperial control over provincial legislatures was reestablished, under judicial bodies chosen indirectly and for life, within the borders of the United States.
While creating the offices of tfie new government in detail and endowing them with the powers required to give effect to its decisions, Congress was well aware that it was necessary to soften some of the opposition to the new regime with measures of conciliation. The directors of federal affairs knew by what narrow margin the approval of the Constitution had been wrung from a reluctant people. They saw North Carolina and Rhode Island still outside the Union and unrepentant. They had before them a large number of amendments proposed by several of the state conventions and they were assured by any number of the critics that promises to carry some of the demands into immediate effect had been made in winning the votes necessary to ratification. All these amendments, as Congress could not fail to see, showed a fear of the federal government and suggested restraints on its authority. Although some were harmless enough, others betrayed the spirit of Daniel Shays, who, if vanquished, was by no means dead.
To allay, if not remove, the temper expressed in several of the propositions, Madison, therefore, presented in the House of Representatives, and the first Congress adopted, a series of amendments to the Constitution, ten of which were soon ratified and in 1791 became a part of the law of the land. Among other things, these amendments stipulated that Congress should make no law respecting the establishment of religion, abridging freedom of speech or press, or the right of the people to assemble peaceably and petition the government for a redress of grievances. Indictment by grand jury and trial by jury were guaranteed to all persons charged by federal officers with serious crimes. Finally, to soften the wrath of provincial politicians, it was announced in the Tenth Amendment that all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution or withheld by it from the states were reserved to the states respectively or to the people.
This overt declaration of the obvious was supplemented seven years later by the Eleventh Amendment, written in the same spirit, forbidding the federal judiciary to hear any case in which a state was sued by a citizen. Assured by the friendly professions of the national government and constrained by economic necessity. North Carolina joined the Union in November, 1789, and Rhode Island in May of the following year.
With the machinery of administration in operation and professions respecting natural rights duly made, the directors of the federal government were free to devote themselves to prime questions of financial, commercial, and industrial legislation. In fact, while the philosophers were discussing the constitutional amendments, Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, was formulating the great system and the collateral reports forever associated with his name.
First upon his program was the funding of the entire national debt, domestic and foreign, principal and interest, at face value, approximating altogether $50,000,000; in other words, old bonds and certificates were to be called in and new securities issued. A part of this enormous sum was to bear interest at six per cent and a part at three per cent, while the interest on the remainder was to be deferred for ten years.
In the second place, Hamilton proposed that the national government assume at face value the revolutionary obligations of the states, amounting to about $20,000,000, and add them to the debt carried by the general treasury. In this fashion he intended to make secure the financial standing of the United States and force all the public creditors to look to the federal government rather than the states for the payment of the sums due them. To provide a capstone for his financial structure, Hamilton advocated the creation of a national bank in which the government and private investors were to be represented. Three-fourths of the capital stock of this institution was to consist of new six per cent federal bonds and the rest of specie. With a view to assisting the government and the security holders in buoying up the public credit, that is, the prices of federal bonds, provision was to be made for a sinking fund from which the Treasury could buy its securities in the market from time to time.
To sustain this magnificent paper edifice erected on the taxing power of the federal government, duties were to be laid on imports in such a manner as to encourage and protect American industry and commerce. Finally, the public lands in the West, which the Crown of Britain had once sought to wrest from colonial politicians, were to be sold and the securities of the federal government were to be accepted in payment.
It required no very profound economic insight to grasp the import of the Hamiltonian program: holders of the old debt continental and state were simply to exchange their depreciated paper at face value for new bonds bearing interest and guaranteed by a government that possessed ample taxing power. Prime public securities, such as were now to be issued, would readily pass as money from hand to hand, augmenting the fluid capital of the country and stimulating commerce, manufacturing, and agriculture. If the government bonds failed to realize all expectations in the line of capital expansion, notes issued by the United States bank were to supply the deficiency. At last American business enterprise, which had suffered from the want of currency and credit, was to be abundantly furnished with both and at the same time protected against foreign competition by favorable commercial legislation. Naturally those who expected to reap the benefits from Hamilton's system were delighted with the prospects. On the other hand, since the whole financial structure rested on taxation, mere owners of land and consumers of goods, on whom most of the burden was to fall, got it into their heads that they were to pay the bills of the new adventure.
As the issues raised by Hamilton's projects came before the people one by one, the tide of political passion rose higher and higher. It was well known that a large part, perhaps the major portion, of the old bonds, state and continental, had passed from the hands of the original purchasers into the coffers of shrewd and enterprising speculators. After the adoption of the Constitution became certain, far-sighted financiers sent agents all over the country, especially into the southern states, with bags of precious specie, bought enormous quantities of depreciated paper at a low figure sometimes ten or fifteen cents on the dollar and effected a great concentration of public securities in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Inevitably the cupidity of those who had risked their money in this speculation and the anguish of those who had sold their original certificates at merely nominal prices furnished the fuel for an explosion when Hamilton's fiscal plans appeared on the political carpet.
One group in Congress, not very large, immediately proposed to scale down the old debts by buying the obligations at market, instead of face, value. By members of this faction it was contended that very little of the outstanding paper represented specie paid into the continental treasury, that to a marked degree the debt represented goods bought at inflated prices and depreciated notes accepted by the revolutionary government when loans were floated. Although there was much truth in this argument, it was unpalatable to the party bent on funding at face value; and those who advanced it could make no headway against the current of opinion in Congress, where a number of securityholding members united with the friends of public credit in strenuously resisting every proposal that savored of repudiation.
A second congressional group, just as eager as Hamilton to restore public credit, was especially solicitous for the welfare of veterans of the Revolution, original purchasers of bonds, and men who had sold supplies to the revolutionary government. To this party Madison adhered. In a long and careful speech, he analyzed the merits of the controversy. Everyone admitted, he said, that a sacred duty was laid upon the government to pay for value received with lawful interest but it was entirely proper to debate one point, namely, to whom payment should be made. By common concession at the head of the list of creditors were the original investors who still retained their securities; no one could deny their right to have a full discharge of their claims.
Next in order were the original purchasers who had sold their holdings at a low price and the speculators who had purchased paper in the market. The former could rightfully appeal to public faith because they had furnished values and services to the government and, after being treated with neglect and contempt, had been compelled to sell their certificates on ruinous terms. On the other hand, those who had bought securities on speculation had some claims: they had incurred risks, they held the paper bearing a definite promise to pay, they could with reason point to the maxim that the literal fulfillment of obligations is the best foundation of public credit. Yet to pay both the speculative purchasers and the original holders was obviously impossible.
Therefore, urged Madison, let a composition be made; let the former have the highest price that has prevailed on the market and the latter the difference between the face value and the market price. This project, he confessed, would not do perfect justice but would more nearly meet the requirements of honor than any other plan yet proposed. Powerful as was his plea, he could not carry the House of Representatives with him; his proposal was defeated by a vote of thirty-six to thirteen, on February 22, 1790. Having rejected all compromise measures, Congress resolved that the continental debt should be funded at face value.
After carrying the first redoubt, the champions of Hamilton's system turned with confidence to the assumption of state debts. In a way, they reasoned, those debts were likewise national incurred in a common cause but they also emphasized the argument that the funding of such floating obligations would increase the fluid capital of the country, attach men by their self-interests to the national government, and stimulate the circulation of money. Whatever weight was in this plea, opponents of assumption, especially from the South, were not impressed thereby. A large part of the state securities, as we have said, was now in the hands of northern speculators and taxes to support the national debt would fall mainly on consumers of taxable imports. Accordingly, in the eyes of the critics, assumption appeared to be a scheme to enrich manipulators principally at the expense of the planters and farmers who imported manufactures and paid taxes. At all events, the argument in this vein was temporarily effective; the faction that accepted it was large and determined; and on April 12, 1790, assumption was defeated in the popular branch of Congress the House of Representatives.
To the statesmen from the planting South, this result seemed to mark a triumph over the commercial North. In any event, an observant politician, after witnessing the defeat of assumption, immediately wrote to a friend in Virginia, in a vein of good humor: "Last Monday Mr. Sedgwick (of Massachusetts) delivered a funeral oration on the death of Miss Assumption. ... Her death was much lamented by her parents who were from New England. Mr. Sedgwick being the most celebrated preacher was requested to deliver her funeral eulogium. It was done with puritanic gravity. ... Sixty-one of the political fathers of the nation were present and a crowded audience of weapers and rejoicers. Mrs. Speculator was the chief mourner and acted her part to admiration; she being the mother of Miss Assumption who was the hope of her family. ... Mrs. Excise may have cause to rejoice because she will be screened from much drudgery as she must have been the principal support of Miss Assumption as well as of her mother and all her relations. Mrs. Direct Tax may rest more easy in Virginia as she will not be called into foreign service." Unfortunately for the writer, however, his paean of rejoicing proved to be premature, for a motion to reconsider was immediately made and, as Senator Maclay, of Pennsylvania, wrote in his diary, "Speculation wiped a tear from either eye."
