1902 Encyclopedia > United States > The Development of Democracy: 1789-1801

United States
(Part 6)


Part 6. The Development of Democracy: 1789-1801

142. All the tendencies of political institutions in the United States had certainly been towards democracy; but it cannot be said that the leading men were hearty or unanimous in their agreement with this tendency. Not a few of them were pronounce republicans even before 1775, but the mass of them had no great objections to a monarchical form of government until the war-spirit had converted them. The Declaration of Independence had been directed rather against the king than against a king. Even after popular sovereignty had pronounced against a king, class spirit was for some time a fair substitute for aristocracy. The obstacles to communication, which compelled the mass of the people to live a very isolated existence, gave abnormal prominence and influence to those who, by ability or wealth, could overcome these obstacles; and common feeling made these a class, with many symptoms of strong class feelings. As often happens, democracy at least thought of a Caesar when it apprehended class control. The discontented officers of the revolutionary armies offered to make Washington king, though he put the offer by without even considering it. The suggestion of a return to monarchy in some form, as a possible road out of the confusion of the Confederation, occurs in the correspondence of some of the leading men. And while the convention of 1787 was holding its secret sessions a rumor went out that it had decided to offer a crown to an English prince.

143. The State constitutions were democratic except for property or other restrictions on the right of suffrage, or provisions carefully designed to keep the control of at least one house of the State legislature "in the hands of property." The Federal constitution was so drawn that it would have lent itself kindly either to class control or to democracy. The electoral system of choosing the president and vice-president was altogether anti-democratic, though democracy has conquered it: not an elector, since 1796, has disobeyed the purely moral claim of his party to control his choice (§ 119, 120). Since the senate was to be chosen by the State legislature, "property," if it could retain its influence in those bodies, could control at least one house of Congress. The question whether the constitution was to have a democratic or an anti-democratic interpretation was to be settled in the next twelve years.

144.The States were a strong factor in the final settlement, from the fact that the constitution had left to them the control of the elective franchise; they were to make its conditions what each of them saw fit. Religious tests for the right of suffrage had been quite common in the colonies; property tests were almost universal. The former disappeared shortly after the revolution; the latter survived in some of the States far into the constitutional period. But the desire to attract immigration was always a strong impelling force to induce States, especially frontier States, to make the acquisition of full citizenship and political rights as easy and rapid as possible. This force was not so strong at first as it was after the great stream of immigration began about 1848 (§ 236), but it was enough to tend constantly to the development of democracy; and it could not but react on the national development. In later times, when State laws allow the immigrant to vote even before the period assigned by Federal laws allows him to become a naturalized citizen, there have been demands for the modification of the ultra State democracy; but no such danger was apprehended in the first decade.

145. The Antifederalists had been a political party, but a party with but one principle. The absolute failure of that principle deprived the party of all cohesion; and the Federalists controlled the first two Congresses almost entirely. Their pronounced ability was shown in their organizing measures, which still govern the American system very largely. The departments of state, of the treasury, of war, of justice, and of the post-office were rapidly and successfully organized; Acts were passed for the regulation of seamen, commerce, tonnage duties, lighthouses, intercourse with the Indians, Territories, and the militia; a national capital was selected; a national bank was chartered; the national debt was funded, and the State debts were assumed as part of it. The first four years of the new system showed that the States had now to deal with a very different power from the impotent Congress of the Confederation. The new power was even able to exert a pressure upon the two States which had not yet ratified the constitution, though, in accordance with the universal American prejudice, the pressure was made an gentle as possible. As a first step, the higher duties imposed on imports from foreign countries were expressly directed to apply to imports from North Carolina and Rhode Island. North Carolina having called a second convention, her case was left to the course of nature; and the second convention ratified the constitution (November 21, 1789). The Rhode Island legislature wrote to ask that their State might not be considered altogether foreigners, made their duties agree with those of, the new Government, and reserved the proceeds for "continental" purposes. Still no further steps were taken. A bill was therefore introduced, directing the president to suspend commercial intercourse with Rhode Island, and to demand from her her share of the continental debt. This was passed by the senate, and waited but two steps further to become law. Unofficial newspaper proposals to divide up the little State between her two nearest neighbors were stopped by her ratification (May 29, 1790). All the "old thirteen" were thus united under the constitution; and yet, so strong is the American prejudice for the autonomy of the States that these last two were allowed to enter in the full conviction that they did so in the exercise of sovereign freedom of choice. Their entrance, however, was no more involuntary than that of others. If there had been real freedom of choice, nine States would never have ratified: the votes of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York were only secured by the pressure of powerful minorities in their own States, backed by the almost unanimous votes of the others.

