HIST 2111 18 – Early American Republic – Political Parties

HIST 2111 18 – Early American Republic – Political Parties


This is lecture 18. We talked about the forming
of the Constitution last time. I want to talk about the emergence of political
parties. I mentioned last time that the founders looked very skeptically upon political parties,
believing that they served narrow interests instead of a wider, national interest. So
we need to have some idea why the original party, the Federalist Party, why it broke
up and a two-party system was created. Probably the 2 major reasons would be the
French Connection, the French Connection? The French Revolution – I just slipped in
one of my favorite movies there. The French Revolution, which is taking place obviously
in France and a second big reason for the emergence of political parties is probably
Hamilton’s financial plans for the young republic. So, the French Revolution – and I’m going
to use Hamilton and Jefferson as many teachers do, to illustrate this division, this emerging
split among the Federalists. The French Revolution forced the founders to take sides, and while
we’re on this let me emphasize that the French Revolution is the larger European context
for the early republic. The French Revolution begins in 1789; George Washington is first
elected President in 1789. The Revolution extends through the wars of Napoleon, all
the way to 1815, the conclusion of the War of 1812 for the Americans. So the French Revolution,
the wars of the Revolution, Napoleon – This is a large, sort of Atlantic and European
context for the early American republic. Hamilton, as President Washington’s chief
advisor and Secretary of the Treasury, was very fearful that the mob rule, the violence
that was being demonstrated in France, could make its way here. He preferred a much more
orderly society, one with a strong central government, a commercial country that he envisioned
with strong currency and tariffs to raise money, and so on and so forth. So therefore,
he was quite fearful of the chaos that was taking place in France. Jefferson, on the other hand, had actually
served as an American Minister to France during the early stages of the Revolution, and Jefferson
was much more favorable to what was going on in France. Jefferson saw the French Revolution
as a natural progression from the American Revolution and therefore was quite sympathetic
to the ideas that were taking place in Paris. So the Revolution began to push the founders
into different camps based on how they felt about it. Hamilton’s financial program, another issue
that tended to divide the founders. Like I said, Hamilton envisioned a commercial giant.
In the young republic he tended to favor the moneyed interests, the industrial sector of
the country. Jefferson did not; Jefferson favored the farmer,
of course. Jefferson envisioned a republic dotted by autonomous farmers, self-sufficient,
virtuous. Hamilton saw the United States competing in
a wider world – Atlantic world – of commerce. So these 2 men had quite different outlooks
and visions for the country. Now Hamilton’s financial plan called for
an assumption of all the state debts as the country emerged from the Revolution, and then
following the Constitution and the first administration of George Washington. Hamilton looked at the
various state debts and decided it would be best to consolidate those debts and to assume
them, for him to assume them as the Secretary of the Treasury. He wanted to do this for
a couple of reasons. One, it would create one national debt instead of 13 separate state
debts, and some of the states had actually paid the debt off, including Virginia I believe.
Hamilton also wanted to demonstrate a powerful central government that could assume the debts
of the country – that could pay on these debts – and to establish
credit. Hamilton said that the United States is basically bankrupt and we have no credit.
If we can assume a debt and then demonstrate our ability to pay on that debt we can establish
credit, which will allow us to borrow money. Hamilton wanted to get the merchant class
– the moneyed people in the country that have a stake in the government – he wanted
to get them involved in the success of the government and so his financial plans pointed
toward a more powerful centralized government that was perhaps more favorable to the commercial
class, the mercantile class, than it was to the agricultural class. This, of course, frightened
many of the Southerners – including Thomas Jefferson, obviously, who favored agriculture
instead of industry. Jefferson looked at Hamilton’s plan and
thought – Well, here we have the most powerful man in the government, after Washington, as
an open proponent for industry and commerce over agriculture. And Jefferson didn’t believe
that the government had any right to favor one sector of the economy over another. So there’s a fundamental disagreement here. Later in the administration of John Adams,
you will have the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which will also further divide
the Federalists and the emerging anti-Federalists under Jefferson. Jefferson’s party is going to go by a lot
of different names. I don’t want to confuse you, so let’s just stick with Federalist
and anti-Federalist for the moment. So we have the beginning emergence of these 2 factions
within the government. The other differences between Hamilton and
