Preface: The Generation
Some people thought that American independence was Manifest Destiny, ‘”‘Tom Paine, for example, claimed that it was simply a matter of common sense that an island could not rule a continent.'”‘ But for the most part, triumph of the American revolution was improbable, and therefore it is a remarkable event in history. No one expected that Britain, the strongest country in the world would be defeated by the colonies, and that America”‘”s Republic, a government uncommon in those monarchial days, would survive, yet it did.
It is only now in retrospect that the American Revolution seems inevitable. To the participants it seemed to be a long-shot. They were not expecting victory, always fearing execution for treason. Rightly so, too, since the British could have easily won the war if they had fought more forcefully in its earliest stages.
Once the Americans won, it was widely predicted that if America did survive, it would become a very strong nation due to its abundance of natural resources, space, and isolation. The short-term question, though, was whether or not it would survive. One of the biggest problems in its beginnings was in organizing a national government. The national government was what the Americans had escaped from. They knew though, that without a unifying entity, the country would not be able to live up to its full predicted potential.
The founding brothers wanted America to live to its potential so the minority who wanted a unified nation organized the Constitutional Convention in 1787 with the purpose of drafting a national scale constitution. The Constitutional Convention is often criticized for its secrecy, extra-legality, and the fact that its members were of the elitehardly a good representation of the masses. Others, though, call it ‘”‘the miracle of Philadelphia'”‘ for the fact that it accomplished the seemingly impossible goal of creating a union of states.
A few compromises were made during this convention: interest of small v. large states, federal v. state jurisdiction, and sectional slavery. Nevertheless, still a ‘”‘work-in-progress'”‘ in 1789, the US had several things going for it. It was youthful, expansive, and the first President, George Washington, was unanimously chosen. The next decade would be the most important in the country”‘”s history.
There are two ways to view events in this stage of history. The ‘”‘pure-Republicanism'”‘ interpretation, or ‘”‘the Jeffersonian interpretation'”‘. The Republicanism view on history claims the revolution to be a liberation movement from everything British, and dislike the take-over of the Federalists (moneymen) in 1790 of which Hamilton was the Chief Culprit
The alternative interpretation views Washington, Adams, and Hamilton as the heirs to the revolutionary legacy and Jefferson as the chief culprit. This view is more collectivistic rather than individualistic.
The book will look at this time in history through several stories that show us the times. The stories will be of political leaders that include (in alphabetical order of course) Abigail and John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.
There will be four common themes throughout these stories:
1) The achievements of the revolution were collective, only succeeding because of the balance of personalities involved.
2) All the politicians knew one another. The politics were vis–vis and those involved could not avoid the personal interactions and the emotion
3) They took the most threatening issue off the agenda: slavery. Who knows, America may not have succeeded without it taken out.
4) The politicians knew that their actions were writing history and that they would be looked up to and read about in the future. They therefore kept to their best behaviors, and in a way were performing for those who live after them to look back on them. They were actors in a (to them) future soap-opera.
The novel will be chronological with one exception. The first story about the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton is first for its fascinating story, and the fact that it is the only exception to the rest of the revolution (‘”‘the exception that proves the rule). It is the only time when violence and death were the resorts, instead of arguments
And so the story begins, ‘”‘It is a hot summer morning in 1804′”‘
Chapter One: The Duel
Short version: On the morning of July 11, 1804 Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were rowed across the Hudson River in separate boats to a spot near Weehawken, New Jersey. Using the customs of the code duello, they exchanged pistols and shot at each other. Hamilton was hit in the side and died the next day. Burr was unhurt but his reputation suffered enough to make him wish he were.
The following will be a more comprehensive version of, ‘”‘the interview at Weehawken'”‘, as it was called.
Colonel Aaron Burr, the vice president of the United States in 1804, left home on Wednesday July 11, 1804 for an ‘”‘appointment with destiny'”‘. He and William Van Ness, his devoted supporter sailed, toward the New Jersey Palisades.
Just north of Richmond Hill, in present-day Wall Street, (General) Hamilton was boarding a small boat with two oarsmen, his physician, Dr. David Hosack, and a devotee Nathaniel Pendleton.