146. Protection was begun in the first Tariff Act, whose object, said its preamble, was the protection of domestic manufactures. The duties, however, ranged only from 71/2 to 10 per. Cent., averaging about 8 _ per cent. The system, too, had rather a political than an economic basis. Until 1789 the States had controlled the imposition of duties. The separate State feeling was a factor so strong that secession was a possibility which every statesman had to take into account. Hamilton’s object, in introducing the system, seems to have been to create a class of manufactures, running through all the States, but dependent for prosperity on the new Federal Government and its tariff. This would be a force which would make strongly for national government, and against any attempt at secession, or against the tendency to revert in practice to the old system of control by State legislatures, even though it based the national idea on a conscious tendency towards the development of classes. The same feeling seems to have been at the bottom of his establishment of a national bank, his assumption of State debts, and most of the general scheme which his influence forced upon the Federal party.

147. In forming his cabinet, Washington had paid attention to the opposing elements which had united for the temporary purpose of ratifying the constitution. The national element was represented by Hamilton, secretary of the treasury, and Knox (p. 789), secretary of war; the particularist element (using the term to indicate support of the States, not of a State) by Jefferson, secretary of state, and Edmund Randolph, attorney-general. It was not long before the drift of opinion in cabinet meetings showed an irreconcilable divergence, on almost every subject, between these two elements, and Hamilton and Jefferson became the representatives of the two opposite tendencies which have together made up the sum of public American history. At the end of 1792 matters were in train for the general recognition of the existence of two parties, whose struggles were to decide the course of the constitution’s development. The occasion came in the opening of the following year, when the new nation was first brought into contact with the French Revolution.

148. The controlling tendency of Jefferson and his school was to the maintenance of individual rights at the highest possible point, as the Hamilton school was always ready to assert the national power to restrict individual rights for the general good. other points of difference are rather symptomatic than essential. The Jefferson school supported the States, not out of love for the States, but out of a belief that the States were the best bulwarks for individual rights. When the French Revolution began its usual course in America by agitation for the "rights of man," it met a sympathetic audience in the Jefferson party and a cold and unsympathetic hearing from the Hamilton school of Federalists. The latter were far more interested in securing the full recognition of the power and rights of the nation than in securing the individual against imaginary dangers, as they thought them. For ten years, therefore, the surface marks of distinction between the two parties were to be connected with the course of events in Europe; but the essence of distinction was not in the surface marks.

149. The new Government was not yet four years old; it was not familiar; nor of assured permanency. The only national Governments of which Americans had had previous experience were the British Government and the Confederation: in the former they had had no share, and the latter had had no power. The only places in which they had had long-continued, full, and familiar experience of self-government were their State Governments: these were the only governmental forms which were then distinctly associated in their minds with the general notion of republican government. The governing principle of the Hamilton school, that the construction or interpretation of the terms of the constitution was to be such as to broaden the powers of the Federal Government, necessarily involved a corresponding trenching on the powers of the States (§ 106). It was natural, then, that the Jefferson school should look on every feature of the Hamilton programme as "anti-republican," meaning, probably, at first no more than opposed to the State system, as hitherto known, though, with the growth of political bitterness, the term soon came to imply something of monarchical and, more particularly, of English tendencies. The disposition of the Jefferson school to claim for themselves a certain peculiar title to the position of "republicans" soon developed into the appearance of the first Republican party, about 1793.

150. Many of the Federalists were shrewd and active business men, who naturally took prompt advantage of the opportunities which the new system offered. The Republicans therefore believed and asserted that the whole Hamilton programme was dictated by selfish or class interest; and they added this to the accusation of monarchical tendencies. These charges, with the fundamental differences of mental constitution, exasperated by the passion which differences as to the French revolution seemed to carry with them everywhere, made the political history of this decade a very unpleasant record. The provision for establishing the national capital on the Potomac (1790) was declared to have been carried by a corrupt bargain; and accusations of corruption were renewed at every opportunity. In 1793 a French agent, Genet, appeared to claim he assistance of the United States for the French republic. Washington decided to issue a proclamation of neutrality, the first act of the kind in American history. It was the first indication, also, of the policy which has made the course of every president, with the exception of Pol (§ 223), a determined leaning to peace, even when the other branches of the Government have been intent on war. The proclamation of 1793 brought about the first distinctly party feeling; and it was intensified by Washington charge that popular opposition in western Pennsylvania (1794) to the new excise law had been fomented by the extreme French party. Their name, Democrat, was applied by the Federalists to the whole Republican party as a term of contempt, but it was not accepted by tee party for some twenty years; then the compound title "Democratic-Republican" became, as it still is, the official title of the party. There was no party opposition, however, to the re-election of Washington in 1792, or to the admission of Vermont (1791), Kentucky (1792), and Tennessee (1796) as new States.

