George Mason and Luther Martin had sought to place a Bill of Rights
in the Constitution, but others, including James Madison, would have
none of it, arguing that rights were already well-protected in the
Constitution; since the government-to-be had only explicit powers, it
could not go out of the way to curb rights. They quite underestimated
popular feelings on the subject.
The term "rights" was a slogan, of course, in that any number of items
could be included as negative interpositions of possible acts. Rights
had been popping up since ancient times. Athenians had rights;
Socrates was put to death by due process of law (unfortunately
guarantees of academic freedom were lacking). Since English common
law was supposed to apply in America, English rights, and the
limitations thereupon, were supposedly part of American law. The writ
of habeas corpus, if you had a lawyer, was generally available. So was
trial by jury in criminal cases, the jurors consisting of one's "peers"
or equals in a whimsical way, and coming from one's
neighborhood (often actually not the defendant's, but the court's
and prosecution's neighborhood, where the offense was committed).
The right to speak through an attorney was on and off,
appearing quickly in colonial Massachusetts. The rights of assembly,
free speech, and free religious practice were often limited. The states
were generally active in coining basic rights for
their own constitutions and people.
Some two hundred proposed rights came into the lists before the
pruning process began - some new, most of them discussed publicly
hitherto, some out of context. New Jersey, in its first Revolutionary
Constitution, gave the right to vote to qualified women; it was to be
withdrawn in 1807 even though most other signals seemed then to
read "Go" toward direct democracy.
The most prestigious source of lists was the Virginia Declaration of
Rights adopted in 1776. Much of it was the work of George Mason.
Nine were regarded as the statement of principles for a republic and
seven were said to be the rights of citizens. Basic to republican
government were declared to be the equality of men, the sovereignty
of the people, the right of revolution, the rule of the majority, the
separation of powers, the subordination of the military to the civilian
authority, and the practice of referring systematically to the
fundamental principles of government, The power to suspend laws was
denounced. However, one of the "fundamentals" that was slipped in
declared that any movement to set up a government in addition to the
Virginian already functioning would be illegal.
The individual's rights included an entitlement to suffrage, for all who
possessed evidence of an interest and attachment to the State. A
person was entitled to know the cause of his arrest, could not be
compelled to testify against himself, and must have a speedy trial by an
impartial jury of the vicinity. Excessive bails and fines, cruel and
unusual punishments, and un-specific warrants of search and seizure
were banned. Freedom of the press was guaranteed. A final article
allowed that all men were entitled to the free exercise of religion
according to the dictates of conscience.
The example of Virginia, most powerful of the States, was fetching.
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 gave the Congress of the
Articles of Confederation a chance to display its sentiments,
for there it could, as it could not for the whole country,
invest the territorial residents with a set of rights.
Habeas corpus and trial by jury, freedom of religion,
reasonable bail and moderate fines were guaranteed,
whereas cruel and unusual punishments were prohibited.
Private property and contracts were guaranteed inviolable.
Finally, in a surprising development,
slavery in the Northwest Territory was prohibited.
Nathan Dane and Manassah Cutler, an Ohio Company land speculator,
were responsible for the bulk of this work, including the prohibition
against slavery. The Massachusetts Constitution and laws furnished
inspiration for the content and style of most of the articles.
In no State were the guarantees promulgated in Bills of Rights and
Constitutions fully effective. The press, for
instance, was often bullied, suppressed, and censored around the
country, especially as bitter controversy developed over slavery. States
extended guaranteed rights often reluctantly, and the Federal
government obtained finally a Bill of Rights that protected people from
Federal encroachments, not State hindrances. Therefore federal courts
could not reach into the State Constitutions or
interrupt State conduct either.
Conscientious James Madison brought the matter of a Bill of Rights to
the floor of the House of Representatives as the First Congress went
to work. (He had been defeated for the Senate and barely elected to
the House, so irritated by his influence on the Constitution were his
At first, he, Vining, Gerry and others thought that they could insert the
Rights here and there in their proper place in the Constitution, but then
they saw that they were opening up the Constitution to relentless
amendment and that the Bill was a simplistic idée fixe and would be in
the end added anyhow. So they concentrated upon reducing the rights
in number until twelve were approved by the Congress with the
requisite two-thirds majorities, then sent to the States,
where, mirabile dictu, two insignificant amendments were evicted,
and the famous ten remained to be approved by
the requisite three-fourths of the legislatures.
The United States had their (it took many years to begin saying the
singular "its") Bill of Rights! The First Amendment forbade a religious
establishment and protected the free exercise of religion, and banned
any abridgement of freedom of speech or press, or of the right to
assemble peaceably, or to petition the government. Next, a well
regulated militia was said to be necessary to the security of a free
State, meaning literally the individual States, and therefore the right of
the people to keep and bear arms must not be infringed. The Third
Amendment restricted the government's right to quarter
soldiers among the citizenry.