Given a new hope by this action, Hamilton and his supporters now worked furiously for weeks to convert enough opponents to carry assumption through the House. In the midst of their operations, Jefferson returned from Paris to take up his labors as head of the Department of State, and Hamilton in desperation begged the new Secretary to bring his influence to bear on southern members. For half an hour, he walked Jefferson up and down before President Washington's residence explaining to him that the fate of the Constitution depended upon the passage of the assumption bill, that the creditor states were ready to secede if the project could not be realized.
Impressed by the pathetic anxiety of Hamilton and eager to save the Union, Jefferson arranged a dinner party to be attended by certain interested politicians. The moment the company assembled, he discovered that assumption was indeed a bitter pill to southern congressmen and that something would have to be done to sweeten it. It was only after much argument that a compromise was reached in which it was agreed on the one side that two members should change their minds and vote for assumption while Robert Morris of Pennsylvania should manage certain other Representatives; and on the other side, in exchange, that the national capital should be finally located on the banks of the Potomac after a ten year period in Philadelphia.
"And so," Jefferson wrote long afterward, "the assumption was passed and twenty millions of stock divided among the favored states and thrown in as pabulum to the stock-jobbing herd." On August 4, 1790, the grand bill for funding the national and state debts became a law. Incidentally Congress provided that the bills of credit issued during the Revolution by the Continental Congress should be redeemed at one cent on the dollar, a low figure, practically amounting to the repudiation of two or three hundred millions of paper which caused deep sorrow among the speculators who had also hoped to reap a rich harvest in that field of business enterprise. In fact the tender was so trivial that only a small part of the currency was ever brought in for redemption; most of it simply perished in the hands of the holders.
After a short recess, Congress took up the third of Hamilton's proposals, the establishment of a United States Bank. On December 14, the Secretary's report dealing with the subject was made public; and five weeks later the Senate passed a bill in conformity with his recommendations. Thereupon an animated debate occurred in the House, where the passions of the people at large were more accurately reflected. Indeed, the discussion became so acrimonious and Jefferson supported the opposition with such vehemence that Washington became alarmed.
For his own guidance in the storm, he asked the members of his Cabinet for written opinions on the constitutionality of the measure, receiving in response two important state papers: one by Hamilton defending the bill and the other by Jefferson and Randolph opposing it -- two great expositions of the Constitution giving the liberal and the strict constructions of that instrument of government.
On reading these opinions, Washington was convinced that the Bank was sound in law and in economy and as soon as the House concurred with the Senate by passing the bill, he signed it, on February 25, 1791. According to its provisions, the charter of the Bank was to run for twenty years; one-fifth of the $10,000,000 stock was to be subscribed by the government; the headquarters of the institution were to be at Philadelphia and branches were to be established in other cities at the discretion of the directors. Besides being empowered to engage in a general banking business, it could issue notes under certain restrictions; and its notes, redeemable in coin, were made legal tenders for all payments due the United States.
Having successfully weathered three great political gales, Hamilton took up the question of protection for American industries. On December 5, 1791, he presented in a voluminous Report on Manufactures a powerful argument for the promotion of business enterprise under the shelter of tariffs and bounties. The benefits of such a system, he said, included a more extensive use of machinery, the employment of classes not otherwise profitably employed such as women and children "of a tender age" the encouragement of immigration, the opening of more ample and varied opportunities for talent and skill, and the creation of a steady demand for the surplus produce of the soil. Hamilton then went into detail, specifying the desirable objects of protection, such as iron, copper, lead, coal, wood, skins, grain, hemp, wool, silk, glass, paper, and sugar.
In his proposals there was nothing altogether strange. The first revenue act of 1789, though designed primarily for revenue, had declared in favor of protection as a principle; and Washington had already committed himself to the doctrine that Congress should promote American industries and render the country "independent of others for essential, particularly for military, supplies." But Hamilton raised the tariff to the level of an economic philosophy and forced the country to consider it as an American economic system. In the revenue act of 1792, Congress carried out with modifications the suggestions made by the Secretary of the Treasury, giving particular attention to duties that would afford assistance to American industry.
During the prolix and hot-tempered debates that marked the passage of Hamilton's measures through Congress, the country gradually divided into two parties, which grew steadily in coherence of organization and in definiteness of program. To speak more concretely, the antagonism between agriculture and business enterprise that had been so marked in colonial times and had found tense expression during the contest over the Constitution now bore fruit in regular political parties, each with a complete paraphernalia of leaders, caucuses, conventions, names, symbols, and rhetorical defense mechanisms. Candidates were nominated, policies proclaimed, newspapers edited, and spoils distributed with reference to the fortunes of one group or the other. All the passions that go with war were enlisted in contests that eventuated in a counting of heads.
As these two party factions in one form or another have continued to divide the nation, statesmen and theorists have felt called upon to expound the causes of such political antagonisms. Some agree with Macaulay in tracing the origins of party to instinctive differences among people. In every country, that celebrated Whig once declared, there is a party of order and a party of progress; the former, conservative in temper, clings to established things, while the latter, adventurous in spirit, is eager to make experiments. Long afterward a literary critic, Brander Matthews, applied the Macaulay doctrine of innate ideas to American politics; "intuitive Hamiltonians," he said, believe in government by the well-born, while "intuitive Jeffersonians" love and trust the common people. Still another explanation of American parties, one more commonly accepted by Fourth of July orators, is that formulated by James Bryce in The American Commonwealth: our parties originally sprang from differences of opinion concerning the nature and functions of the Union; one exalts federal authority, the other cherishes the rights of the states.
In reality, however, none of these simple explanations does more than skim the surface of politics. None throws any light on the origins of the innate tendencies, for example. With reference to that point all are as cryptic as the statement that God made Federalists and Republicans. Why did one group of politicians take a liberal view of the Constitution and another a narrow view ? Whence came the intuitions that divide men ? Have they existed since the dawn of history ? Why did some trust the people and others fear them ? Was it an accident that a New York lawyer stood at the head of the party which despised the masses and a Virginia slave owner led the party which professed democratic faith in the multitude ?
The answers to these questions, as far as they are forthcoming at all, lie in the professions of politicians, reported in congressional debates, newspapers, letters, and partisan pamphlets of the Hamiltonian epoch, and if such evidence is to be accepted in court, the causes of the party division were more substantial than matters of temperament or juristic theory. By the time the partisan battle began to rage in full fury, the Federalists had a positive record of achievement to which they could point with pride and assurance. They had restored the public credit by funding the continental and state obligations at face value, incidentally enriching thousands of good Federalists in the process, had protected American industry and shipping by appropriate economic discriminations against foreign enterprise.
In establishing a national bank and a mint for the coinage of metals, they had provided a uniform national currency for the transaction of business. They had devised a scheme of taxation easily yielding adequate revenues to sustain the huge national debt and all the capitalistic undertakings which rested upon that solid foundation. They had erected a system of national courts in which citizens of one state could effectively collect claims against citizens of other states and they had made it impossible for debtors to outwit their creditors through the medium of paper money and similar methods of impairing the obligation of contracts; had begun to build an army and a navy, making the American nation so respected abroad that foreign powers no longer dared to treat its ministers with contempt, and giving the flag such substantial significance that the Yankee skipper felt proud and secure under it no matter whether he rode into the waters of European ports, traded rum for Negroes along the African coast, or exchanged notions in Canton for tea and silks. That was an accomplishment measurable in terms of national honor and pride as clearly as in the outward and visible signs of economic prosperity.
Opponents of this general program, taking at first the negative title of Anti-Federalists and later the more euphonious name of Republicans, by no means attacked the idea of exalting American credit and improving the standing of the country among the nations of the earth. In detail, however, they dissented, with varying emphasis, from the propositions contained in the Federalist economic program, wished to discharge the national debt but not in such a fashion as to enrich speculators or impose a heavy burden of taxation on the masses. Especially were they tender of the people engaged in agriculture. A permanent funded debt and a national bank founded on it, they complained, would tax the farmers and planters to sustain an army of bond holders and stock jobbers.
Speaking on this theme for southern citizens, one Anti-Federalist warned the House of Representatives that his constituents "will feel that continued drain of specie which must take place to satisfy the appetites of basking speculators at the seat of Government. ... Connecticut manufactures a great deal. Georgia manufactures nothing and imports everything. Therefore, Georgia, although her population is not near so large, contributes more to the public treasury by impost." When the proposal to establish a national bank was before Congress, the same agrarian orator lamented in a similar strain that "this plan of a National Bank is calculated to benefit a small part of the United States, the mercantile interest only; the farmers, the yeomanry, will derive no advantage from it." When the unwrought-steel schedule of the tariff bill was under consideration, Lee, of Virginia, declared that "it would operate as an oppressive though indirect tax upon agriculture, and any tax, whether direct or indirect, upon this interest at this juncture would be unwise and impolitic."
