An historical fact that is overlooked by historians anxious to idealize the founding fathers and romanticize the Philadelphia Convention, is that, with few exceptions, the fifty-five men who met in 1787 to draft the Constitution were not federalists, they were nationalists. The name “federalist” was not widely used until during the ratification process in the attempt to sell the Constitution to the states. That the Framers were attempting to establish a “national” government and not a “federal” one is clear from reading Madison’s notes on the Convention, especially those covering the first month or so.
A resolution introduced by Gouvenour Morris on May 30, observed, “that a Union of the States merely federal will not accomplish the objects proposed by the articles of Confederation, namely common defense, security of liberty, & general welfare.”
Roger Sherman, May 31: “The people he said, immediately should have as little to do as may be about the Government. They want [lack] information and are constantly liable to be misled.” George Read of Delaware was expressing the sentiments of many when he said, “Too much attachment is betrayed to the State Governments. We must look beyond their continuance. A national Government must soon of necessity swallow all of them up. They will soon be reduced to the mere office of electing the National Senate. He was against patching up the old federal System: he hoped the idea would be dismissed.”
The U.S. Government did not become a truly federal government until after the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution. A Bill of Rights had originally been rejected by the Philadelphia Convention and was opposed by Hamilton in Federalist 84,
“…I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed?” “I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government. This may serve as a specimen of the numerous handles which would be given to the doctrine of constructive powers, by the indulgence of an injudicious zeal for bills of rights…” ~Federalist No. 84
Without the Bill of Right, particularly the Tenth Amendment, there would have been no specificity to the doctrine of enumerated powers making an eventual “swallowing up” of state government spoken of by George Read all but certain.
The first organized political party in America, known as the Federalist Party, was formed by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams in 1791 hoping to strengthen the national government and provide political support in Congress for Hamilton’s economic policies. Its support base outside of Congress was made up mostly of businessmen and urban bankers. Hamilton, who was the Treasury Secretary during the administration of George Washington, was interested in establishing the nation’s credit and getting the country back on a sound financial footing after the Revolutionary War. During his tenure as Secretary, he exercised a strong influence on the Washington Presidency, issuing five major policy reports, three that would have a major affect on the nation’s future.
His first controversial policy was contained in the 140,000 word “First Report on the Public Credit” sent to the House of Representatives on January 14, 1790. At the time, the federal government owed $54 million. Hamilton devised a plan to pay off the debt by issuing bonds at 4% interest. He proposed assuming the debts owed by the states and paying them off at full face value. He also wanted to redeem the “Continental Dollars” at full face value. Congress agreed to pay off foreign debt but balked at the domestic part of his plan.
Some states had already paid their debts from the War, and others were well along in the process. Hamilton’s plan would have paid the still outstanding debts of the states but would have done nothing for the more responsible state governments that had already arranged to take care of their’s. In modern terms, this would be a “transfer payment” from the more responsible states to those less responsible. Then as now, citizens of the more responsible states did not like the idea of being required to assume the debts of those less responsible.
Hamilton’s plan ran into a similar problem in redeeming the “continentals”. Many veterans and patriots had been forced by circumstances to sell their continental dollars to speculators for twenty-five cents on the dollar. Hamilton’s plan would provide a good profit for the speculators but would be of little value to the veterans and patriots it was supposed to help. A compromise was finally worked out where Virginia would have $1.5 million of its debt eliminated and the Capitol would be located along the Potomac River. In exchange, Madison would stop opposing Hamilton’s “debt assumption plan” in the Congress. The Plan passed on July 26 by four votes.
Hamilton’s “Second Report on the Public Credit” called for establishment of a national bank owned jointly by investors and the national government. This plan was attacked by both Jefferson and Madison as being unconstitutional. Washington, although doubtful, sided with Hamilton and the bank was finally established in 1791. Hamilton who favored a “flexible” constitution argued that the “elastic” clause in Article I, Section 8, clause 19 allowed for a national bank as “necessary” in carrying out the power to tax. This interpretation of the Constitution became the basis of the later concept of a “living constitution”.
Another feature of Hamilton’s Second Report was the imposition of an excise tax on whiskey. The “Whiskey Excise Act” passed by Congress in March 1791 was the first tax levied on an American domestic product by the national government. Due to the problems associated with transporting their crops across the mountains to market, frontier farmers distilled their grain into whiskey for easier transport. Farmer’s in western Pennsylvania objected to the tax because it fell on the producer and not the consumer. They also argued that it unfairly burdened westerners and believed that the act was a deliberate attempt by Hamilton to aid large distillers and drive the small independent stills out of business. In order to collect the tax, hundreds of “agents” were added to the payroll of the Treasury Department.
As the Treasury Agents began to swarm over the hills of western Pennsylvania confrontations with local farmers started to occur. A tax collector named Robert Johnson, was tarred and feathered in Washington County, Pennsylvania, September 11, 1791. A man sent to serve court warrants on Johnson’s attackers was also whipped, tarred and feathered. The tax went uncollected until early 1792. Similar resistance occurred in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The tax went uncollected throughout Kentucky because no one would accept the job of tax collector.