The Fourth protected people against unreasonable searches and
seizures, and directed that a court warrant be the basis for any such
action against persons and places. The Fifth Amendment guaranteed a
proper indictment and trial, precluded a person's being put twice in
jeopardy for the same crime, protected any person refusing to testify
against himself, guaranteed compensation for private property taken
for public use, and forbade the deprivation of life, liberty or property
without due process of law. The Sixth defined a number of aspects of
trial procedure in a criminal case that helped the defendant to a "fair
trial." The next provided for trial by jury in civil suits. The Eighth
forbade excessive bail or fines or cruel and unusual punishments.
The Ninth Amendment declared that the rights proclaimed in the
Constitution were not exclusive of all the rights of people. The Tenth
Amendment announced that powers that were not delegated to the
federal government, nor prohibited to the States by the Constitution,
were reserved to the States respectively, or to the People.
The First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth turned out to be the most important
and controversial. The others either were progressively outmoded or -
Ninth and Tenth - strangely inactive. The Eighth enjoyed a revival. It
originated at a time of horrible penalties - lopping off ears, branding,
enchainment, etc. - which it had little to do with halting; it has been
lately invoked in attacks against capital punishment for being
cruel and unusual, with some success.
Regrettably, Madison's efforts to include, among the amendments to
the Constitution, an application of the rights of conscience, freedom of
speech and press, and the right to a jury trial in criminal cases, to the
State governments, as well as to the Federal government, failed.
I must note in passing the tragic irony that while the new Republic was
honing its liberties, the great French society, in the throes of its
Revolution, was sharpening its guillotine, readying it to sever the
heads of hundreds of savants who would have been
welcome to America.
This all happened while the new government was establishing itself in
Philadelphia, following its start-up in New York City. As first
President, George Washington made the proper appearance in a fine
coach, and gave an inaugural speech redolent with praises and rosy
predictions for the United States under the Constitution. His election
came about practically unanimously. Congress rewarded him and his
successors with a very high salary of $25,000. (He was already second
richest man in America after one Elias Hasket Derby who possessed
about a million dollars in assets, 0.16 of the wealth of the country. He
was not paid during the War, except for expenses, but his expense
account was meticulously kept and self-indulgent.
By his last will, Washington's great estates were split up and
his 300+slaves guaranteed freedom upon the death of his wife.
He thought slavery inefficient and possibly wrong,
but did not agitate the subject.)
His Vice-President was John Adams. His protégé, Alexander Hamilton
was named Secretary of the Treasury, Thomas Jefferson Secretary of
State, and General Henry Knox Secretary of War. Inasmuch as the
spirit of the times seemed to call for a "non-partisan" government, and
parties in their modern sense were unknown to the world, one could
not call Washington's administration a coalition government,
but such, in fact, is what it was,
represented by a Hamilton and a Jefferson faction.
That finished off the positions within the Cabinet, which could
be called by the name because Washington was in the habit of
convening the small group to discuss issues from time to time. Later
posts introduced an Attorney General , a Postmaster General and a
Secretary of the Navy.
Washington was already referred to in 1787 as "Father of his
Country," though he would have liked to be the father of a son. (R.
Marion's recent study assigns this to a genetic defect, the Kinefelter
syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality that correlates height, facial
structure, poor impulse control, risk taking, poor judgement, and
authority problems with infertility. Others earlier had blamed the
sterility on childhood mumps or Mrs. Washington.)
The cult of Washington assumed fantastic proportions, like that of
Napoleon and Mussolini and Mao Tse-Tung. His "paternity" coincided
with the cult of youth taking over the country, for he was old but
epitomized the revolt against the old forms of authority and embodied
the sense that the whole world was new, a feeling pervading the
popular mind at this time. They agreed when he said in his inaugural
address that America would now exhibit to the world the
virtues of a great republic.
Washington suffered gladly a removed and boisterous popularity.
Nonetheless, as his first term advanced into a second term,
and the in-fighting of his administration became intense, his adherence
to Federalist as opposed to "anti-Federalist" opinion became more
pronounced, and he caught his share of verbal brick-bats from the
press, pulpit, and legislatures. He was sick and tired of the business
when he retired after two terms, but put together a fine
"Farewell Address," in which he invoked Americans to
eschew partisanship and permanent alliances with foreign powers,
and otherwise to work hard and save their money.
The country continued its rapid peopling and development during his
years as chief executive. The War crisis and Revolution had not
stopped this; in the 20-year period 1763 to 1783 its people grew by
one-third, and its agriculture, industry, and commerce, uninhibited by
hostile gunfire and legal restrictions, in fact spurred on by the same,
grew by leaps and bounds, illegally as well as legally, of course.