In Five Letters Addressed to the Yeomanry of the United States, a vehement pamphleteer of Philadelphia declared, in 1792, that the laws of the Union were "stained with mercantile regulations impolitic in themselves and highly injurious to the agricultural interests of our country; with funding systems by which the property and rights of poor but meritorious citizens are sacrificed to wealthy gamesters and speculators; with the establishment of Banks authorizing a few men to create fictitious money by which they may acquire rapid fortunes without industry."
Other pamphleteers and partisan editors, writing with a kind of philosophic completeness, denounced the Hamiltonian system root and branch, in the name of the Anti-Federalist faction. Boiled down, their heated arguments amounted to this: the financial interests associated with the funding of the debt, the management of the sinking fund, the control of the Bank, and the protection of industry and commerce by favorable laws have taken possession of the federal government; they operate through the Treasury Department and through the "stock-jobbing" members of Congress; every fiscal and commercial measure adopted at the national capital imposes a burden on agriculture and labor for the benefit of these dominant interests. In a word, the Anti-Federalist leaders saw in Hamilton's policies schemes for exploiting farmers, planters, and laborers for the benefit of capitalists, shipowners, and manufacturers.
Far from being the mere froth of excited politicians, this view represented the matured convictions of leaders given to deliberation and analysis. In several letters addressed confidentially to Washington, Jefferson expounded the economic grievances of his faction. He argued that the national debt had been unnecessarily increased; that the United States Bank had been created as a permanent engine of the moneyed interest for influencing the course of government; and that "the ten or twelve per cent annual profits paid to the lenders of this paper medium are taken out of the pockets of the people who would have had without interest the coin it is banishing; that all capital employed in paper speculation is barren and useless, producing like that on a gaming-table no accession to itself and is withdrawn from commerce and agriculture where it would have produced addition to the common mass; that it nourishes our citizens in habits of vice and idleness instead of industry and morality; that it has furnished effectual means of corrupting such a portion of the Legislature as turns the balance between the honest voters whichever way it is directed." Of all the mischiefs which Jefferson saw in the Federalist system, "none is so afflicting and fatal to every honest hope as the corruption of the legislature." Of course, Jefferson expressed his alarm over the liberal way in which the Constitution had been construed by the men who formulated and enacted Federalist policies into law, but the gravamen of his complaint was that Hamilton's economic measures exploited one section of society for the benefit of another.
Of the numerous counts in the indictment brought against the Federalists by their opponents, none stung and blistered as much as the charge that members of Congress were enriching themselves by speculating in federal bonds and bank stock. Without any reservations, Jefferson emphatically declared that the grafted outlines of Hamilton's system had been carried "by the votes of the very persons who, having swallowed his bait, were laying themselves out to profit by his plans"; and he added that "had these persons withdrawn, as those interested in a question ever should, the vote of the disinterested majority was clearly the reverse of what they had made it."
In two bitter pamphlets, John Taylor, of Virginia, lambasted the "stock-jobbing interest in Congress," even daring to print in thin disguise the names of Senators and Representatives who, according to rumor, held government securities and were interested in the Bank. To this indictment Federalist editors and politicians replied in terse language, denouncing Taylor's statements as slanderous and mendacious, they called for demonstrations and insisted that, until substantiated, the allegation "must be regarded as an impotent piece of malice, contemptible alike for its falsehood and its cowardice." It was, of course, impossible for the Anti-Federalists to prove their charges, for the simple reason that they could not get access to the records of the Treasury Department while the Federalists were in control. When finally, in 1801, the Jeffersonians in their turn were about to take possession of the government, a fire occurred in the Treasury destroying many of the books and papers containing the evidence in the case. By that date the issue had become academic.
More than a hundred years later, however, after the records of the federal loan offices in the several states had been collected in Washington, an examination confirmed the Anti-Federalist indictment. It showed that at least twenty-nine members of the first Congress held federal securities; that some members were extensive operators in public funds during their term of service, and that the list of names given out by John Taylor was astonishingly accurate. Jefferson, therefore, spoke truly when he said that the assumption of state debts could never have been carried if the men who profited by the operation had abstained from voting, on the ground that they were personally interested in it.
Yet it is difficult to see why holders of government bonds were to be denounced for voting in favor of measures affecting their concerns while slave owners were to be pardoned for voting down the Quaker memorials against slavery presented to Congress on March 23, 1790. In fact, Jefferson himself frankly stated that he wanted "the agricultural interest" to govern the country and presumably to pursue policies advantageous to that social group. At bottom, accordingly, the dispute between parties was over economic measures rather than over questions of political propriety.
And the constitutional doctrines and political theories that sprang from this controversy bore a very precise relation to the position taken by the respective parties. The accomplishment of Hamilton's purposes called for a liberal, even an extensive use of the powers conferred upon Congress, and for the imposition of heavy taxes on the masses to sustain the fiscal structure. Wanting above all to gain certain economic ends, the Federalist party naturally came to the conclusion that the Constitution was to be construed freely enough to permit a straight march to the goal. Moreover, since it was the farmers and mechanics rather than the rich and well-born who stood out against Hamilton's system, it was equally natural that its sponsors should fear the triumph of the populace at the polls. On the other side, opponents of that system, forming as they did the party of negation, seized upon every weapon at hand that would help to block the measures they heartily disliked and, by a strict interpretation of the Constitution, discovered legal prohibitions on Federalist proposals.
This was all natural enough in a country so largely dominated by lawyers trained in dialectics, but the intelligent men who made use of such juristic implements were under no delusions about the sources of their thinking.
"The judgment is so much influenced by the wishes, the affections, and the general theories of those by whom any political proposition is decided," laconically wrote John Marshall with respect to the Bank, "that a contrariety of opinion on this great constitutional question ought to excite no surprise." On both sides the logicians were equally able and equally sincere; hence it seems reasonable to conclude that neither interpretation of the Constitution, liberal or strict, flowed with the force of exigent mathematics from the language of the instrument itself.
Nevertheless, the politicians and statesmen of the period made much of their appeals to correct views of the Constitution. Leaders of the Federalist party had been largely responsible for the framing and adoption of that document; they understood it; and they demonstrated with a great show of learning that it authorized whatever they wanted it to sanction. The opposition employed the same appeal for contrary ends. "It is unconstitutional," was the cry that rose daily from the Anti-Federalist ranks as they sought to dethrone Hamiltonism. "Let us return to the Constitution !" exclaimed John Taylor when closing a vitriolic indictment of the Secretary's program and policies.
"I scarce know a point," groaned Fisher Ames, "which has not produced this cry, not excepting a motion for adjournment. ... The fishery bill was unconstitutional; it was unconstitutional to receive plans of finance from the Secretary; to give bounties; to make the militia worth having; order is unconstitutional; credit is ten fold worse." If some of the minor politicians thought their linguistic pattern flowered inexorably from unanswerable premises, there is no doubt that the first thinkers who sat at the loom weaving the texture of American constitutional theory, knew what and how they were designing. It remained for smaller men to treat federal jurisprudence as one of America's Eltusinian mysteries.
In its stark passion the substance of the controversy was brought home to the participants in 1794 when one of Hamilton's measures evoked an explosion. To aid in meeting the increased charges caused by the assumption of state debts, Congress in 1791 after a savage debate passed an excise law laying, among other things, a tax on spirits distilled from grain an act especially irritating to farmers in the interior already marshaling under opposition banners. Largely owing to the bad roads, which made it hard for them to carry bulky crops to markets, they had adopted the practice of turning their corn and rye into whiskey a concentrated product that could be taken to town on horseback over the worst trails and through the deepest mud. So extensive was the practice in the western regions of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, that nearly every farmer was manufacturing liquor on a small scale; the first of these states alone according to the reckoning had five thousand distilleries. The excise law, therefore, provided in effect that government officers should enter private homes, measure the produce of the stills, and take taxes for it directly from the pockets of the farmers.
As soon as the news of this excise bill reached the interior, an uprising followed an outbreak of such proportions that Congress, frightened by the extent of popular dissatisfaction, removed the tax from the smallest stills and quieted the fanners of Virginia and North Carolina. In Pennsylvania, however, the resistance stiffened. Some of the distillers in that state positively refused to pay the tax; while rioters sacked and burned the houses of the collectors just as Revolutionists thirty years earlier had vented their wrath upon King George's agents for trying to sell stamps. When at length a United States marshal attempted to arrest certain offenders in the summer of 1794, a revolt known as the Whiskey Rebellion flared up, resulting in wounds and death.
