Federalists, Anti- Federalists, Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, French Revolution and Hamilton’s Three Reports

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 9th, 2012

Politics 101

Washington looked upon Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson as the Sons he Never Had

With the new Constitution ratified it was time to put the grand experiment into action.  Beginning with America’s first presidential election.  And the system we now call the Electoral College.  Each state chose their electors.  These electors then voted for the president.  Even this first act of the new federal government was a safeguard to keep its power limited.  (And independent of the Congress.)  By keeping the new republican government from becoming a democracy.  The mob-rule that was the ruin of republics.  By putting intermediaries between the people and the most powerful person in America.  The president.  To prevent anyone rising to power simply by promising to shower riches on the people from the federal treasury.

George Washington did something no one has done since.  He received 100% of the vote.  Every elector voted for him for president.  Unanimously.  John Adams came in second.  Each elector had two votes.  One to cast for president.  The other to cast for vice president.  The one with the greatest number of votes was president.  The one with the next most votes became vice president.  As this was a time before party politics.  There were no political parties yet.  But there would be.  And that would change the way we voted for president.

Both Washington and Adams were Federalists.  They both supported the Constitution.  And the federal government.  As did the other Federalists.  Including Alexander Hamilton.  Who Washington selected as secretary of the treasury.  And would be a major player in the Federalist camp.  His fellow Federalist, James Madison, who coauthored the Federalist Papers with Hamilton (and John Jay) won election to the House of Representative.  Where he introduced and fought for passage of the Bill of Rights.  Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, was in Europe during the Philadelphia Convention and the ratification process of the Constitution.  But he supported it as long as it included a bill of rights.  Washington selected Jefferson for his secretary of state.  Washington looked upon Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson as the sons he never had.  And loved them as sons.  But that would change.

Born out of Wedlock Hamilton was Never Accepted by those ‘Better’ than Him

Washington being the first president everything he did set a precedent.  And he was very conscious of that.  As well as his place in history.  For he wanted to be remembered as America’s first president of many to come.  Not the man who was at the helm when this experiment in self-government failed.  This is why he created a cabinet quickly.  Even though the Constitution included nothing about a cabinet.  After commanding the Continental Army for 8 years he knew how to give orders and delegate authority.  And after battling Congress during those same years he became a good administrator who understood how to compromise.  He hated politics.  But he understood politics.  And knew it meant compromise on the little things.  And standing resolute on the bigger things.

Hamilton was Washington’s aide-de-camp during the war.  He was smart and understood commerce.  During the war he wrote to Congress about the ruinous inflation crippling the economy.  And starving the army.  Proposing a national bank back then.  Washington trusted and respected Hamilton.  And valued his counsel.  Which is why he made him his secretary of treasury.  The country was in a mess.  In debt.  And it needed a plan to raise revenue.  To pay for government.  And to service that debt.  Even just to understand the debt.  For money was owed at every level of government.  Which was what prompted the Philadelphia Convention in the first place.  To put the nation on a sound footing to move forward.  And there wasn’t a better person available than Hamilton.  Who remains even today America’s greatest treasury secretary.

Hamilton was brilliant.  And he had grand plans for the United States.  He saw the potential in the new nation.  And he wanted to use the power of government to hurry it along.  He was also aggressive.  And combative.  Born out of wedlock he was never accepted by those ‘better’ than him.  So he spent a lifetime fighting this social stigma.  Acquiring a competitive nature.  Making him unpopular.  And obstinate.  He fought long and hard for what he wanted.  Knowing that he was right.  And others were wrong.  Even though this may have been true at times it tended to be off-putting.  So Hamilton would spend his political career making political enemies.  And it started in the Washington administration.