Immigration was heavy. The country now consisted of the following
demographic ingredients (ca.1790):
about 25% of English ancestry;
25% of "Celts" from Wales,
Scotland, France, Ireland, and significant
other minorities; 20% of African origins;
and 5% Indians. This was old stuff for Americans.
The wealth of the nation was distributed as it had been from the
beginning, no less skewed for the fact that the richer Loyalists had lost
all, because their wealth had gone capitalists who could buy up their
property or to the State governments. A few received compensation
after the War. Nor had the Revolution any general effect upon
equality of wealth in America.
One might think that the vast tracts of land being distributed almost for
nothing would tend to equalize the wealth of the country; it is true that
about half of the households in the country owned real estate; but what
usually happened is that large speculators were favored in the
organization of the selling and then resold in large sub-divisions or else
the land was subdivided into ever smaller parcels and worth little.
Recently it has been shown that the distribution of wealth in frontier
areas was no less unequal than in the older settled areas.
Moreover, every mile of distance of a township from a major city
correlated with an increase in inequality of wealth to the disfavor of
the rural area. It had been claimed, too, that the distribution of real
estate was more equal in America than in Europe, but here again, land
in America was more unkempt than the European land and
comparisons in size or in supposed value are deceiving.
When Lee Soltow applied the Gini Index, which at 0 has perfect
equality of distribution of an item, and at 1 has everything in one
person's hands, he found a Gini coefficient for wealth in real estate in
1798 among all adult free males at .80, a highly inequitable figure. He
also discovered that the effect of the distribution of Loyalist assets
might have been to diminish inequalities, but that it was more than
compensated for in the direction of greater inequality by the fact that
no more than 8000 individuals profiteered from the repayment of $32
millions in federal debt.
A remarkable estimate of the number and value of the people's housing
was made in 1798 by the Federalist administrator and statistician,
Oliver Wolcott. Sampling heavily from the total of 577,000 dwellings
of America, Soltaw found the mean value of people's houses to be
$262, the median (50% more, 50% less) to be $96, and the mode (that
is, the commonest value of a dwelling) to be $80. Some 50,000
dwellings, hovels really, were worth $9 or less. The Gini Index gave
.706, indicating that the kinds of homes that were painted for future
picture books were extravagantly priced and few. Nor are the shacks
of the 20% slave population even considered here.
The average wage was 50 cents a day. Literacy was still the gift of a
minority of the people. Few public schools had yet started up. The
prisons of the country were foul beyond comprehension, some like
slave ships, others like torture chambers. There was almost no
conception of a nation dedicated to the general
welfare as had been proclaimed.
The old, now that the young were in the ascendancy, were lucky if
they had a hut with a cot to die in - I am here speaking of free
White men and women. It was symbolic that
Thomas Jefferson was to vacate in his old age
his cherished Monticello, that he himself had
designed and constructed, as it had to be sold for his debts.
Disease was rampant though less virulent than before.
(Washington died of pneumonia after
returning from a cold rainy ride.)
It was the Federalist period, too; the votes in legislatures and in the
hustings show that an ideological division existed between rich and
poor in the sense, at the least, that the poor felt themselves
kept down by the Federalists, and the Federalists
felt that they should stay down.
John Jay, a key figure in Revolutionary and Constitutional activities,
with many high-placed relatives and friends, said "Those who own the
country ought to govern it." He was one of those nationalists, who, in
these times, were pushing Americans toward a keener sense of the
country as a whole. Like Hamilton, he believed that the mercantile and
industrial rich, and the exceedingly rich in general, were the vital elite
that would unify the nation.
John Adams, Revolutionary, diplomat, Vice-President and President,
thought that the rich would grow richer and the poor poorer, but
naturally sided with the "gentry". He said that
"the moment the idea is admitted into society that
property is not as sacred as the laws of God
and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it,
anarchy and tyranny commence."
(He was not leaving much in between the extremes.)
He believed society worked by corruption and spoke resignedly of
"the cohesive power of public plunder,"
one of the most trenchant and
continually valid comments on American history.
The policies of Alexander Hamilton as maestro of the Federalist
legislative program and Director de facto of executive management
were integrated, on-target, and workable. The members of the First
Congress, battered by storm, shipwreck and coach-wreck, had hardly
assembled a quorum before he was belaboring them with reading
material, brilliant reports on what the country needed. The
Framers, he among them, may have talked about the legislative
and executive branch and the separation of powers, but he had nothing
but powerful legislative proposals
coming out of the Executive.
Just as Madison had an obligation of conscience with the Bill of
Rights, Hamilton had a pressing obligation to the moneyed interests of
the country. Wherever they and their better-class dwellings were
located, their townships voted more heavily Federalist, at least so far
as Pennsylvania is concerned, and there is no reason to
think matters were much different elsewhere. They had
worked hard to get the Constitution adopted, and
results were expected, and forthcoming.