The two men are opposites. One born poor became rich, the other born an aristocrat. Many things about the two are contrasting. It is noted that Hamilton had always striven to being the best and proving himself worthy. The day before, he shows his attitudes towards the duel by writing in his diary that he will throw away his first fire, and maybe his second to give Burr a chance to rethink the duel.
The duel was called an interview at the time because duels were illegal. They used elusive language to make sure no one could get in trouble legally. So the duel is known by many as ‘”‘The Interview at Weehawken'”‘.
Hamilton secretly did not follow by the rules of the already illegal duel. His gun was equipped with a hair-trigger to allow for easier firing, fortunately Burr never found out.
The story skips over the most dramatic part, because of its disputability, to which it will return later.
Hamilton is hit with one of two shots fired. The wound is fatal and both Dr. Hosack and Hamilton know it. Hamilton does not die immediately so he is brought back over the river to a friend, James Bayard”‘”s house, where he soon died. Burr is escorted off the scene by Van Ness to protect him legally, though he wants to aid Hamilton.
The funeral in two days is a very big event in the city. The people and media came to a consensus that Burr murdered Hamilton in cold blood. They portray him as an awful criminal and completely destroy his political career.
The four or five seconds that were skipped are still highly debated. The Hamiltonian story is that Burr fired first, Hamilton who was hit instinctively flinched and fired into the air. Burr”‘”s story is more believable, since it was agreed upon by both sides that there was about a four second interval between shots, so the shot caused by flinching doesn”‘”t fit.
The Burr story is as followsHamilton fired first at Burr, intentionally missing, after about four/five seconds Burr reacted, firing and hitting Hamilton, who immediately fell to the ground. The book concludes that what really happened in that four/five second interval will never be known. The Hamiltonian version, though, which almost certainly was wrong, would dominate the history books at the time.
But why had Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel?
On June 18, 1804 there a verbal exchange between Hamilton and Burr, which was started by the latter party. Burr called attention to an article published in the Albany Register that reminded people of how Hamilton insulted Burr a few years earlier. It is not known what Hamilton said about Burr, though. Therefore Hamilton could have denied it, but instead he went on the offensive.
Burr responded by asking for a general apology from Hamilton on all his past slander.
Hamilton responded, because of Pendleton”‘”s suggestion, that he does not remember slandering him.
Burr now did not accept this explanation, saying that a full apology was now necessary.
Hamilton tried to exit this issue honorably, but Burr continued to ask for a full apology.
It then became inevitable that a duel would occur. Both men amended their wills, made their last dealsall just in case. Hamilton was meditative and regretful before the event.
After Hamilton died he was treated as a martyr for the Federalists, while Burr became a despised villain.
After the interview, people started to despise duels (much more than before) and those who disagreed with the duel used the Burr v. Hamilton one as another reason not to allow them. They quickly lost their prestige and status as an activity that aristocrats partook in and instead became regarded as something done by insecure men. This aftermath helped the Burr Hamilton duel become more memorable as the duel that stopped duels.
Hamilton and Burr had a history of political disputes before that time and these help put the resulting duel in context. Hamilton had at one point called Burr the Catiline of America. Catiline was a “‘”malevolent destroyer of a Republican government”‘”, called so because of a person named Catiline in Rome who had such a mischievous quality.
Burr truly was in a sense a Catiline since he supported, or rather did not repudiate, a plot to make Massachusetts and New York secede from the unionsomething that fortunately never occurred. Burr was a man who would be open to both sides, then show his loyalty to the one that would give the most spoils. Another example of this quality was when he was vice president for the Republicans under Jefferson, realized he would not be chosen to be vice president a second time, because of lack of loyalty, and decided to switch parties and run for governor of New York under their (Federalist) name. Burr did not make decisions based on character and morals, but rather based on what he would receive out of the decisions.
By the summer of 1804 both Hamilton and Burr dropped off the face of history. Burr because he had alienated Jefferson and the Republican party, and Hamilton because he was dead. Meanwhile, the Federalist party was losing steam, even in its own state.