Stirred by reports of these incidents from the field, Hamilton advised Washington that severe measures were imperative to teach the masses respect for law and order. Though the Secretary's opponents replied that his allegations were unfair, inaccurate, and deliberately planned to strengthen the party in power by a demonstration of authority, the President resolved upon military action. Calling out a strong body of armed men and accompanied by Hamilton, he himself started for the scene of disorder. Before this display of power, the insurgents dispersed and the myth of the rebellion exploded. A few men were arrested and tried; two were convicted only to be pardoned by the President; and an inquiry showed that the gravity of their offense had been exaggerated. Instead of raising the prestige of the administration, the episode added to the strength and pertinacity of the opposition. Jefferson, whose long quarrel with Hamilton had culminated in his resignation from the Department of State, took advantage of the occasion to rally recruits around his agrarian banner.
By this time the passions aroused by domestic issues were raised to white heat by dramatic events in the sphere of foreign affairs. A terrible political storm the French Revolution and the wars let loose by it was in progress in Europe, leveling kings, princes, aristocracies, and clerical orders, remaking the map of the Old World, and shaking the foundations of all its social systems.
The curtain rose on this scene in the spring of 1789, only a few days after Washington's inauguration, when Louis XVI, the French monarch, on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of royal extravagance and expensive wars, including the costly aid given to the Americans during their struggle for independence, was compelled, after trying many schemes to raise money, to appeal to the people for help. In the hardest of circumstances, he summoned the national parliament, or Estates General, to meet him at Versailles, an action that had not been taken for more than a hundred and fifty years; and amid great excitement, the nobility, clergy, and commoners of France assembled to hear what their king had to say and to say things to him in reply to ventilate their long-accumulating grievances. Stirred by the thundering eloquence of Mirabeau in the assembly hall, the representatives of the "third estate," the bourgeoisie, brushed aside the nobility and clergy, resolved themselves into a national assembly, and started to exercise sovereign powers in reforming abuses. The ancient dikes once broken, popular floods carried everything before them.
So startling events followed in swift succession. On July 14, the Bastille, a royal prison and symbol of absolutism in Paris, was stormed and destroyed and its prisoners freed. On the night of August 4, the feudal privileges of the nobility, already dissolving in the lurid flames of burning chateaux, were formally surrendered in the national assembly amid tumultuous applause. A few days later the assembly announced the sovereignty of the people, proclaiming the privileges of citizens in a Declaration of the Rights of Man, which immediately took its place beside Jefferson's great charter as one of the imperishable documents in the history of human liberty.
For two long years, one decree after another flowed from the assembly hall, culminating in an elaborate constitution for the kingdom of France which vested the legislative power in a single chamber elected by popular vote. In the autumn of 1791 Louis XVI, frightened by mobs and discovering no avenue of escape, accepted this crowning instrument of revolution. As far as mortal man could see, France had established, largely by peaceable means, a government based on the consent of the governed. The republic of the United States seemed justified in the eyes of the democrats of the Old World.
Nearly all American patriots rejoiced in what seemed to be a fortunate application of the doctrines they had so recently espoused. Thomas Paine indulged in no mere verbal flourish when he declared that "the principles of America opened the Bastille." Certainly the French liberals who had long criticized the evils of their old regime had been encouraged by the American example to undertake this thoroughgoing renovation. French officers and soldiers, after serving in Washington's army, had borne home with them stories of the American experiment that awakened a spirit of emulation. Young philosophers in red-heeled shoes, fresh from the United States, had danced at Louis' court balls and chattered, half in jest and half in earnest, about the superiority of republics over monarchies. The queen, Marie Antoinette, had laughed with them over the foibles of kings and courtiers and, by patronizing Franklin, had given a certain vogue to dangerous republican doctrines.
It was not without reason, therefore, that the citizens of the United States viewed with pride the first stage of the French Revolution as reflecting in some measure their own political wisdom and progressive ideas. "In no part of the globe," wrote John Marshall, "was this revolution hailed with more joy than in America." Those who had misgivings concealed them. "Liberty," exclaimed an overwrought Boston editor, in 1789, "will have another feather in her cap. ... The ensuing winter will be the commencement of a Golden Age." Washington, to whom La Fayette sent the key of the ruined Bastille, accepted it as a "token of the victory gained by liberty."
Almost at that very moment, however, rumors began to reach the United States that the revolution, so auspiciously opened, was turning into an ominous civil strife. Enraged at the loss of their privileges and at the restraints imposed by the new order, feudal lords and priests fled into Germany, where they plotted to restore the old regime by an invasion of France with German aid. Seeking help in throwing off the shackles imposed on him by the national assembly, Louis XVI, who had sanctioned the recent reforms with vacillating reluctance, now opened negotiations with his brother monarchs across the Rhine. In fact, even before he approved the constitution which it drafted, he attempted to escape from France and was foiled only because some lynx-eyed subject discovered him at Varennes on his way to the border.
While the monarchists were thus preparing a counter-revolution, Paris workmen, denied the ballot by the assembly which had declared the rights of man, held a monster demonstration on the Champs de Mars in the interest of more sweeping reforms, including manhood suffrage. Ordered to disperse, they refused to obey, until they were sent fleeing in every direction by armed forces under La Fayette a liberal advocate of constitutional government who had no sympathy for leveling democracy. Thus in bloodshed a bitter contest opened between the bourgeois, who had up to this point directed the course of the revolution, and the populace of Paris bent on more radical achievements.
Thereupon life flowed more swiftly and desperately in France, violence rushing to the front of law and argument as the legislative assembly, elected under the constitution recently accepted by Louis XVI, managed by new men, hurried from one action to another in breathless haste. Charging the Austrian Emperor with conspiracy against the reformed regime in France, it declared war on him, adding a foreign conflict to civil discord, mingling the tramp of marching men with the clamor of agitators.
As in every electric crisis, dynamic leaders now forged forward to the direction of affairs, while a revolutionary party, known as Jacobins because it held its first session in a monastery of that order, wrested the helm from the feeble hands of the moderates. In June, 1792, the palace of the king was entered by a mob; in July, war was declared on Prussia; in August Louis was deposed; in September, occurred the first of the awful massacres in which counter-revolutionists, innocent and guilty, were put to death. In January, of the following year, Louis XVI was borne to the scaffold. In February, the circle of war was extended to include England and then Spain.
Proclaimed first as a bold stroke of defense waged against monarchs determined to destroy democracy, the armed struggle soon developed into a campaign of aggression and conquest that raged for almost twenty-two years with Bonaparte riding the whirlwind to a dictatorship under imperial symbols, meeting at last his nemesis at Waterloo in 1815.
Before this fierce strife was far advanced, a grand national convention was elected and the government of France passed into the hands of a small group of determined radicals, known as the Committee of Public Safety. In every branch, civil and military, extremists took possession of the trappings of power. Resolved to stamp out monarchists, they precipitated a reign of terror in Paris and a civil war in the provinces. Violence answered violence, moving from atrocity to atrocity with the merciless precision of nature. And as the tide of domestic and foreign conflict flowed and ebbed, one factional leader succeeded another in power --Marat, Danton, Robespierre with increasing passion until the limit of human endurance was reached. Then Bonaparte in 1795 blew away the makers of revolution in "a whiff of grape shot" and gave France twenty years of domestic "order" combined with exhausting foreign wars.
The echoes of this shattering conflict --economic, clerical, and political-- were heard around the world. Throughout western civilization people were divided into factions according to the nature of their reaction to the course of French events. Across the Channel, in England, Edmund Burke brought up his batteries of thundering oratory to check the spread of French principles; in 1790, even before any serious rioting had lifted its head in Paris, he published his Reflections on the French Revolution, a terrific indictment of the peaceful reconstruction that had been wrought by the national assembly. In this powerful tract he attacked everything that savored of democracy, denouncing the very concept that the English people, for example, had a right to choose their own rulers, frame a government for themselves, or cashier their political authorities for misconduct. The people of England, he said, utterly repudiate the idea; nay, more, "they will resist the practical assertion of it with their lives and fortunes." Inflamed with wrath at the mere suggestion, Burke could hardly find language hot enough to discharge his emotions against the "frauds, impostures, violences, rapines, murders, confiscations, compulsory paper currencies, and every description of tyranny and cruelty" which marked the drive of the French Revolution.
"Learning will be cast into the mire and trodden under the hoofs of a swinish multitude." Dignity, grace, refinement, and all that gives fragrance and beauty to social life, he argued, will be ruined in order that hair-dressers and tallow-chandlers may rule and ruin themselves and then set the world on fire. To stay this process Burke called for war, relentless war, upon the French as monsters and outlaws, demanding the restoration of the genial and benevolent despotism of Louis XVI by English arms. This first assault on French democracy he followed by letters and brochures more and more furious and convulsive until he fairly choked with unquenchable rage.
Though Burke's writings made a furor in England, they might have passed with little notice in America if Thomas Paine had not undertaken to counteract the campaign of hatred that had been launched against France. But this trenchant pamphleteer, whose appeals had stiffened the backs of American Revolutionists and sent thrills throughout the states in the dark days of the war for independence, now seized his pen again, in order to answer Burke. In a few weeks he flung out to the world the first part of his great apology for democracy the Rights of Man; and an edition given to the American public with a letter of approval from Jefferson was snapped up with avidity, furnishing the theme of lively debates in taverns, coffee houses, editorial sanctums, and drawing rooms.