The aggressive nationalist Hamilton proposed that the federal
government fund the national debt inherited from the Confederation
and the War at full value. This delighted all those who held these lowly
rated bonds, most of which had passed from their original purchasers
at ridiculous prices into the hands of speculators. But no price is
ridiculous which is at the market's intersection of supply and demand,
intimated the Secretary of the Treasury, and he had a point,
but so did Madison, who said, why not divide
this shocking repayment so that the
earlier holders would collect some of the inordinate gain.
Congress agreed with Madison.
What can you do with such a collection of crooks in Congress,
commented Jefferson, and there does seem to have been
something fishy-smelling about the yea-vote for funding the debt
and the fact that half the Senators and Representatives
and their family and friends held large amounts of
the "worthless" bonds.
Proof of this was secreted in the Treasury and was let be known only
after a century, but the information had been leaked to Jefferson. Many
records were destroyed in a fire before Jefferson took office, and
another suspicious fire occurred in the midst of a scandal involving the
Secretary of War, Timothy Pickering. In charge at the Treasury was
Samuel Dexter, and when the same Dexter was transferred to
Treasury, a second fire destroyed many records. It was the early
equivalent of "shredding" damaging evidence by machine, rather like
the inefficient original Chinese recipe for roasting pig by burning down
the cottage with the pig inside.
Not content with this victory, Hamilton speeded on to the next, and
proposed that the Federal government assume the war debts of all of
the States. This was shocking, when you consider that the States were
supposed to lose, not gain, by giving over powers to the Federal
government. Here Hamilton had a problem in that the Southern States,
for all that their planters were deeply in debt, had seen to it that their
governments had paid off the bonds that they held. (Had they been
calculating that public money used to pay debts would be returned as
private loans to themselves?)
So it was the Northern States, where the theories of thrift that
became mythical originated, which still had not repaid
their debts. Naturally they were pleased with Hamilton for pushing their
obligations onto the new Federal government.
There seemed to be no way out of this.
But Hamilton had an idea. There was no problem that he and his
enemy Jefferson could not solve together if they put their minds to it.
He invited Jefferson out to dinner and there, with Madison, they
concocted a worthy scheme. The government had already decided that
it needed a place that it could call home, but a sectional quarrel
erupted over whether the home should be in the South, or in the
North, or in-between. Southern hospitality won out.
Hamilton suggested that if a certain few Southern Congressmen would
support the assumption of State debts, the Federalists would not be
adverse to letting the new Capital nestle against the warm flanks of
Virginia. He further sweetened the deal by agreeing to pay bonuses to
those virtuous States that had repaid their debts.
Proceeding briskly, Hamilton advanced a program of tariffs on
numerous goods from abroad to protect and encourage the growth of
American industry and agriculture. He wished to give bounties and
subsidies to stimulate needed activities. He wished to begin an
extensive program of internal improvements, such as roads and canals,
and to encourage inventions and discoveries. Only his proposals for
some protective tariffs were passed. Otherwise his program remained
an inspiration for federalist and federaloid thought in
All the money for such generous provisions would extrude from that
very modern way of paying debts, by borrowing more money. He
believed that "a national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a
national blessing." This was in 1781 during the War and means,
correctly, that a national debt is a unifying force. Thus Hamilton was
practically the first government financier who understood that your
credit can improve if you owe money, and sometimes the
more money owed the better. (This principle has lately been extended
to many a high-roller in the world's financial markets,
and to credit-card holders, much to their amazement -
for they had been reading Poor Richard's Almanac
instead of Hamilton's reports to Congress.)
In truth, Hamilton did learn much from the manipulative genius Robert
Morris of the Continental Congress and Confederation (who died, alas,
in a debtor's jail) and taught something in turn to his close Assistant at
the Treasury, William Duer (who died also in prison for debts). But he
was sui generis, honest in the formal manner, and anyhow was not yet
involved in any financial scandal in the strict sense of the term, when
he was foolish enough to accept a challenge to a duel from a serious
killer, Aaron Burr, who mortally wounded him.
(Possibly he thought Burr, fearing political disgrace,
would not take deadly aim.)This was to be in 1804.
Hamilton was not disposed to watch his tongue or spare his enemies.
In 1800 he was writing to John Jay that Jefferson was "an atheist in
religion and a fanatic in politics," and the anti-Federalist Jeffersonian
party was "a composition of very incongruous materials but all
tending to mischief - some of them to the overthrow of the
Government by depriving it of its due energies, others of them to a
Revolution after the manner of Bonaparte."
However, we are still admiring the virtuosity of Hamilton in the
Treasury, from the age of thirty-four on. Madison had introduced the
first revenue bills, modest duties, and a tax on incoming ships
(like an airport tax) based on tonnage. Modified by Hamilton
and others, these passed. Hamilton wanted a true excise
tax to exercise the long-sought-after power to tax for revenue.
He chose a tax on whiskey, which passed in 1791.