Chapter 2: The Dinner
Jefferson”‘”s account is as follows: One daymid-June of 1790 he found Alexander Hamilton outside of Washington”‘”s office. Both were members of Washington”‘”s cabinetJefferson was secretary of state and Hamilton was secretary of treasury. Hamilton was somber and haggard, a mood unlike his personality.
The reason for this mood was because his financial plan for recovery of public credit was trapped in congressional gridlock. Congressman James Madison managed to block its approval based on the key point of assumption. Assumption is when state debts are assumed by the federal government. Hamilton thought that if his plan would not pass, he would resign. Jefferson decided to help.
He invited the main players (Madison and Hamilton) to a dinner party at his house. After opening the subject to the two, they chatted and came to a compromise. Madison decided that when it is brought up for debate again, he will not vote for it, nor withdraw his opposition, yet he would not lead the opposition either. They both decided that in order to pacify the southern states, that the permanent residence of the national capital would be on the Patomac River.
On July 9th, the House passed the Residence Bill, which moved the capital to the Potomac. On July 26th, the House passed the Assumption Bill. Jefferson later realized that this deal was unjust and a mistake, only made because of his fear of the dismembering of the union.
The book explains the symbolism and importance of these events by starting with Madison. Madison was one of the main players in creating the Constitutional Convention. He argued for a fortified national government and was very important in the debate. He therefore got the title of ‘”‘Father of the Constitution'”‘. He then wrote The Federalist Papers which enjoyed instant success. It insisted that a republican government is most effective and stable over a large landmass and diverse population. Madison also helped usher the Bill of Rights through the First Congress.
Madison did not look the part of such a great leader. He was five feet six, less than 140 pounds, diminutive, colorless, sickly, and paralyzingly shy. He was a great debater, though, because of his gentle, reserved character. Madison did not need to get credit for his many accomplishments, but instead was happy to stay under someone”‘”s shadow.
Hamilton and Madison”‘”s fiscal goals were very similar. Hamilton calculated the US”‘” total debt as $77.1 million, $25 million of which was state debt. Madison began to be terrified of the way Hamilton proposed to reach the goal of the recovery of public credit.
Hamilton suggested that the government should reimburse securities it owned to citizens/those who fought in the civil war at their full price. When speculators heard of this, they bought the securities from the fighters in the revolution at a fraction of their cost, hoping to make a good profit. Madison saw this and was outraged that the money would not go to the rightful owners and that they would be cheated.
Madison suggested to make a composition between the principle owners and the end owners, but was defeated in the House. Soon after, assumption came to the agenda. Madison argued that it would be unfair to the southern states who had already done their duty to pay all their debts back. Why should they now pay for the debts of other states? Madison also did not want the federal government to gain much more power. He thought assumption was a covert way for the federal government to gain control. People were reminded of the British taxes and began to feel afraid.
Hamilton was very different from Madison. He was very energetic, ‘”‘imposing his own personality on events in an ostentatious, out-of-my-way style'”‘. He thought that economics needed to be well overseen, and he used England, with its national bank, powerful finance ministers as a model. The others wanted the economy to run its coarse.
Hamilton thought money needed to be concentrated in the hands of the select few. Hamilton liked merchants and investors, while Madison thought that investing was worthless, while owning land was worthwhile.
Thomas Jefferson”‘”s mind was on other things even though he hosted the dinner. He did not make his views on federal power known. Thomas Jefferson”‘”s earlier political career as wartime governor of Virginia ended disastrously when British troops burned down the capital while Jefferson galloped away. He did not want to come back to politics after this, so he went to Paris for escape. In 1789 he was persuaded to take the position of Secretary of State under George Washingtona man that you can”‘”t turn down.
Jefferson was a notoriously ineffective debater, simply because arguments offended his harmonious self.
Jefferson knew that the US would not be taken seriously in the eyes of other nations if its debt were not paid off, and therefore he was very willing to hold such a meeting.
The moving of the state capital was a very important question in Congress. The Constitution provided Congress with the power to identify the seat of government. There was much debate over this issue since every state had reasons for holding the seat in their home turf.