After Hamilton’s Three Reports James Madison parted ways with Hamilton and became an Anti-Federalist

While the Americans were setting up their first national government France was well along the way to the French Revolution.  And Thomas Jefferson was there.  Returning to the United States the same year of the Tennis Court Oath and the Storming of the Bastille (1789).  The French had a taste of liberty from helping the Americans.  And now they wanted it, too.  France was drowning in debt.  A bad growing season caused some famine.  The people were restless.  Poor.  Angry.  And sick of the monarchy.  Jefferson felt the spirit of ’76 again.  He joined the conversations in the clubs where the radicals met.  Enjoying their company.  Sharing their hate of monarchy.  Despite the French Monarchy having financed most of the American Revolution.  And provided much of the material to wage war.  Didn’t matter.  The people’s spirit inflamed him, too.  And he brought that spirit home with him.  Upon arrival Washington asked him to join his cabinet.  He accepted.  And the head butting began.

It started with Hamilton’s three reports.  The Report on Public Credit (January 1790).  The Report on a National Bank (December 1790).  And the Report on Manufactures (December 1791).  Taken together they kind of looked like a plan to turn the United States into another Great Britain.  At least to Jefferson, Madison and anti-Federalists everywhere.  What they saw was a nation with lots of debt, where the rich get a little too cozy with the politicians and the financiers reach deep into the halls of government.  That wasn’t Hamilton’s intent.  Other than wanting to accelerate the Industrial Revolution in American to the level it was in Britain.  The subject of his third report.  Which was a bit mercantilist in nature like Britain.  But the other two were about establishing good credit.  To gain the trust of the credit markets.  For a country in debt had to be able to borrow money to service that debt.  As well as pay for government.  Putting the nation on that sound footing to move forward.  Which he did.  He lowered the per capita debt.  And the nation would go on to enjoy a decade of peace and prosperity thanks to his economic policies.

After Hamilton’s three reports came the great schism.  James Madison parted ways with Hamilton.  Becoming an anti-Federalist.  Along with Thomas Jefferson.  While still a member of the Federalist administration of George Washington (though he didn’t label himself a Federalist or join in any partisan action).  Cabinet meetings became insufferable.  As Hamilton and Jefferson just hated each other.  Who could only behave in the presence of their ‘father’.  George Washington.  But the partisan attacks took to the newspapers.  Lies and slander flew with regularity.  From both directions.  Even attacking Washington.  Jefferson eventually left the administration but continued his attacks through his surrogate James Madison.  The attacks on Washington got so ugly that he never spoke to Jefferson again.   Who turned into a radical partisan.  Washington was never happier when his second term ended.  The new president was John Adams.  Federalist.  His vice president was Thomas Jefferson.  Leader of the anti-Federalists.   Who became the new Democrat-Republicans.  Which is why they had to change the election process for president.  So the president and the vice president belonged to the same political party.  So they worked together instead of leading the attack against each other and their party.

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The Constitution, George Washington, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the Bill of Rights

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 2nd, 2012

Politics 101

The People trusted no One Man with Great Power except, of course, George Washington

America had a new constitution.  It wasn’t easy.  For the American states covered a lot of geography.  And ideology.  These were a very different people.  Who had only joined together in union to resist their common enemy.  Great Britain.  But now that common enemy was no more.  What now?  These delegates who worked behind closed doors for 4 months in some of the hottest and most humid weather had done the best they could.  It was less a triumph of solidarity than the recognition that this was the best anyone was going to do considering how vast and disparate the people were.  So now it was up to the states to ratify it.  But would they?

Good question.  For there was a lot of opposition to transferring power, any power, from the states to a new central authority.  They had just cut the ties to one king.  And they didn’t do this just to submit to another king.  Of course, America would have no king.  For they would simply call their new executive president.  But it was still one man.  And many feared that this one man given some power may take more power.  So whoever the first president was had to be one of impeccable character and integrity.  A true Patriot.  One whose Revolutionary credentials were beyond questioning.  Someone who was in the struggle for independence from the beginning and never wavered in the cause.  Someone the people universally loved.  And respected.  Of course that could be but one man.  George Washington.

This is why we call George Washington the Father of our Country.  For without him there would have been no country.  For the people trusted no one man with great power.  But they trusted Washington.  And respected him.  Would even have made him king they trusted him so.  So because Washington was available to be the first president the delegates in Philadelphia signed the new Constitution.  For all their sectional differences this was one area where everyone agreed.  They were willing to risk having this new central government because they trusted it in the hands of this one man.  George Washington.