Now then he asked for the creation of a Bank of the United States to
issue a uniform paper currency for the country, backed up by
government bonds. Gold and silver coins were in short supply, and
could not in themselves serve all the need for cash exchanges. Private
capitalists would pay in 8 out of 10 million dollars and the government
the rest in bonds. The capitalists could use government bonds for 3/4
of the stock, but must offer gold and silver for the balance. They
would name 20 Directors, the government five. The Bank, argued
Hamilton, could serve numerous functions for the government and the
economy - hold funds securely, float loans, stimulate industry and
commerce, manage the currency, etc.
Madison in the House objected that the Constitution had made no
provision for such a bank, but the Federalists passed the bill through
Congress, and Washington, after hearing out the division of opinions
in his cabinet between strict and broad constructionists, the
Jeffersonians and the Hamiltonians, signed in favor of Hamilton,
nationalism, and loose or broad construction.
Under the microscope was Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution that
granted to Congress the right to "make all laws necessary and proper
for carrying into execution the foregoing powers." Jefferson cited the
Tenth Amendment reserving non-delegated powers to the States and
people, and warned that there would be no end to federal powers if
this first step were to be taken now. Hamilton showed that the word
"necessary" was itself of several meanings, like "useful," and opined
that, if the end is clearly set forth in the Constitution,
then a measure clearly intended to further that end as a means, and
not forbidden by the Constitution, is safely constitutional.
The Bank was opened in 1791,
its stock was gobbled up, and it served its purposes.
Paper currency could now be printed, and the famous dollar bill
appeared, carrying the countenance of the Father of his Country and
replete with the symbol of the American bald eagle, which is an
endangered species (Franklin suggested the useful and peaceful turkey
as a better national bird) and the Freemasonry symbolism of Franklin
on the other side of the great Seal of the United States: the
pyramid or supposed architectural principle underlying the universe,
the all-seeing eye that supposedly represents the Mind of an
impersonal God who designed and oversees said universe (which is
also originally the Eye of Saturn). Numerous Congressional
committees discussed its design before it was passed into law. Did they
know it was Masonic? - of course, they did.
The dollar emulated the worth of the famous Spanish "pieces of eight,"
the metal peso, and was named after the German Reichsthaler or
Imperial Thaler which had originally been the Joachimsthaler of
Bohemia's silver mining area called the Joachimsthal, and became in
English the "rix-dollar." The $ symbol was Spanish.
It was the world's first decimal monetary system. Unfortunately, the
Federalists stuck with the English system of measures instead of going
along with the French Revolutionary metric system.
The times were not religious. The sects were happy enough to have
the federal government renounce any religious establishment and were
actively encouraging the States to go do likewise; the last of them did
in the early nineteenth century. But in the Revolutionary period only
4% of American Whites and therefore only 3% of the population
belonged to a church. They were not so tolerant as they were
indifferent. Nearly half the signers of the
Declaration were freethinkers.
In 1783, President Ezra Stiles of Yale University observed, "It begins
to be a growing idea that it is mighty indifferent , forsooth, not only
whether a man be of this or the other religious sect, but whether he be
of any religion at all; and that truly deists, and men of indifferentism to
all religion, are the most suitable candidates for public office."
A successor President of Yale, Timothy Dwight, changed the tune to
chant against foreign conspiracies and atheism. Paranoid attacks
stepped up toward the end of the 1700's, against, for instance, a
harmless association of freethinkers, not Masons, but rather called
Illuminati, who were, while admittedly anti-Catholic, deemed also
atheistic and conspiratorial against public virtue and order.
Founded in Germany, the order had succumbed in Europe
before perking up in America. Here, too, it expired, but
not from the horrendous accusations directed toward it.
The excise tax on whiskey flew home to roost in 1794. The mountain
counties of central and western Pennsylvania, according to alarming
reports, were aflame with rebellion. The revolt had spread through the
back country of Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky and
Tennessee. The farmers had been growing grain and, lacking transport
facilities, were condensing and distilling it into whiskey. Large frontier
areas depended upon the cash return. But it was
more than just whiskey.
The rebels were largely of Scots-Irish and North Borderer English
origin, of the poorest and most aggressive class. They were
anti-Constitutional and anti-East. They played rough with Federal officers,
beating, torturing and killing them. They brought government to a halt
by robberies, terrorist bombings, and invasion of the courts. Their
leaders tried to get backing from Britain and Spain, hoping to set up a
separate nation of the West. (Later there would be similar
conspiracies, with the names of Blount, Wilkinson, and
Burr to call them by.)
Reaction by the national leadership was prompt and decisive.
First, of course, panic had to occur.
And exaggeration of the danger.