"From a small spark," wrote Paine, "kindled in America, a flame has arisen, not to be extinguished." He admitted that disorders had appeared in connection with the French Revolution, but he asked the world to wait on the fullness of time to gather the fruits of the work begun by the national assembly. In any event, Paine argued, man is determined to be free; he will institute his own forms of government; monarchs, aristocracies, and priests cannot stay the tide that rolls in along the shore. "Our people ... love what you write and read it with delight," wrote Jefferson to Paine. "The printers season every newspaper with extracts from your last, as they did from the first part of your Rights of Man. They have both served here to separate the wheat from the chaff." At a stirring moment in American politics, the pamphleteer had struck a note in perfect tune with the passions of the men then engaged in fighting a bitter campaign against Hamilton's serried ranks of the rich and well-born.
With incredible swiftness the Anti-Federalists organized a network of democratic societies from one end of the United States to the other using for their model the French political clubs. To Federalists and old Tories it seemed as if new committees of correspondence, such as had engineered the revolution against George III, had sprung into life again, with capacity for infinite mischief.
In all the cities and important towns meetings were held to celebrate the victories of the radical parties in the French Revolution; at a great banquet in Philadelphia hot-headed orators openly exulted in the execution of Louis XVI; everywhere in Anti-Federalist circles the coalition of European monarchs against France the cordon sanitaire against democracy was denounced as a union of despotism against the principles upon which the American republic was founded.
Applying the lessons to domestic politics, extremists demanded the completion of the leveling process in the United States in accordance with French doctrines. Harmless titles, such as Sir, The Honorable, and His Excellency, were decried as too aristocratic, and in the new language of comradeship, it became the fashion to speak of Citizen Jones, Citizen Judge, Citizeness Smith. In a kindred spirit, excited democrats in Boston insisted on renaming Royal Exchange Alley, Equality Lane; in New York, King Street was rechristened Liberty Street. The President was praised for walking occasionally about the streets like an ordinary person; the Vice-President was criticized for riding in a coach and six. "The rabble that followed on the heels of Jack Cade," exclaimed young John Quincy Adams, "could not have devised greater absurdities than those practiced on America in imitation of the French."
Beneath the surface of the popular exuberance, there was a genuine sympathy for the disfranchised artisans in the towns and for the struggling farmers in the country. Poor men contending against adversity saw, or thought they saw, in the success of the French Revolution the final triumph of their faction over "the enemies of the people."
Already deeply moved by domestic agitations, the Federalists became hysterical with fright when the extremists came to the top in the swirling fortunes of Parisian politics. They turned on the democratic societies in America as angrily as Burke turned on English radicals, denouncing them as sappers and miners engaged in destroying the Constitution. Without restraint, they abused everybody who approved, or who passively refused to condemn with sufficient heat, the proceedings of the French Republic. They applied the term "Jacobin" profusely and indiscriminately to all American citizens who sympathized with France or who attacked the "stock-jobbing squadron" at home. Everything which the "rich and well-born" did not like was damned in respectable circles as "Jacobinical." Timothy Dwight, president of Yale, stormed and raved, "Shall our sons," he shouted, "become the disciples of Voltaire and the dragoons of Marat; or our daughters the concubines of the Illuminati ?"
With equal respect for realities, another New England divine declared that Jefferson and his partisans were spreading "the atheistical, and archical, and in other respects immoral principles of the French revolution." In his anger he read them all out of polite society: "The editors, patrons and abettors of these vehicles of slander 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."
A third Puritan clergyman, proposing to go beyond verbiage, called for a war on France so that the Federalist administration could destroy its critics at home a simple proposal for making traitors out of political opponents.
A fourth preacher of the gospel, who lamented the triumph of French principles, thought the course of events especially deplorable because "half a dozen legislators or even scholars bred in New England and dispersed through the different countries of Europe every year" could have changed "the political face of affairs" in the Old World. And now the American radicals had spoiled everything by poisoning the fountains of purity.
This pugilistic controversy over revolutionary politics took on a fiercer aspect when American commercial interests became involved in the war between England and France on the high seas; for facts as well as theories now confronted the disputants. English naval commanders seized American produce shipped in French vessels, captured American merchantmen carrying French goods, and searched American ships in a quest for British-born sailors to serve under the Union Jack. On the other side, the French in their way were no gentler; they let loose a flood of privateers, little better than pirates, to prey on American commerce with England; if they did not impress American sailors they often cruelly treated the officers and men who fell into their hands.
When stories of these depredations seeped into the American press, party temper rose accordingly. The Federalists could see every wrong committed by the French; the Anti-Federalists every wrong committed by the English. And things reached a climax when the French Republic called upon the United States for help against England under the old treaty of alliance and friendship made in 1778. Unquestionably the appeal touched a tender spot in America, where the aid rendered to the American Republic in the dark days of her own struggle against England was not forgotten.
But conservative men were at the helm and the times called for discretion. Hamilton, hating French radicalism in every fiber of his being, contended, with more dexterity than logic, that the treaty had been made with the French king and that, on the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy, the obligations to France were suspended. Also bent on keeping the country out of war at all costs, Washington brushed aside Franklin's famous document and in 1793 proclaimed to the belligerents of Europe the neutrality of the United States. Though Citizen Genet, the diplomatic representative of the French Republic, was greeted with extravagant acclaim by the Anti-Federalists on his arrival in America, Washington, refusing to be moved by popular clamor, received the emissary with stern formality. When Genet, angered by this treatment, issued manifestoes, held meetings, attempted to use American ports as bases of operation for French privateers, and, with the aid of American partisans, tried to unhorse Washington's administration, the President bluntly asked the French government to recall the troublesome guest.
With this firm act Washington coupled a policy that augmented the wrath of the opposition. While treating France with frosty propriety, he showed a mild complaisance in dealing with England. British troops still occupied forts in the West; slaves and other property carried off by British soldiers during the American Revolution had not been restored or paid for; and the British navy was playing havoc with American commerce. Against these "wrongs," Jefferson had often protested and on such counts some of his followers, casting off all repressions in their resentment, had repeatedly called for war on England.
On the other side, the Federalist party insisted on peace, its leaders with their usual facility formulating arguments in support of their policy. It was with difficulty, they said, that Washington's administration could raise funds for current outlays and any extraordinary expenditure would bring down in a crash the whole financial structure the funded debt and the Bank so recently and so arduously erected by Hamilton. Moreover, American towns were thronged with English merchants; and English investors, besides buying government bonds and bank stock, advanced credit for trade and money for land speculation and industrial enterprise, linking Hamilton's party to the British Empire by a thousand ties of a practical nature.
Above and beyond all these things, England was warring on radical France, the detested principles of that republic, on the doctrines of Jeffersonian democracy. Though the Federalists lost heavily from the depredations on their commerce, every consideration of economic interest and political caution commanded them to oppose a second war on King George. In conformity to their wishes, Washington sent the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, to England to negotiate a new treaty disposing of the issues in controversy.
Fully aware of the economic position and military weakness of the United States, the British Government drove a hard bargain with Jay. Its troops were to be withdrawn from the Western forts for that cost no sacrifice and some slight trading concessions were made; but nothing was said about returning the slaves carried off by British soldiers, about the seizure of American ships in the future, or about the impressment of sailors. While England agreed to pay for certain damages done at sea, Jay capitulated on the matter of private debts due British creditors, thereby reopening an old wound.
Many colonial patriots, in joining the revolutionary movement of 1776, had hoped to sponge their accounts with British traders and money lenders -- a hope that never died. Even though the treaty of peace which closed the war for independence in 1783 had provided that no barriers should be put in the way of collecting the old bills, a large number of American debtors still managed to postpone the day of judgment and discharge. Never dismayed by delay, British creditors, on their part, continued to prod their representatives at Westminster until finally they had their reward in a clause of the Jay treaty, a clause binding the government of the United States to compensate British claimants for any losses due to impediments placed in the way of collection by judicial process. When the reckoning was made, it was disclosed that three-fourths of the total amount was owed by citizens in the southern states. That was the last straw: the slaves carried away by British soldiers were not to be returned and the hated debts were to be paid in the last extremity by federal taxation. Planters who regarded with suspicion Jefferson's French ideas were now convinced that the Federalist party at least must be ousted from power and the Jay treaty repudiated.
Jefferson himself denounced the agreement as an infamous alliance between the Anglo-men in the United States and England --a union made in defiance of the people and the legislature. The British minister in Philadelphia, now temporarily the capital of the Republic, was openly insulted by jeering crowds; Hamilton was stoned while attempting to defend the treaty; and Jay was burned in effigy far and wide, amid howls of derision from enraged Republicans. For a long time it was found impossible to enlist two-thirds of the Senators in favor of ratification, and the fate of the treaty hung in the balance.