151. The British Government had accredited no minister to the United States, and it refused to make any commercial treaty or to give up the forts in the western territory of the United States, through which it agents still exercised a commanding influence over the Indians. In the course of its war with France, the neutral American vessels, without the protection of a national navy, fared badly. A treaty negotiated by Chief-Justice Jay (1794) settled these difficulties for the following ten years. But, as it engaged the United States against any intervention in the war on behalf of France, and as it granted some unfamiliar privileges to Great Britain, particularly that of extradition, the Republicans made it very unpopular, and the first personal attacks on Washington’s popularity grew out of it. In spite of occasional Republican successes, the Federalists retained a general control of national affairs; they elected John Adams president in 1796, though Jefferson was chosen vice-president with him; and the national policy of the Federalists kept the country out of entangling alliances with any of the European belligerents. To the republicans, and to the French republic, this last point of policy was only a practical intervention against France and against the rights of man.

152. At the end of Washington’s administration the French Directory, following up its successes in Germany an d Italy and its exactions from conquered powers, broke off relations with the United States, demanding the abrogation of Jay’s treaty and a more pronounced sympathy with France. Adams sent three envoys to endeavor to re-establish the former relations; they were met by official or unofficial demands for "money, a great deal of money, as a prerequisite to peace. They returned; their letters home were published; and the Federalists at last had the opportunity of riding the whirlwind of an intense popular desire for war with France. Intercourse with France was suspended by Congress (1798); the treaties with France were declared at an end; American frigates were authorized to capture French vessels guilty of depredations on American commerce, and the president was authorities to issue letters of marque and reprisal; and an American army was formed, Washington being called from his retirement at Mount Vernon to command it. The war never went beyond a few sea-fights, in which the little American navy did itself credit, and Napoleon, seizing power the next year, renewed the peace which should never have been broken. But the quasi-war had internal consequences to the young republic which surpassed in interest all its foreign difficulties; it brought on the crisis which settled the developing of the United States towards democracy.

153. The reaction in Great Britain against the indefinite "rights of man" had led parliament to pass n alien law, a sedition law suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and an Act giving wide and scarcely defined powers to magistrates for the dispersion of meetings to petition for redress of grievances. The Federalists were in control of a Congress of limited powers; but they were strongly tempted by sympathies and antipathies of every sort to form their programme on the model furnished from England. The measures which they actually passed were based only on that construction of the constitution which is at the bottom of all American politics; they only tended to force the constitution into an anti-democratic direction. But it was the fixed belief of their opponents that they meant to go farther,-to forget the limitations imposed by the ten-years-old constitution, and to secure their own control by some wholesale measure of political persecution.

154. Three alien laws were passed. The first raised the number of years necessary for naturalization from five to fourteen. They third permitted the arrest of subjects of any foreign power with which the United States should be at war. The second, which is usually known as the Alien Law, was limited to a term of two years; it permitted the president to arrest or order out of the country any alien whom he should consider dangerous to the country. As many of the Republican editors and local leaders were aliens, this law really put the whole Republican organization in the power of the president elected by their opponents. The Sedition Law made it a crime, punishable by fine and imprisonment, to publish or print any false, scandalous, and malicious writings against the Government of the United States, either house of Congress, or the president, with intent to defame them, or to bring them into contempt or disrepute, or to excite against them the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition or opposition to any lawful Act of Congress or of the president, or to aid the designs of any foreign power against the United States. In its first form the bill was even more loose and sweeping than this and alarmed the opposition thoroughly.

155. Almost all the ability of the country was in the Federalist ranks; the Republicans had but two first-rate men-Jefferson and Madison. In the sudden issue thus forced between individual rights and national power, Jefferson and Madison could find but one bulwark for the individual- the power of the States; and their use of it gave their party a permanent list to State sovereignty from which it did not recover for years. They objected to the Alien Law on the grounds that aliens were under the jurisdiction of the State, not of the Federal Government; that the jurisdiction over them had not been transferred to the Federal Government by the constitution, and that the assumption of it by Congress was a violation of the constitution’s reservation of powers to the States; and, further, because the constitution reserved to every "person," not to every citizen, the right to a jury trial (§ 127). They objected to the Sedition Law on the grounds that the constitution had specified exactly the four crimes for whose punishment Congress was to provide; that criminal libel was not one of them; and that amendment I. forbade Congress to pass any law restricting freedom of speech or of the press. The Federalists asserted a common-law power in Federal judges to punish for libel, and pointed to a provision in the Sedition Law permitting the truth to be given in evidence, as an improvement on the common law, instead of a restriction on individual liberty.