Then an army larger than any General Washington had
commanded in the Revolutionary War set off to
quell the rebellion, with General Henry Lee at its head
and Alexander Hamilton alongside, eager for battle. He
had visions of himself leading a conquest of the Far as well as Near
West and of binding into the U.S. the Spanish possessions. Although
in his early twenties during the Revolutionary War, his staff work and
field soldiering had indeed been brilliant.
However, the rebellion dwindled in the face of overwhelming force.
Several score prisoners were taken; some were marched in their rags
through Philadelphia before being cast into dungeons. Two nitwits
were found guilty of treason, but pardoned by the President.
A more terrible struggle with ominous overtones
for the United States was meanwhile occurring on the
Island of Saint-Domingue (our old acquaintance,
Hispaniola or Santo Domingo,
grown already by then to carry half a million Africans
and a tenth that number of Europeans).
Toussaint L'Ouverture, a self-educated slave, with
Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe,
led a slave revolt in the name of human liberty and rights, that
won Haiti's independence from France
and sent its Europeans for the most part
fleeing to Louisiana and elsewhere.
Toussaint beat off assaults by a British fleet and conquered the Spanish
Eastern region of the island, ruling it all. In 1802 Napoleon sent an
expedition to recover the Island, but this French army, decimated by
guerillas and fevers, surrendered in 1804 to the revolutionary
government. L'Ouverture was seized while negotiating, sent to France
and there died in prison.
Haiti retained its independence, however, until, in the early twentieth
century, the U.S. sent in marines to occupy the island on behalf of its
creditors in America and Europe. Franklin Roosevelt ended the
"protectorate" in 1937. Haiti , with a remarkable music, literature,
dance, and spiritualist Catholicism, stood all the while as a perceived
threat to racists in nearby America; over time, too, scores of thousands
of Haitians immigrated to the States.
A new federal customs collector wrote Hamilton at the end of 1789
that the great majority of vessels evaded customs laws. It had always
been done, and new habits were difficult to instil. Administrative
management at the end of the century was rudimentary and inept, not
only because the Republic was new but because the science itself was
new. America had not yet benefitted from the Prussian or the
Napoleonic models. Further, there was no old bureaucratic tradition,
no practically hereditary official class as one would find in France, the
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Turkey or China.
Hamilton was almost alone in perceiving the future of the arts and
science. He made strong efforts to obtain integrity, permanence,
coordination, planning and rationality in the Treasury, largest of the
Federal agencies. For instance, he insisted that the collectors of
revenue must not write their own opinions of a matter, but must follow
the course set forth by Hamilton's office. He was not loath to intervene
wherever he could perceive a fault. He was not popular.
Exemplary businesses were rare. There was then little for the
government to learn from them, and vice versa. A Northern carding
mill employed 900 persons, a giant enterprise. The Aera and Aetna
Iron Works of North Carolina had ninety workmen. An important
shipyard employed fifty men. The Massachusetts Bank had three
employees in 1789. American practice favored committees for
administrative work as well as for policy decisions; and Americans
were much more prone to argue over their work routines than their
English, French, German or Dutch counterparts.
War had been, as usual, a teacher, and had improved administrative
skills, as well as work discipline, control of functions, and planning.
Lawyers were into everything, and anybody could become a lawyer, so
that pragmatism and functionalism gave way to legal quibbles and
deductive decision-making. There were no textbooks, manuals, or
essays until Necker's Executive Power appeared in 1792, a prompt
English translation of a famous French official's ideas.
Postal service, begun under Franklin, was handicapped, as was all
travel, by bad roads. Jefferson and the anti-Federalists insisted upon
county construction and local maintenance of right-of-ways, an
impossible situation. Madison was more flexible than Jefferson in
having the federal government undertake road building. Yet little was
yet done. Between certain points, service was rapid: New York to
Philadelphia in one day by the time of the Revolution, Boston to New
York in 3.5 days in 1793, Boston to Savannah 22.5 days and $70 in
1802. From Philadelphia to Mount Vernon would take four or five
days, Philadelphia to Lexington, Kentucky, 19 to 31 days.
The Supreme Court justices had to ride the Circuit to preside over
lower courts, a bruising experience, regularly repeated.
Official documents were sent in various ways,
the most important by messengers, some by trusted friends,
often in a chain of several recipients and forwarders. Though
complaining, Jefferson nevertheless maintained a flood of
correspondence. So did many others. It was an epistolary era. Early in
1790 Jefferson wrote to William Short at the Hague that he was
informed only up to October 7 of the previous year;
he merely knew that the King of France, a captive,
had been removed to Paris; he also complained that
Short's handwriting was illegible.
Reports of congressional and court proceedings were let out to
private printers, who sometimes made politics determine content.
The Governor of Mississippi Territory, a huge area of few people, was
given a modern schoolgirl's allotment of stationary, quills, and pencils
for administrative use; included in the paltry supply was
"Tape - red - for tying papers...20."