When Patrick Henry and George Mason opposed the new Constitution it was Doubtful Virginia would Vote for Ratification

Of course they weren’t just going to hand the presidency to Washington.  But the electors in the Electoral College simply weren’t going to have a better candidate to vote for.  Washington didn’t want the job.  He just wanted to enjoy retirement on his farm before he died.  And based on the longevity of Washington men he was already living on borrowed time.  But he would serve.  Again.  Because he fought too long and too hard to see the new nation collapse before it could even become a nation.  And he had no illusions about how horrible the job would be.  It was one thing giving orders in the Continental Army where people did what he told them.  But it was another dealing with Congress during the war.  Who couldn’t accomplish anything for the spirit of liberty.  As the states tended to look more after their own interests than the army fighting for their liberty.  Leaving his army barefoot, half naked and starving during the winter at Valley Forge.  And through most of the war.

So, no, being the president wasn’t going to give him the peace and serenity he could find under his vine and fig tree at home.  It would just put him closer to the partisan bickering.  But he was willing to sacrifice his own wants and desires yet again.  To serve the people.  But would the people want him?  For it wasn’t up to the delegates at the Constitutional Convention.  All they could do was make their case to the people.  Then let the people decide if they wanted this new government.  And perhaps the most critical state was Virginia.  Which not only gave us George Washington.  But George Mason.  Patrick Henry.  Thomas Jefferson.  And James Madison.

Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death!”  He was a great orator whose speeches could awe listeners.  He dripped Patriotism (even refused to attend the Philadelphia Convention as he feared it would lead to monarchy).  So did George Mason.  His Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776) no doubt inspired his fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, who studied the same philosophers as Mason did.  So when Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence you could read some Virginia Declaration of Rights in it.  So his Revolutionary credentials were solid.  So when Henry and Mason opposed the new Constitution (Mason was a delegate at the convention but refused to sign it) it cast doubt over whether Virginia would ratify the new Constitution.

George Mason and Patrick Henry joined James Madison in fighting for Ratification of the Bill of Rights

Mason supported republican government.  But he didn’t trust a large republican government.  Not without a bill of rights.  Which is why he refused to sign the Constitution at the convention.  James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, argued against any bill of rights.  For he did not think it was needed.  For the Constitution enumerated the powers of the federal government.  Citing specifically what it could do.  And whatever wasn’t specifically enumerated they couldn’t do.  Madison feared if they included a bill of rights that it could backfire on them later.  For someone would argue that the Constitution stated the government can’t do A, B and C.  But it didn’t say anything about D.  So clearly the federal government can do D because it wasn’t included in the list of things it couldn’t do.  Madison saw that if you listed some rights you must list all rights.  Which changes the Constitution from forbidding the federal government from doing anything not enumerated to something that allows the government do whatever it wants as long as it is not listed in a bill of rights.

For some, though, a bill of rights was conditional for ratification.  George Mason simply wouldn’t vote for ratification unless the Constitution included a bill of rights.  Even Thomas Jefferson wrote Madison from Europe urging him to include a bill of rights.  The tide of Virginian opinion appeared to be against him on the issue.  And Madison needed Virginia.  For if Virginia didn’t ratify the chances were slim for ratification in other states.  Which did not bode well for the country.  Because of how vast and disparate the people were.  The northern states weren’t like the southern states.  And neither was like the western territory.  If there was no union the north would probably form a confederation.  And being a maritime region they’d probably seek out closer ties to Great Britain and their Royal Navy.  With some of the bloodiest fighting in the south perpetrated by the British and their Loyalist allies this would probably align the southern states to Britain’s eternal enemy.  France.  With two of Europe’s greatest powers entrenched in the east the western territories would probably align with that other European power.  Spain.  Who controlled the mouth of the Mississippi River.  The gateway to the world for western agriculture.  Turning America into another Europe.  Wars and all.