The rebellion continued to escalate in western Pennsylvania. At one point, a pitched battle at the farm of a local tax collector resulted in the death of rebel leader, James McFarlane and several soldiers. Finally, a federalized militia of 3,000 men was mobilized and marched to western Pennsylvania, led by President Washington himself. However, before they arrived, the diplomacy of Albert Gallatin had already defused the uprising and no violence occurred. After an investigation, about twenty people were arrested and brought to Pittsburg for trail. Two were convicted of treason and sentenced to death by hanging. However, both were pardoned by President George Washington soon afterward.
In Hamilton’s “Report on Manufactures” presented to Congress December 5, 1791 Hamilton proposed a stiff tariff on imported manufactured goods. Revenue from the tariff would be used to pay debt, improve the infrastructure for commercial purposes and provide subsidies to American manufactures. There was strong opposition from the Jefferson and Madison faction in Congress to both the subsidies and the internal improvements, and parts of the proposal including the tariffs were rejected. The “Manufacturers Report” was the first attempt by the federal government to expand its power to “regulate commerce…among the states”.
The Democratic-Republican Party
In response to Hamilton‘s economic policies, a second political party was founded in 1792 by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Party is referred to by historians as the “Democratic-Republican Party”, although Jefferson and Madison, the party’s founders consistently used the term “Republican”. Its enemies and much of the media sometimes referred to its supporters as “the republicans” and sometimes as “the democrats”. Eventually the two terms were combined to “democratic- republican”.
The Democratic-Republicans insisted on a strict construction of the Constitution and consistently found itself in opposition to the policies of Treasury Secretary Hamilton, in particular, the establishment of a national bank and his proposal for subsidies to manufacturers, which they considered as unconstitutional. The Republican Party was deeply committed to republicanism and opposed to any policy they feared might lead to monarchy. It opposed the Jay Treaty of 1794 and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. In the election of 1800, the Republican Party’s slogan was “the principles of 1798”. The principles it referred to were states rights, opposition to a consolidated government, distrust of the federal courts, and opposition to a national bank. During the 1798 and 1800 elections, the republicans accused the federalists of favoring monarchy and elitism.
The Federalists and the Republicans were polar opposites in terms of the Constitution and the proper role of government. Much to the chagrin of President Washington, the two parties would continue in bitter opposition during the critical years while establishing the new government. The Federalists were successful in electing John Adams as President to succeed Washington, partly due to the efforts of the Treasury Department’s more than 1,000 employees amassed by Hamilton. Jefferson’s State Department had only one part-time employee.
Adams did not have the political talents of either Hamilton or Jefferson and soon alienated much of his support. Hamilton retired as Treasury Secretary in 1795 but kept his contacts in Congress and the President’s cabinet. Since Adams carried over the members of Washington’s cabinet into his own administration, the presidency of Adams was influenced heavily by Hamilton, as Washington’s had been before. In an effort to deal with a quasi-war with France and to counter the criticism of his administration by the Republicans, Adams signed four bills known as the “Alien and Sedition Acts” in 1798.
The Naturalization Act passed on July 18, required immigrants to be residents of the U.S. for fourteen years before applying for citizenship. Newly naturalized immigrants tended to support the Democratic-Republicans. The Alien Act enacted June 25, 1798 authorized the President to deport any aliens considered to be “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States”. The Alien Enemies Act, passed July 6, authorized the President to “apprehend and deport resident aliens if their home countries were at war with the United States.” The Sedition Act enacted July 14, made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials. All of these Acts were set to expire at the end of Adams’ term in 1801. Their enactment, though seldom used, contributed to the declining popularity of Adams and the Federalist Party. When Jefferson came into office in 1801, he pardoned the few who had been convicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts.
In the hotly contested election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson received 73 electoral votes and Adams received 65. Aaron Burr, who was intended to be Jefferson’s Vice President, received the same number of votes as Jefferson, making it necessary for the House of Representatives to resolve the tie. After 36 ballots, James A. Bayard, a Delaware Federalist, cast a blank ballot breaking the tie and giving the Presidency to Jefferson with Burr as his Vice President. With the death of Washington in 1799 and the departure from the Capitol of Hamilton and Adams, the Federalist Party began rapidly to lose support among voters. In 1796, Federalists controlled 54% of the House Seats and 69% of the Senate Seats. By 1806, they controlled only 17% of the House and 18% of the Senate. After loosing five straight Presidential elections, the Federalist Party ceased to exist as a political fore in American Politics.
In the Presidential elections from 1804 to 1820, the Federalist Party received a total of only 184 electoral votes. Republicans received 826 of the 1,017 total votes cast. James Monroe, in 1820, was the last Presidential candidate to run on the Democratic-Republican ticket, getting 231 electoral votes to Independent John Quincy Adams’ one vote. During Monroe’s second term the Democratic-Republican Party faded from the political scene. In the 1824 election there were no Political Parties represented, with all the candidates running without a party’s nomination or support for the first time since 1788. Considering the fluid nature of party alliances and the constant change in dominant issues from election to election, it is difficult to trace historical connections between the various parties. In the fetal stages of America’s government, however, the Federalist Party was the party of “big government” and the Democratic-Republican Party was the party of “limited constitutional government”.
Both the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party died on July 4, 1826 with the death of their founders, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
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Philosophy of Evil Socialism in America
"The struggle of History is not between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; it is between government and the governed."