European governments were regularly printing and binding together
copies of all pronouncements under one cover. John Adams wished
this for America for Presidential proclamations, notices of
appointments, legislation, etc., and he found the "present desultory
manner of publishing the laws" etc. "infinitely disgraceful to the
government and nation, and in all events must be altered." But he was
130 years ahead of time in projecting the
Federal Register, as it is called.
When one speaks of the Federalists it is, of course, of Hamilton and at
first Madison, Washington, too, then of John Adams, Oliver Wolcott,
Timothy Pickering, Ames, William Smith, Boudinot, Robert Goodloe
Harper, Rufus King, Ellsworth and Cabot. If they read like a roster of
the fallen, it is pathetically near the facts. As will occur now, they are
to be replaced, uprooted, their philosophy of an integrated,
progressive, nationally centered, executive-led government rejected,
their administrative structure peppered with holes and
fiscal policies damned.
The Federalists should have succeeded in foreign politics as well as in
the domestic sphere, given their experience, their prestige abroad, their
wide education, and their wealthy connections. They did not.
Indirectly and directly, their foreign policies brought them down,
almost entirely in 1796, quite so in 1800.
No myth is more unrealistic and injurious than that America has
habitually restrained from involvement in foreign affairs. Only a
continuous propaganda from important news media over the history of
the country, followed by gullible text writers, could have let this idea
become entrenched in so many American mentalities.
Naturally one will encounter often in politics wishful expressions to be
neutral, to keep out of trouble, "to speak softly but carry a big stick,"
etc. But wishing and propaganda does not make it so. The country has
been entangled in foreign affairs and engagements from
beginning to the present.
This to said to introduce several brief paragraphs on the Federalist
period. I mentioned earlier that conspiracies were brewing to separate
the West from the nation, to become independent and imperial, to ally
with Canada, with Spain, with France, with England, even with the
Indians, and/or to conquer all their lands. Not to mention plots to
descend upon and invade the Eastern States in retribution for many
wrongs. The frontier was for visionaries of all kinds.
Besides, there was a real Indian War in 1794-5, or perhaps one should
say the usual Indian War. For here there were battles and campaigns :
"Mad Anthony" Wayne and the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the defeat of
12 tribes and the Treaty of Greenville with them, extracting for a
$10,000 annuity Ohio, Indiana, and parts of two other
Midwestern states. This disgusting business was
destined to go on and on.
Abroad, a great and prolonged conflict was waged in Europe,
beginning with the French Revolution and the attempts of the several
monarchical countries to put it down. The French republican armies
were trouncing all armed forces who came their way. The British fleet
was trying to keep supplies from reaching the French and began to
capture and confiscate American ships doing business with the French.
A cry for War went up in America.
Washington was reminded that the United States was pledged to go to
the aid of France by Treaty, but ignored his advisers and the Treaty,
declaring ambiguously that the country was a neutral and Americans
should not violate the rules of neutrality. So much for the observance
of treaty obligations.
But the English remained a problem and Washington sent John Jay,
sensing no conflict of interest, although Jay was Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court, to negotiate with the English. Jay returned in due
course with one of the more unpopular treaties of American history.
He had been told by the British that they would in their own good time
abandon the frontier forts that they had promised to give up a decade
earlier, that they would let Americans trade in the West Indies under
obstructionist conditions, that they would pay for the ships that they
had seized, that they would pay nothing in compensation for the slaves
they had removed in the Revolution, and that, thank you, yes, they
would accept a payment by the United States government for the debts
of private Americans owing Britons since time immemorial.
New England disliked the trading provisions, the South disliked the
slave non-settlement, the anti-federalists wanted to pay nobody's debts
and hated England anyhow. The Treaty barely scraped through the
Senate. The House got into the Act, though lacking an express role in
foreign affairs, because it had to be the originator of all money bills,
and money was needed to implement the Treaty; ever since, it has been
clear that the Constitution failed in this aristocratic pretension.
At the same time, the House demanded from Washington that he show
them the documents dealing with the Jay Treaty and he refused,
citing what has since come to be called "executive privilege."
It is a right to preserve the separation of powers
by shielding the operations of the presidency.
The Spanish were much more amicable when it came to dealing with
the greater Florida territories, and gave up to the Americans,
represented by Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, their claim to the
large stretch of land between Georgia and the Mississippi River,
holding onto only the broad coastal Florida strip and peninsula. The
Treaty of San Lorenzo was signed and ratified in 1795.
The French were already making difficulties. Citizen Genet, he was
called, arrived full of plans to run the French Republic's wars from an
American base, and began outfitting and licensing privateers, and
engendering anti-British propaganda. President Washington had him
recalled in 1793 as too much of an embarrassment (besides which the
French Revolution had gone beyond the "clean" stage into a Reign of
Terror, turning off any French sympathies the Federalists may have
still possessed. Genet stayed in America and married well; he was due
to be guillotined if he returned.)