Jefferson – we’ll go into them now. Jefferson and Hamilton were both born of the
Enlightenment. Jefferson’s ideas about individual autonomy, about self-sufficiency, and public
virtue are still debated today; as Hamilton’s ideas about commerce, about a stable currency,
about tariffs to shield domestic manufacturing and to raise money for the government, these
things are still debated today. These issues have not gone away. We’re entering a campaign
season now and if you’ve listened to the Republicans and the Democrats discuss the
issues, you will find that they quite often talk about the role of government and the
reducing the size of big government. What should the government be involved in? What
should it not be involved in? You see this debate goes on interminably in this country. I want to talk about – specifically – differences
among these emerging factions, the Federalists and the anti-Federalists. Think of the Federalists
as represented by Hamilton. Think of the anti-Federalists led by Thomas Jefferson. The Federalists tended to believe that the
country should be ruled by the quote/unquote “best” people, those people with a stake
in the outcome of the government or in the success of the government – the mercantile
interests, the people with money, the people with social standing and leadership. Jefferson
was much more in tune to rule by the masses, the broad masses of people. The Federalists were not excited about the
extension of democracy. They wanted to keep political power closely held. Jefferson and
the anti-Federalists, much more interested in extending democracy to all white men. Of course, Hamilton favored a very strong
central government. He believed it was necessary to have a strong central government in order
to compete successfully with the great powers in Europe. Jefferson, of course, believed
that the power should be spread more thinly. He believed that power should lie at the state
level as well as the federal level. And of course, Federalism is this notion of power
dispersed from the central government to the states. So again, Hamilton and Jefferson are
at odds on whether power should flow back to Washington or whether power should be dispersed
among the various states. Hamilton favored a very loose interpretation
of the Constitution. This would give him wiggle room to use the Constitution to his advantage,
or to the advantage of the industrial or moneyed class. Jefferson, on the other hand, favored
a strict interpretation of the Constitution, whereby if the Constitution didn’t say it
then you couldn’t do it. This would allow state interests, state power, to at least
have an equal or even a predominant voice in the affairs of the people. So there’s
a basic disagreement here on how to read the central document. Hamilton wanted to use the government to foster
business and capitalistic enterprises. Of course, Jefferson did not favor this. He didn’t
think that the government should favor one interest over another, and of course, Jefferson
was a large farmer and favored the autonomous, virtuous, independent farmer. Hamilton, of course, was pro-British and as
we discussed earlier, Jefferson was pro-French. Hamilton believed the national debt was a
blessing if it was properly funded. Like I said earlier, Hamilton’s financial program
depended in part upon assuming the debts of the states, paying on that debt, and establishing
credit. Again, creating a more powerful central government that can borrow money. For Jefferson,
the national debt was kind of like the individual who bounces checks and runs his spending beyond
his pocketbook. He didn’t quite envision the more sophisticated financial analysis
that Hamilton brought to this problem. Hamilton did not object to an expanding central
government. Of course, Jefferson did. And finally, I think it’s safe to say that
there’s a different geographic orientation between Hamilton and Jefferson, between the
Federalists and the anti-Federalists. Hamilton and the Federalists tended to be oriented
to the East coast looking Eastward across the Atlantic to Europe. Jefferson and the
anti-Federalists, on the other hand, tended to be oriented Westward, across the Alleghenies,
down into the Ohio Valley, to Mississippi River and beyond. And of course, we’ll see
later when Jefferson is President, that indeed we will extend; we will double the size of
the country with the Louisiana Purchase. So the anti-Federalists and Jefferson are
looking Westward for expansion and development of American institutions. Hamilton and the
Federalists tend to look Eastward toward Europe for their models and for the commercial life
of the country. So these are some basic differences. I think
it’s safe to say – in conclusion here – that Jefferson favored the creation of
a merchant marine and a navy to protect American commerce, and again, Jefferson saw this as
the government favoring one sector of the economy over another and would object to this.
Jefferson would object to the tariff because it was designed to protect Northern manufacturing.
He said that this penalized Southerners, who would have to pay more for imported goods,
and we will see this issue emerge again in the 1830s with the Nullification Crisis. So the emergence of political parties takes
people by surprise I think in the beginning, though by 1800 these 2 parties are quite firmly
established and we’ll look at the election of 1800 in our next lecture. Thank you.

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