156.The republic objections might have been made in court, on the first trial. But the Republican leaders had strong doubts of the impartiality of the Federal judges, who were Federalists. They resolved to intrench the party in the State legislatures. The Virginia legislature in 1798 passed a series of resolutions prepared by Madison, and the Kentucky legislature in the same year passed a series prepared by Jefferson. Neglected or rejected by the other States, they were passed again by their legislatures in 1799, and were for a long time the documentary basis of the Democratic party (§ 320). The leading idea expressed in both was that the constitution was a "compact" between the States, and that the powers (the States) which had made the compact had reserved the power to restrain the creature of the compact, the Federal Government, whenever it undertook to assume powers not granted to it. Madison’s idea seems to have been that the restraint was to be imposed by a second convention of the States. Jefferson’s idea is more doubtful; if it meant that the restraint should be imposed by any State which should feel aggrieved, hid scheme was merely Calhoun’s idea of nullification (§ 206); but there are some indications that he agreed with Madison.

157. The first Congress of Adam’s term of office ended in 1799. its successor, elected in the heat of the war excitement, kept the Federalist policy up to its first pitch. Out of Congress the execution of the objectionable laws had taken the shape of political persecution. Men were arrested, tried, and punished for writings which the people had been accustomed to consider quite within legitimate political methods. Some of the charges were petty, and some ridiculous. The Republican leaders made every trial as public as possible, and gained votes constantly, so that the Federalists began to be shy of the very powers which they had sought. Every new election was a storm-signal for the Federal party; and the danger was increased by the appearance of schism in their own ranks.

158. Hamilton was now a private citizen of New York; but he had confidence of his party more largely than its nominal head, the president, and he maintained closed and confidential relations with the cabinet which Adams had taken uncharged from Washington. The Hamilton faction saw no way of preserving and consolidating the newly acquired powers of the Federal Government but by keeping up and increasing the war feeling against France; Adams had the instinctive leaning of an American president towards peace. Amid cries of wrath and despair from his party he accepted the first overtures of the new Napoleonic Government, sent envoys to negotiate a peace, and ordered them to depart for France when they delayed too long. Then, discovering flat treachery in his cabinet, he dismissed it and blurted out a public expression of his feeling that Hamilton and his adherents were "a British faction." Hamilton retorted with a circular letter to his party friends, denouncing the president; the Republicans intercepted it and gave it a wider circulation than it author had intended; and the Hamilton faction tried so to arrange the electoral vote that Pinckney should be chosen president in 1800 and Adams should be shelved into the vice-presidency. Even so, the Federal party barely missed success. As things turned out, the result depended on the electoral vote of New York; and Aaron Burr (p. 788), who had introduced the drill and machinery of a modern American political party there, had made the State Republican and secured a majority for the Republican candidates. There was an effort by the Federalists to disappoint the Republicans by making Burr president; but Jefferson obtained that office, Burr becoming vice-president for four years (§ 120).

159. The "revolution of 1800" decided the future development of the United States. The new dominant party entered upon its career weighted with the theory of State sovereignty; and a civil war was necessary before this dogma, put to use again in the service of slavery, could be banished from the American system. But the democratic development never was checked. From that time the interpretation of the Federal constitution has generally favored individual rights at the expense of governmental power. As the Republicans obtained control of the States they altered the State constitutions so as to cut out all the arrangement that favored property or class interests, and reduced political power to the dead level of manhood suffrage. In most of the States outside of New England this process was completed before 1815; but New England tenacity was proof against the advancing revolution until about 1820. For twenty years after its downfall of 1800 the Federal party maintained its hopeless struggle, and then it faded away into nothing, leaving as its permanent memorial the excellent organization of the Federal Government, which its successful rival hardly changed. Its two successors – the Whig and the second Republican party – have been broad-constructionist parties, like the Federal party, but they have admitted democracy as well; the Whig party adopted popular methods at least, and the Republican party grew into a theory of individual rights even higher than Jefferson’s,-the emancipation of enslaved labor.