At last, thoroughly alarmed by the peril of defeat, the administration resolved to bring all its influence to bear. Laying down his ledgers, Hamilton wrote a series of powerful papers which he published anonymously. With incisive rhetoric he stung indifferent Federalists to action, warning them that "the horrid principles of Jacobinism" were abroad in the land and that a war with England would throw the direction of affairs into the hands of men professing these terrible doctrines. "The consequences of this," he said, "even in imagination, are such as to make any virtuous man shudder." In the end, by dint of much maneuvering and the use of personal influence, Washington was able to wring from the Senate its approval of the treaty, in June, 1795.
The deed was done but the ill-will aroused by it was not allayed. To display its temper, the opposition in the House of Representatives called upon the President for papers pertaining to the negotiation of the treaty. When it was curtly rebuffed, its wrath deepened, and the populace upon "which it relied for support" was stirred to renewed opposition. By this time the Anti-Federalists, or Republicans, as they were fond of calling themselves, strengthened by recruits from many quarters, had grown into a fairly coherent party and were evidently resolved upon grasping the powers of the federal government at the coming national election.
This state of affairs confirmed Washington in his determination to retire at the end of his second term. He would then be sixty-five years of age and he was weary from his burdensome labors in field and forum. Since the opening of the Revolution, to say nothing of his provincial career, he had spent nearly fifteen years in public service and even while in retirement he had devoted irksome and anxious months to the movement that produced the Constitution.
The glory of office had begun to pale. Once he had received respectful homage on all occasions; now near the close of his second administration he was shocked and grieved to find himself spattered with the mud of political criticism. Having definitely aligned himself with the Federalist group and having assumed responsibility for the policies of administration framed by that party, he had voluntarily incurred the risks of partisan attacks. Nevertheless he was distressed beyond measure to hear himself assailed, as he complained, "in such exaggerated and indecent terms as could scarcely be applied to a Nero, a notorious defaulter, or even to a common pickpocket." These were the circumstances that led him to take advantage of the first opportunity to return to the peace of his Potomac estate.
He had accepted reelection in 1792 only on the urgent solicitation of both Hamilton and Jefferson, who had told him that he alone could save the new fabric of government. But another election was out of the question, not because he regarded the idea of a third term as improper or open to serious objections; he was simply through with the honors and turmoil of politics. Accordingly, in September, 1796, on the eve of the presidential election, he announced his decision in a Farewell Address that is now among the treasured state papers of the American nation.
In this note of affection and warning to his fellow citizens, Washington directed their attention especially to three subjects of vital interest. Having dimly sensed the conflict impending between the North and the South, he gravely cautioned them against sectional jealousies. Having suffered from the excesses of factional strife, he warned them against the extremes of partisanship, saying that in popular governments it is a spirit not to be encouraged. Having observed the turbulent influence of foreign affairs upon domestic politics, he put them on their guard against "permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world," against artificial entanglements with the vicissitudes of European rivalries, against the insidious wiles of alien intrigues.
Then in simple words of reconciliation he expressed the hope that his country would forgive the mistakes which he had committed during his forty-five years of public life and that he might enjoy, in the midst of his countrymen, "the benign influence of good laws under a free government the ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors and dangers." Though many Anti-Federalists saw in the Address a veiled attack upon their partisanship and their affection for France, the more moderate elements in both parties regarded it as a message of sound advice from one whose motives were pure and whose devotion to the public good was beyond question.
Hearing that Washington was to retire, the opposition cast off every lingering qualm. Until that moment all save the most brutal critics had curbed somewhat the sweep of their passions, even in denouncing the worst rascals who took shelter behind the great President. At last he was to go from the capital forever and ordinary mortals were to hold the high office which he had filled with such superb decorum. That opened the flood-gates. With a show of defiance, Anti-Federalists had branded the Hamiltonians as monarchists and assumed for themselves the name Republican even if it savored of French excesses. Some of them now ventured to call themselves Democrats, a term as malodorous in the polite circles of Washington's day as Bolshevik in the age of President Harding. Scorning the Puritan clergy who called Jefferson an atheist and anarchist, all the Anti-Federalists agreed that he was to be their leader and their candidate for President at the coming election.
This challenge the Federalists accepted by nominating a man of opposite opinions, John Adams of Massachusetts. His views on popular government were well known: he had openly declared that he feared the masses as much as he did any monarch and that he favored "government by an aristocracy of talents and wealth." On the main point, therefore, his theories were sound enough for any Federalist; but Adams, even so, was not a strong candidate for a boisterous campaign. While he had spoken contemptuously enough of the crowd, he had poured no libations at the feet of the aristocracy: in an elaborate work he had tried to prove that in every political society there is a perpetual conflict between the rich and the poor, each trying to despoil the other, and that the business of statesmanship is to set bounds for both the contending parties.
Besides being endowed with a somewhat reasoned suspicion of the high and the low, Adams was a student and unfitted for the hustings. He was not an orator or a skillful negotiator; his lightest word smelt of the lamp and his friendliest gesture betrayed a note of irritation. It, therefore, required a desperate campaign to get him into the presidency, with the narrow margin of three votes and, to make the dose more unpalatable, since Jefferson stood second in the poll, Adams found himself yoked for a four-year term with his most redoubtable foe as Vice-President.
Relieved of his burdens, Washington now hurried away from the capital to his haven at Mount Vernon, where praise and affection followed him, yet not without taunts from Republican champions who broke in upon the anthem of gratitude from time to time. In fact, one of the critical editors, a grandson of Benjamin Franklin [Benjamin Franklin Bache], flung after the retiring President the burning words: "If ever there was a period for rejoicing, this is the moment every heart, in unison with the freedom and happiness of the people ought to beat high with exultation that the name of Washington from this day ceases to give a currency to political iniquity and to legalize corruption." If such was the treatment accorded to the great hero of the Revolution, Adams must have been without hope of mercy. And he received none.
Only one measure of the Adams administration won anything like universal approval and that was due mainly to an accident of French politics. Resenting what it regarded as the pro-English policy of President Washington, the Directory at Paris the executive department established under the constitution of 1795 treated the United States with such lofty contempt that even the hottest defender of France on this side of the Atlantic, as the news was fed to him, felt insulted. Besides bluntly refusing to receive the American minister sent over in the closing days of Washington's administration, it persisted in believing that the President's Proclamation of Neutrality did not represent the real will of the United States. In addition to ordering the confiscation of American vessels bound to and from British ports or engaged in carrying British goods, it permitted French privateers to play havoc with American commerce in the West Indies. Now it was the turn of the Federalists to shed their pacifism and shout for war on "Jacobinical" France. But Adams, refusing to play that game, kept his temper and instead of blustering sent a special commission to France charged with the duty of restoring friendly relations.
When the members of this mission arrived in Paris, they found, so they reported, instead of a decent reception, insolence and effrontery before their faces and intrigue behind their backs. They were denied a formal recognition; but mysterious persons, pretending to speak for the government, visited them after candlelight. Nowhere did they see any signs of good will; on the contrary, according to their accounts, the commissioners were confronted with a demand for an apology from the American government for its past conduct, a large loan, and handsome bribes for French officials. After haggling for many months in a vain hope for an accommodation, the mission broke off negotiations and sent back dispatches containing a full statement of its difficulties, perhaps not without political embellishments. With a shrewd strategical flair, President Adams immediately laid a report of the transaction before Congress, referring to the Frenchmen who made these demands for tribute and apology as Mr. X, Mr. Y, and Mr. Z.
In the form in which the dose was administered by the President, this was too much even for the stoutest Jacobin in the United States. Some Republicans, it is true, stopped to point out that the American minister sent by Washington and rejected by the French Directory was openly known as a bitter enemy of the French Revolution; others laid stress on the conduct of the British navy toward which the Washington administration had shown so little resentment. But the majority of Jeffersonians, much as they disliked Adams, apparently forgot their French sympathies for the moment and joined the Federalists in shouting: "Millions for defense, not a cent for tribute !" Once more Washington was called upon to take command of the army. Lively preparations for combat were commenced and actual fighting began on the high seas without any formal declaration of war by Congress.
Nevertheless, desiring peace if it could be obtained with decency, Adams renewed negotiations with France amid cries of rage from Federalist fire-eaters. At this juncture, Napoleon Bonaparte, after overthrowing the Directory in Paris by a coup d'état, installed himself as First Consul and indicated willingness to make an accommodation. The following year the two governments succeeded in reaching a kind of agreement that saved their faces, if it did not remove the worst of the irritants. By this time Adams was hopelessly adrift. If he had won some friends among Republicans by declining to plunge into a war against France, he had lost supporters among Federalists, partly by his pacific spirit and partly by his failure to adjust some childish quarrels that arose among officers over precedence in an army that was to fight no battles.