Madison worked tirelessly for ratification.  Working with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay on a series of articles published in newspapers making the case for ratification.  Later bound together into the Federalist Papers.  And then changing his stand on a bill of rights.  Promising to include a bill of rights as the first order of business for the new federal congress.  This brought George Mason around.  He even helped Madison on the bill of rights.  Which helped tip Virginia towards ratification despite a fierce opposition led by Patrick Henry.  But after ratification he, too, helped Madison pass the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.  The Bill of Rights.  Which Madison delivered during the first Congress as promised.  And then worked tirelessly for its ratification.

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LESSONS LEARNED #33: “The Founding Fathers weren’t perfect but they were closer than most.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 30th, 2010

Anarchy Averted

Washington men didn’t live long.  And George Washington thought about that.  A lot.  He loved his Mount Vernon.  His garden.  And he longed to retire there to spend out his years in peace under his vine and fig tree.  But he gave up that dream when he accepted command of the Continental Army.  He was already at that age when a lot of Washington men died.  So when he left, no doubt he thought he may not return.

The Revolutionary War lasted 8 long years.  And Washington spent those years with the army.  In the field.  He was at Valley Forge.  He didn’t leave to go home to see Martha.  No.  His wife came to Valley Forge to see him.

Washington was a wealthy man.  He didn’t need to make these sacrifices.  A lot of wealthy men didn’t.  But he did.  And he sacrificed a lot.  Even his eyesight.  When the army officer’s wanted to mutiny over a long list of failed promises (pay, pensions, etc.), Washington pleaded with them.  To not throw away the thing they’ve fought so long and hard for.  As poorly as the Continental Army was treated, those words did not move them much.  Then Washington pulled out a letter from a congressman to read to them.  But couldn’t.  After stumbling over a couple of words, he stopped.  He then pulled out a pair of spectacles.  No one had ever seen the great George Washington in such a public display of weakness.

“Gentlemen, you must pardon me,” he said.  “I have grown gray in the service of my country, and now find myself growing blind.”

Some cried for the old man who had given so much.  When he no doubt had so few years left to live.  If their commanding general could make such sacrifices, so could they.  So there would be no Caesar.  No Cromwell.  No armies would march to the seat of power.  This republic would not collapse into anarchy as history often scripted her republics.

The Most Powerful Man in America Surrenders His Power         

But would he be king?  He could have.  Easily.  He had the power.  And the love and adoration of the people.  In fact, some were begging him to become king.  Others, though, questioned his intentions.  They looked at the army with a nervous unease.  They were, after all, a nation built primarily from English stock.  And they knew their English history.  Of Oliver Cromwell.  The New Model Army.  Just what were his intentions?

He still stayed in touch with his officers (and later would go on to be the first president of the Society of the Cincinnati).  This seemed a bit ominous to some.  This is why once the war was over, people tried to forget about and disband the army as quickly as possible.  To renege on the promises they made to these veterans.  They just wanted these soldiers to go away.  There were too many bad memories of standing armies in their midst.  Whether they wore a red coat or a rag, they just wanted them gone.

Even King George questioned his intentions.  Few give up power.  If he did, it would place him in the pantheon of greats.  But would he?  Yes.  He would.  And did.  Washington would be a Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who walked away from his plow to assume dictatorial powers to help save his nation.  When the threat was past, he returned power to the Senate and returned to his plow.  And so did Washington.

Answering the Call of Duty.  Again.

Then the nation called for their Cincinnatus once again.  There were problems with the Confederate Congress.  It was having difficulty governing the peace.  There were state rivalries.  Their finances were in a mess.  And there was no national identity.  There used to be.  British.  And the European nations treated with that singular entity.  Great Britain.  Now that the mother country was gone, there was no singular entity.  No unity.  Everyone was for themselves.  And the European powers had to make multiple treaties with the multiple states.  If they wanted to go through that headache.  And many did not.

Some called for a revision to the Articles of Confederation.  But it was difficult to get the states on board.  A weak confederacy favored the individual states.  And the individual states liked that.  But it also limited their potential as a nation.  Some feared the inter-state rivalries would balkanize the nation.  Make the New World a repeat of the Old World.  To bring the nation together would take an extraordinary effort.  Or an extraordinary man.  George Washington.  Who agreed to attend the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. 