160. The disputed election of 1800 was decided in the new capital city of Washington, to which the Government had just been removed. Its streets and parks existed only on paper. The Capitol had been begun; the White House was unfinished, and its audience room was used by Mrs Adams as a drying room for clothes; and the Congressmen could hardly find lodgings. The inconveniences were only an exaggeration of the condition of other American cities. Their sanitary conditions were so bad that yellow fever from time to time reduced them almost to depopulation. Again and again, during this decade, the fever visited Philadelphia and New York, drove out the people, and left the grass growing in the streets. The communication between the cities was still as bad as could be. The traveler was subject to every danger or annoyance that bad roads, bad carriages, bad horses, bad inns, and bad police protection could combine to inflict upon him. But the rising spirit of migration seemed to urge the people to conquer these difficulties. The first attempts were made to introduce turnpike roads and canals; and proposals were advanced for greater improvements. The war with natural obstacles had fairly begun, though it had little prospect of success until steam was brought into use as the ally of man.

161. About this time the term "the West" appears. It meant then the western part of New York State, the new territory north of the Ohio, and Kentucky and Tennessee. In settling land boundaries New York had transferred to Massachusetts, whose claims crossed her territory, the right to a large tract of land in central New York. The sale of this had carried population considerably west of the Hudson. After several American expeditions against the Ohio Indians had been defeated, another under General Anthony Wayne (1794) had compelled them to give up all the territory now in the State of Ohio. Settlement received a new impetus with increased security, and the new state of affairs added to the population of Kentucky, whose growth had been seriously checked by periodical attacks from the Indians across the Ohio. Between 1790 and 1800 the population of Ohio had risen from almost nothing to 45,000, that of Tennessee from 36,000 to 106,000, and that of Kentucky from 74,000 to 221,000, - the last-named State now exceeding five of the "old thirteen" in population. The difficulties of the western emigrant, however, were still enormous. He obtained land of his own, fertile land and plenty of it, but little else. The produce of the soil had to be consumed at home, or near it; ready money was scarce and distant products scarcer; and comforts, except the very rudest substitutes of home manufacture, were unobtainable. The new life bore most hardly upon women; and, if the record of woman’s share in the work of American colonization could be fully made up, the price paid for the final success would seem very great.

162. The number of post-offices rose during these ten years from 75 to 903, the miles or post-routes from 1900 to 21,000, and the revenue from $38,000 to $231,000. These figures seem small in comparison with the 55,000 post-offices, 375,000 miles of post-routes, and $45,000,000 of revenue of 1887, but the comparison with the figures of 1790 shows a development in which the new constitution, with its increased security, must have been a factor.

163. The power of Congress to regulate patents was already bearing fruit. Until 1789 this power was in the hands of the States, and the privileges of the inventor were restricted to the territory of the patterning State. Now he had a vast and growing territory within which all the profits of the invention were his own, and that development began by which human invention has been urged to its highest point, as a factor in the struggle against natural forces. Twenty patents were issued in 1793, and 22,000 ninety years afterwards; but one of the inventions of 1793, Whitney’s cotton gin, has affected the history of the United States more than most of its wars or treaties.

164. When the constitution was adopted it was not known that the cultivation of cotton could be made profitable in the Southern States. The "roller gin" could clean only a half dozen pounds a day by slave labor. In 1784 eight bags of cotton, landed in Liverpool from an American ship, were seized on the ground that so much cotton could not be the produce of the United States. Eli Whitney, a Connecticut school-teacher residing in Georgia, invented the saw-gin, by which the cotton was dragged through parallel wires with openings too narrow to allow the seeds to pass; and one slave could now clean a thousand pounds a day. The exports of cotton leaped from 189,000 pounds in 1791 to 21,000,000 pounds in 1801, and doubled in three years more. The influence of this one invention, combined with the wonderful series of British inventions which had paved the way for it, can hardly be estimated in its commercial aspects. Its political influence were even wider, but more unhappy. The introduction of the commercial element into the slave system of the South robbed it at once of the patriarchal features which had made it tolerable; but, at the same time, it developed in slave-holders a new disposition to uphold, and defend a system of slave labor as a "positive good." The abolition societies of the South began to dwindle as soon as the results of Whitney’s invention began to be manifest.

165. The development of a class whose profits were merely the extorted natural wages of the black laborer was certain; and its political power was as certain, though it never showed itself clearly until after 1830. And this class was to have a peculiarly distorting effect on the political history of the United States. Aristocratic in every sense but one, it was ultra-Democratic (in a purely party sense) in its devotion to State sovereignty, for the legal basis of the slave system was in the laws of the several States. In time, the aristocratic element got control of the party which had originally looked to Sate rights as a bulwark of individual rights; and the party was finally committed to the employment of its original doctrine for an entirely different purpose, - the suppression of the black laborer’s wages.

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