While the Republicans were temporarily weakened by the division of their forces over relations with France, the Federalists resolved in 1798 to destroy the opposition, if possible, with two drastic measures, famous in American history as the Alien and Sedition Acts. The first of these laws authorized the President, in case of war or a predatory incursion, to prescribe the conditions under which alien enemies could be expelled or imprisoned as the public safety might require; thus Adams was given a weapon with which to suppress the activities of the French agents and Irish sympathizers who shared their antipathy for England. The second act was even more severe in its terms; it prescribed fine and imprisonment for persons who combined to oppose any measure of the government, to impede the operation of any law, or to intimidate any officer of the United States in the discharge of his duty; it penalized everyone who uttered or published false, scandalous, and malicious sentiments tending to bring the government of the United States or its officers into disrepute or to excite the hatred of the people.
The Alien Act, although it was not enforced, gave great offense, especially to the many foreigners in danger under its provisions. The Sedition Act was vigorously applied and aroused a tempest. Several editors of Republican papers soon found themselves in jail or broken by heavy fines; bystanders at political meetings who made contemptuous remarks about Adams or his policies were hurried off to court, lectured by irate Federalist judges, and convicted of sedition. In vain did John Marshall urge caution, explaining that the Sedition law was useless and calculated to arouse rather than allay discontent. In vain did Hamilton warn his colleagues: "Let us not establish a tyranny. Energy is a very different thing from violence." The high and mighty directors in the party of "talents and wealth" would be satisfied with nothing short of destroying their opponents.
As Marshall and Hamilton had foreseen, the resentment of the Republicans answered persecution and finally burst all bounds. They denounced the legislation as despotic and its sponsors as tyrants. They invoked the protection of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which expressly forbade Congress to make any law respecting freedom of speech and press. They appealed to the rights of citizens and states.
Not content with the usual verbalism of politics, Jefferson proposed something akin to defiance. He drafted a set of resolutions declaring that the Alien and Sedition Acts violated the Constitution and were therefore null and void --resolutions which were introduced into the Kentucky legislature, passed, signed by the governor, and proclaimed to the country as representing the creed of the state. Simultaneously, Jefferson's competent aide, James Madison, started a similar revolt in Virginia, inducing the legislature to adopt resolutions condemning the obnoxious legislation and advising the states to cooperate in defense of their rights.
Though Kentucky and Virginia discovered that their appeals encountered indifference or even opposition on the part of their neighbors, they were not daunted. The former, hearing from some of the northern states that it was the business of the Supreme Court to decide high questions of law, announced, in reply, the fateful doctrine that a state could review acts of Congress itself and nullify any measure it deemed unconstitutional. While the Virginia legislature shrank from the full logic of this strong doctrine, it did appropriate money for arms and supplies. Fortunately for the Republicans, the fourth presidential election was now at hand and they could call upon the voters to repudiate at the polls the authors of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The issue became a factor, at least a rhetorical factor, in a nation-wide campaign.
By unanimous consent leadership among the Republicans went to Jefferson. After some study of Hamilton's system in operation, he had become an irreconcilable opponent of all the leading measures fostered by the Secretary of the Treasury. He had objected to the Bank on economic and constitutional grounds. He had expressed critical opinions about the administrations of Washington and Adams which pleased the most radical among the agrarian faction. Indeed, it was easy for him to satisfy the aspirations of that party for, on matured conviction, Jefferson was primarily a champion of agriculture. He sincerely believed that the only secure basis of a republic was a body of free, landowning farmers, enjoying the fruits of their own toil, looking to the sun in heaven and the labor of their own hands for their support and their independence.
Like Aristotle two thousand years before and agricultural philosophers through all the succeeding ages, Jefferson distrusted the arts of commerce and industry, the arts of buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest. These pursuits led inevitably, he thought, to chicanery, to the accumulation of great wealth by speculation, intrigue, and exploitation. For the artisans and laborers who served the masters of commerce and industry in the crowded towns, he had a great dislike, once going so far as to declare that the mobs of great cities were sores on the body politic, panders to vice, makers of revolution. As a corollary, he was convinced that the American system of liberty would come to an end when the people were congested in cities and dependent for a livelihood upon the caprices of trade. Such was his deliberate judgment formulated long before the Constitution was framed or the fortunes of politics had opened the presidency to him. This opinion was but hardened by his experience at the national capital and the ferocious treatment he had received from "the paper men" whom he had so severely denounced.
Jefferson, however, was more than an avowed opponent of Hamilton's fiscal system and more than a convinced champion of agriculture. He held views concerning human nature and human progress which were abhorrent to those who loved tranquillity in an established social system sustained by dogmatic religious sanctions. In an age when the masses of Europe were without education and were regarded as an inferior order of human beings, Jefferson declared his belief that "man was a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights and with an innate sense of justice; and that he could be restrained from wrong and protected in right by moderate powers confided to persons of his own choice and held to their duties by dependence on his own will."
While seasoned politicians of the Federalist school were expressing contempt for theories of popular rule, Jefferson was contending that men "habituated to think for themselves and to follow reason as their guide" could be more easily and safely governed than people "debased by ignorance, indigence, and oppression." With him this was more than a formal faith. "I have sworn upon the altar of God," he wrote to a friend in 1800, "eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." The same spirit characterized his theories of education.
While a New England college president was proudly assuring the public that Gibbon's godless Decline and Fall of Rome was not allowed in his institution of learning, Jefferson was dreaming of a system of universal secular education. In later life he realized a part of this lofty ideal in the University of Virginia, founded under his leadership, where he provided for a democratic scheme of self-government by the professors, rejected all religious tests for teachers and pupils, exalted science, agriculture, and modern languages to a position of equality with the classics, and relied for discipline on student honor. "The institution," he said at the time, "will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead or to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it." For his religious ideas as for his political and educational theories, Jefferson was hateful to the orthodox of every sect. In common with so many philosophers of his age he was a deist who regarded Jesus as a great teacher and a good man. He applied higher criticism to the Bible, tested its science in the light of reason, and expressed grave doubts about the authenticity of its statements respecting creation, the flood, and other points relative to the system of nature.
Though roundly denounced by theologians as an "atheist," an epithet lacking both in accuracy and fairness, Jefferson made no effort to conceal his liberality of opinion. If reason was to be the guide in politics, religion, and education it followed that freedom of press and speech must be an essential element in the human scheme of things.
This theory Jefferson also carried to its logical conclusion; utterly rejecting the tyrant's plea that liberty can be best protected by "beating down licentiousness," he went the whole length in asserting that the government should not interfere with the expression of opinion until it merged into an overt act. Even open resistance to government, which logic forced him to face, was not so dreadful in his eyes; when he heard of Shays uprising in Massachusetts, he exclaimed: "God forbid that we should ever be for twenty years without such a rebellion."
In view of Jefferson's doctrines it is not surprising that consternation ran swiftly through the circles of wealth and refinement in the middle and northern states when the news of his election to the presidency was sent broadcast in the autumn of 1800. Federalist ladies shook their wise heads over teacups and shuddered with horror as they spoke of the "atheist and leveler from Virginia." Federalist politicians and conservative gentlemen stood aghast: all the grace and dignity of life, everything founded on knowledge and morals seemed destroyed in a flash. "Reason, common sense, talents, and virtue," wrote one essayist, "cannot stand before democracy. Like a resistless flood, it sweeps all away." The end of all good things had come.
"Old Gates used to tell me in 1776," wrote one of John Jay's friends, "that if the bantling Independence lived one year, it would last to the age of Methuselah. Yet we have lived to see it in its dotage, with all the maladies and imbecilities of extreme old age." A journalist who had passed happily through the Revolutionary War bemoaned "the spirit of innovation which has lately gained strength in our borders, and now counteracts the best tendency of regular habits."
The depth of Federalist consternation was exhibited in an astounding proposal of Hamilton to prevent the triumph of Jefferson by a measure of doubtful legality and still more doubtful decency. In New York, where the presidential electors were still chosen by the state legislature, the election of the two houses in May, 1800, indicated that Jefferson would be victorious in the autumn. Therefore, Hamilton proposed that the governor, John Jay, call the old legislature in a special session to change the law and provide for the choice of presidential electors by popular vote in districts so arranged as to assure a majority for the Federalist candidate. In making this suggestion, Hamilton added that "scruples of delicacy and propriety" ought to give way when one was faced with the task of preventing "an atheist in religion and a fanatic in politics from getting possession of the helm of state." This extraordinary step Hamilton thought justified by "unequivocal reasons of public safety," but Governor Jay was unmoved. With simple directness, he wrote on the back of Hamilton's letter these words: "Proposing a measure for party purposes, which it would not become me to adopt." By letting affairs take their normal course, the honest governor assured the victory of a man whose views he heartily disliked.