After a long and hot summer, the Philadelphia delegates produced a constitution.  With James Madison being the primary architect.  They then sent it to the states for ratification.  At which time James Madison and Alexander Hamilton began a writing campaign to urge its ratification.  (John Jay contributed to this campaign, too, but not as much as Madison and Hamilton).  Once ratified, it came time to populate the new government.  Some competed with each other for some positions.  But for one of the positions there was unanimity.    There was but one man the people would trust with the most powerful office in the land.  Their Cincinnatus.  George Washington.  But would he do it?  Would he leave his blissful retirement beneath his vine and fig tree?

Yes.  Not because he wanted to.  More than 10 years had passed since this old man had agreed to command the Continental Army.  He had outlived many Washington men.  The way he saw it, he was living on borrowed time as it was.  And there was another consideration.  Against the greatest of odds, he did NOT lose the Revolutionary War.  He had made mistakes in his life, but his name was safe for posterity.  But if he took a risk now he could lose the good name he built.  And if there was anything soldiers (and politicians) worry about, it’s their legacy.  (That’s why they write memoirs.)

Another Long 8 Years

When it was clear that he was, in fact, the indispensable one, he sacrificed his personal want for the public need.  Again.  And again, serving a second term as president.  He was ready (and looking forward to) retirement after one term.  But the party politics were threatening to tear apart the new nation.  The rift between Jefferson and Hamilton had grown.  It was splitting the government into two camps.  The Federalists (led by Hamilton) and the anti-Federalists (led by Jefferson).  They pleaded for Washington to serve a second term as he was the only one who could hold them together.  He consented.

That second term was particularly unpleasant for Washington.  Party attacks turned into personal attacks.  Even against Washington.  And the ugliness got really ugly over the Jay Treaty.  Many wanted war with Great Britain.  But having actually fought a war with Great Britain, Washington favored peace.  Yes, the treaty favored Great Britain.  And, yes, it tied American interests to Great Britain, not her war time ally.  France.  The Jeffersonians unleashed an unfettered vitriol on the Federalists.  Including Washington.  But Washington bet on the right horse.  Great Britain proved to be the dominant European power.  And her Royal Navy came in handy protecting U.S. trade with her.  Over a decade of peace and prosperity followed. 

After 8 years, though, there was no persuading Washington for another 4-year term.  He had grown ever older in the continued service of his country.  Now he felt it more than ever that his days were few.  Rarely did he know happiness like he felt at the inauguration of the 2nd president, his vice president, John Adams.  Adams wrote that after he took the oath of office, Washington said, “Ay! I am fairly out and you fairly in!  See which of us will be happiest!”  He may not have actually said this but he no doubt felt the sentiment.  And with that, he returned to his plow.  Cincinnatus had come home.  Where he would happily live out his remaining years.  All two of them.

Where is Our Cincinnatus?

Today it’s about money and power.  Not duty.  Today, people want to be full-time politicians.  For the money and power.  And the elitist status.  People get into Congress and they just don’t want to leave.  Should we vote them out of office, they have a tantrum.  They call their constituents stupid for not knowing who the better candidate was.  And they won’t go quietly.  Some will change parties.  Or run as an independent.  Or as a write-in candidate.  Anything to stay in Washington.  To hold on to their power.  To stay among the elite.

The nation has deviated far from the path of disinterested public service of the Founding Fathers.  The anti-Federalists would be shocked to see what became of the government they helped create.  Even the Federalists.  Even Hamilton.  Not even he, the champion of a strong federal government, would approve of the federal government today.  His mercantilist polices had the goal of making the nation rich and powerful.  Not to suck the wealth out from the private sector.  Which began in earnest with Wilson.  Then picked with FDR.  Then ramped up further with LBJ/Nixon/Ford/Carter.  Had Hamilton lived in the 20th century, he would have earnestly campaigned for Ronald Reagan.  To put an end to the public sector’s pillage of the private sector.

And now we find our nation adrift again.  But who will step in and stop it today?  Who is out there?  Willing to put down their plow for disinterested public service.  And by ‘plow’ I mean any real job.  Worked by someone who is not part of the Washington establishment.  Where is our George Washington?

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