The French now began to plunder American shipping, taking 300 ships
by 1796; their reasons: Americans had been unfaithful allies;
Americans had given the British promises to remain neutral and carry
on commerce with English possessions.
By now, John Adams had become President. He was not bellicose. He
sent over a committee to treat with the French authorities and they
dealt with the three agents, referred to as XYZ, of the notorious
Talleyrand, who suggested that a payment to the Directorate of a
quarter of a million dollars to grease the skids might be in order and
that a loan of $12 millions would also help their cause.
When word of this reached America, enraged slogans such as
"Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute!" rent the air, this
despite the fact that several years before the Father of his Country had
paid $100,000 to a Cree Indian Chief and made him a U.S. Army
General to pave the way for a giveaway treaty, and had done the same
for the Bey of Algeria who had been holding
some American sailors prisoner.
In 1800, to cap the poor Federalist foreign affairs record, a
Convention was signed with Napoleon that stopped the French raids
on American ships but got nothing back for the damages suffered
earlier. By staying unwarlike, however, Adams did the country a
service and made himself more unpopular than ever.
He still had a way to go, however, and to enhance his
unpopularity took upon himself the support of the
Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798
Only Federalist and other paranoids could explain them -
perhaps driven mad by the sight of so many French agitators
running around the country. A comparison of the vote of
Congressmen from Districts with higher dwelling values and
greater equality in respect to living conditions with
those from Districts of lower values and greater inequality shows
the former voting more heavily for the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Evidently the respectable Americans favored "McCarthyism".
The Alien Act allowed the President to expel "dangerous" aliens or
have them tried and imprisoned. The waiting period for citizenship was
lengthened from five to fourteen years. The Sedition Act made it a
high misdemeanor to combine or conspire against any activities of the
government; further, it forbade writing, speaking or publishing
anything of a "false, scandalous and malicious" nature against the
government or its officers.
The Federalists were making a crime of what everybody in the country
had been doing as part of their American heritage. Fifteen indictments
were brought, convictions were obtained, fines and imprisonment of
editors occurred. There were no terrifying round-ups. Still, in view of
the Constitution's First Amendment, not to mention several of its
articles, the conduct of the Federalists was deranged and politically
suicidal. It put them squarely up against the Bill of Rights.
The courts were not then in the business of correcting the
constitutional judgement of the executive and legislative branches of
government, so that legal defense against the Acts would not work.
However, in a foreshadowing of evil events down the years,
Jefferson and Madison wrote resolutions to be presented by the
Virginia and Kentucky legislatures, which passed in December of
1798. They professed to regard the Constitution
as a compact among the States, such that,
when Congress exceeds its powers under the compact,
the State may interpose itself and nullify the action.
The Madison-drafted Virginia Resolutions declared that the States
"have the right and are in duty bound to interpose for arresting the
progress of the evil, '' when Congress exceeded its powers. The
Kentucky Resolutions, answering opposition from Northern States,
declared that the State had the right to adjudge violations of the
Constitution: ".. a nullification by those sovereignties, of all
unauthorized acts done under color of that instrument, is the
rightful remedy." Thus were coined two legalistic doctrines that were
to have a rebirth in the debates prior to the Civil War.
Both States called upon the other States to help, but got scant support.
Here the anti-Federalists were threatening to destroy the Republic.
Jefferson advised against violence. The Act was
repealed upon a change of administration.
Meanwhile, a certain amount of armed insurrection did take place with
the armed band of John Fries that promoted tax strikes against a
Federalist excise tax, the same that produced the great statistical count
of the some 700,000 dwellings in the United States. Fries and two
others were sentenced to hang for treason, but along with others
involved, were pardoned by the President. The history of treason trials
in America, like some other types to be mentioned,
partakes of the absurd.
Thomas Jefferson had been Vice-President in the administration of
John Adams, though of anti-Federalist persuasion. This had happened
because Hamilton outsmarted himself in the elections of 1796. He
disliked Adams, and thought to get Adams' Vice Presidential candidate
elected President simply by persuading several Carolinian electors to
vote for Pinckney and Jefferson. They did, but others up North voted
against Pinckney when they heard of the deal, and the result was that
Adams received most ballots of the electors, but Jefferson received the
second highest number and therefore became Vice-President,
leaving Pinckney out in the cold.
In 1800, though, it was the real thing. Jefferson and Burr were chosen
- how so will be explained in the nonce - and Adams and the
Federalists were out. It would be a long time before they could light all
the fireplaces in the White House again. They left the federal
government a thriving enterprise, bank and all, with sixty different
functions created under legislation of the Congress.
They also left the government with scores of new judicial offices
created at the last minute by the "Lame-Duck Congress"
that held its session following the November elections with
many defeated members. Changeover of offices would occur in March.
Naturally Adams promptly filled the offices with loyal Federalists,
including one most important choice, John Marshall, to be
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.