When the returns were all in after the autumn storm, it was found that the Republican candidates, Jefferson and Burr, had fairly defeated Adams and Pinckney, their Federalist rivals, but were themselves tied; each had received the same number of electoral votes. Of course, everyone understood that the Republicans wanted Jefferson for President but, under the Constitution, the choice had to be determined by the House of Representatives. Consequently a momentary ray of hope gleamed through the murky darkness of Federalist defeat. In making the decision, the delegation of each state represented in the House had just one vote and, under this provision of the law, Federalists commanded a majority. They could choose either Jefferson or Burr for President or they could postpone the choice indefinitely.
As soon as word of the tie was confirmed, there opened a fierce and sordid battle in the House over the selection of the President. Finding that Burr's sense of propriety did not impel him to withdraw from the race, the Federalists began negotiations with him and also with Jefferson for the purpose of gaining from the candidate of their final choice a promise to uphold, when elected, all the essential points in the Hamiltonian program. At first many of them were decidedly inclined toward Burr on general principles toward that wayward, spectacular, and mysterious grandson of Jonathan Edwards. For some strange reason one of the Federalist leaders thought Burr "a matter-of-fact" man who held "no pernicious theories" and justly appreciated "the benefits resulting from our commercial and national systems." Accordingly, Burr was duly sounded but he would not give the requisite pledges.
In the meantime his deadly enemy, Hamilton, laying aside his bitter hostility to Jefferson, threw himself into the fray on the side of the Virginian candidate. While rumor ascribes Hamilton's hatred for Burr to rivalry for the affections of a woman, it was not necessary to add that hypothesis to the incidents of political strife. Hamilton simply did not share the views of his Federalist brothers; on the contrary he boldly branded Burr as a "Cataline." He thought that Jefferson was fanatical, unscrupulous, not very mindful of the truth and indeed a contemptible hypocrite, but even so more likely to temporize, bargain, and pursue a moderate course than his colleague on the Republican ticket.
So Hamilton suggested that the rival, Jefferson, be invited to give assurances with regard to the preservation of "the actual fiscal system," adherence to neutrality, and the continuance of the Federalists in all save the highest administrative positions. In the end, Jefferson was seen, made known his views, and was chosen by the House over Burr. By his action in the case, Hamilton added fuel to the fire of enmity which culminated in his death three years later at the hands of Burr in one of the most sensational duels ever fought on American soil.
On account of his commitments and the strength of the Federalists in Congress, Jefferson had to proceed cautiously after his inauguration; and yet he and his followers moved steadily in the direction which they had mapped out during the campaign of 1800. They had laughed at Adams' coach and six and at attempts of Americans to ape the ceremonials of European courts. In keeping with their agrarian sentiments, Jefferson's inauguration on March 4, 1801, the first at the new capital in Washington, was marked by studied simplicity. Republicans had thought that Washington's custom of reading his messages to Congress smacked of the speech from the throne. Jefferson was no orator, so he adopted the practice of sending his recommendations to Congress by a clerk; a rule that was maintained unbroken until 1913 when President Wilson returned to the example set by Washington.
As if to emphasize his objections to official ritual, Jefferson received the British Ambassador in untidy dress and slippers worn at the heel. He did not, as is sometimes averred, ride to the capitol on horseback, tie his horse to a post, and walk up to take the oath of office; but this apocryphal story illustrated the spirit of the new reign, "the great revolution of 1800," as Jefferson was fond of calling it.
In the business of government, the Republicans, if not intransigent, kept their thesis well in mind. They had denounced the funded debt as a means of creating a "money power"; they did not repudiate any part of it but they paid it off as rapidly as they could. They had objected to the excise tax, especially on whisky, and they quickly abolished it amid the general rejoicing of the back-country farmers. They had protested against the high cost of the federal establishment and they reduced expenses by eliminating many civil offices. They had held commerce in low esteem and viewed the navy as a Federalist device for defending it; in line with this theory they cut down the naval program.
In dealing with the distribution of federal offices, however, the Republicans proceeded with care even though they found all good berths occupied by Federalist politicians. During the negotiations that preceded his election Jefferson had, according to reports, agreed to deal gently with the minor employees of the government; he had also enunciated the noble sentiment that offices should be open to all on the principle of merit alone. Consequently he made no wholesale removals, but as vacancies occurred from time to time he was careful to fill them with trusted partisans as a matter of course. Believing that Hamilton's party had used the branches of the United States Bank in building up its machine, Jefferson expressed himself "decidedly in favor of making all the banks Republican by sharing deposits among them in proportion to the dispositions they show." In actual operation, therefore, he discovered, as he remarked, that "what is practicable must often control what is pure theory."
In keeping with Republican criticism of the sedition law, Jefferson first proposed to declare it null and void in a message to Congress but finally he just decided not to enforce it against offenders arrested before the expiration of the act on March 3, 1801, and to pardon prisoners then in jail for violation of its provisions. Ultimately Congress repaid most, if not all, the fines that had been collected under the statute. The Republicans had been deeply offended by the stump speeches delivered by Federalist judges when instructing juries; and they promptly voted to impeach Samuel Chase, a justice of the Supreme Court, who had been especially severe in denouncing democratic doctrines from the bench. If they failed to convict him, it was due to no lack of zeal in his prosecution; the Federalists were simply too strong in the Senate where the trial was held.
Though defeated in their effort to oust Chase from office, the Republicans were able to get rid of the new district judges appointed during the "midnight hours" of Adams' administration; this they accomplished by the heroic process of repealing the law creating the judgeships. In vain did the Federalist Senators rave against this "assault upon the judiciary" declare that judges were entitled to a life tenure, and cry out that the repeal of the law would bring the Constitution down as a total wreck about them. The Republicans had suffered much at the hands of Federalist judges and they were in no mood to tolerate a single one who could be ejected from power.
In expelling, reducing, abolishing, and repealing, the Republicans were incidentally following the line of strict construction but they made no particular point of the issue at this time. They were willing to vote federal funds to build a national highway into the West where Jefferson's free farmers were in need of help and were flocking to the Republican standard. They were willing to buy the Louisiana Territory, even though Jefferson believed the purchase without constitutional warrant; for that expansion of the Constitution and the country brought more land on which to rear sturdy agrarians. Jefferson, a practical man as well as a theorist, steered the ship of state by the headlands, not by distant and fixed stars.
In their navigation, however, the Republicans, particularly the local politicians of that school, had to reckon with the Federalist interpretation of the Constitution by John Marshall, who, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, from 1801 to 1835, never failed to exalt the doctrines of Hamilton above the claims of the states. No difference of opinion about his political views has ever led even his warmest opponents to deny his superb abilities or his sincere devotion to the national concept. All have likewise agreed that for talents, native and acquired, he was an ornament to the humble democracy which 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 formal education supplemented by a few months of law at William and Mary, inured to hardship and rough surroundings, Marshall rose by masterly efforts to the highest judicial honor America could 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, 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 had been from the first a symbol of futility. Into the struggle over 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, an envoy to France, and Secretary of State, he had aided the Federalists in applying their principles of government. When at length they were driven from 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 for a quarter of a century after the author of the Declaration of Independence retired to private life, the stern Chief Justice continued to announce old Federalist rulings from the Supreme Bench.
Marshall had been in his high post 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 had 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, involving a section of a federal statute, was decided.
In rendering the opinion of the Court, Marshall cited no precedents, laid no foundations for his argument in ancient lore. Rather did he rest it on the general character of the American system. The Constitution, ran his premise, is the supreme law of the land; it controls 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 could ignore its limitations and trespass upon the privileges of citizens, Marshall argued, then the Constitution would disappear and Congress would become sovereign. Since the Constitution must be and is from the nature of things supreme over Congress, it is the duty of judges, under their oath of office, to sustain it against measures which violate it; reasoning from the inherent structure of the American constitutional system, the courts must declare null and void all acts which are not authorized. "A law repugnant to the Constitution," he closed, "is void and the courts as well as other departments are bound by that instrument." From that day to this the practice of federal and state courts in passing upon the constitutionality of laws has remained unshaken.
Yet at the moment 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, coordinate 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 independent 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 judicial exercise of the high power proclaimed in Marbury vs. Madison.
Had Marshall stopped with declaring unconstitutional an act of Congress, he would have heard less criticism from Republican quarters; but, with the same firmness, he set aside important 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 a law 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, the Chief Justice 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 abrogated an act of the New Hampshire legislature which infringed upon the charter received by the College from King George long before. That charter, he asserted, was a contract between the state and the College, which under the federal Constitution no legislature could impair. Two years later Marshall stirred the wrath of Virginia by summoning her to the bar of the Supreme Court to answer in a case involving the validity of one of her laws 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, especially those in Republican control. 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 the 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 swallow it.
While restricting 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 its express powers. Since the case involved, among other things, the question whether the act establishing the second United States Bank was authorized by the Constitution, Marshall felt impelled to settle the issue by a sweeping and affirmative opinion. Congress, he argued, has large powers over taxation and the currency; a bank is of appropriate use in the exercise of its 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 the national legislature full authority 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 battlefield of Gettysburg, he declared that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."