Madison had been campaigning for the seat to be in Potomac, Virginia because it is his home state. Madison countered Susquehanna, Pennsylvania”‘”s point of that state being the geographic center by saying the demographic center is equally as important. Madison and Jefferson were among the only people to agree and it seemed imminent that the capital would not move to the Potomac (its current day location).
Jefferson”‘”s meeting was not the only secret meeting/political dinner that occurred during that time. A few others were held to create political alliances on the same issues, but the dinner at Jefferson”‘”s reached the final chapter in negotiations. At Jefferson”‘”s dinner Madison promised to gather at least three more votes for assumption, they manipulated numbers to make assumptions look better for Virginians, who had worked hard to pay off their debt, and Hamilton promised to help seal the location of the capital as Potomac.
Once the location of the capital was changed to the Potomac, people in Philadelphia were flustered. Why did that location change from being least likely to be chosen, to the one chosen? Most Congressmen agreed thoughthis change was only a political maneuver to get assumption passed. In reality, the capital would stay in Philadelphia, they thought.
Jefferson and Madison knew the question must not come in front of Congress again, so in order to solve the numerous upcoming difficulties (such as getting capital, an architect, etc), they proposed in August 1790 that the decisions should be made executive so that Washington would have authority.
In January 1791 Washington made the decision that the hundred-square-miles stretching east from Georgetown to the mouth of the Potomac would be the capital. This disappointed Pennsylvanians since it wasn”‘”t as close to their border as originally promised. Washington named the central street Pennsylvania Avenue as a good gesture to their state. The decade-long process was completely controlled by Washington.
The Compromise of 1790 is therefore famous for averting a political crisis. Securing the revolution has proven to be much more daunting than winning one. The end result of the dinner agreement shows the great divide between two sections of the government.
In the end the capital was built on the Potomac and called Washington D.C (District of Columbia). For Hamilton, the compromise meant the institutionalization of fiscal reforms and was symbolic of a resumption of Jefferson and Madison”‘”s political partnership after five years of separation.
Chapter 3: The Silence
A few months before Jefferson”‘”s dinner, two Quaker delegations presented petitions to the House asking the federal government to put an end to African slave trade. This was considered an interruptiondisrupting the debate over assumption and residency. Representative James Jackson of Georgia was outraged that such a question could be raised. William Loughton Smith of South Carolina seconded the outrage.
This outrage was unnecessary. When ratified, the Constitution of the United States promised that slave trade would not be prohibited before 1808. It would be impossible at that current time to change the slave trade laws. Jackson was not consoled by the constitutional protection.
James Madison, acting as the voice of reason that he was, pacified things by saying that they should forward the Quaker petition ‘”‘as a matter of course'”‘ and treat the matter routinely. This way it would create little fuss.
The next day, Jackson”‘”s fears proved accurate. A new petition arrived in the House from the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. This petition asked Congress to use its power to make both slavery and slave trafficking illegal. The letter made a few more good points:
1) Slavery and slave trade are incompatible with the ideals/values of the American Revolution.
2) Said the Constitution indeed did give power to the Congress to change slavery law because of the ‘”‘general welfare'”‘ clause.
Finally, the letter added to its authenticity because it was signed by Benjamin Franklin, possibly the second most respected patriot in the US. Franklin”‘”s signature forced Congress to take the letter very seriously and they devoted the entire day to its debate. Never before was there a public debate on slavery.
The South claimed that Congress was forbidden to talk about slavery in public, not to mention legislate about it. They didn”‘”t even want the petition read aloud.
Thomas Scott of Pennsylvania started the debate by conceding that the Constitution did not allow Congress to stop slave trade, but said nothing about it abolishing slavery all together. Jackson then replied by proving slavery was God”‘”s will, and then saying America was economically dependent on slavery. William Loughton Smith said nothing of God but acknowledged that America was economically dependant on it.
Smith also mentioned that the main conflict between states was between those that were dependent on slave labor, and those that were not. A main condition to the Constitution passing was that slave laws would not be touched for twenty years. Rep Abraham Baldwin agreed with Smith on this.
Delegates from the north contested that both the bible and the constitution supported slavery. John Laurance of New York said that based on the Constitution, slavery was an anomaly in the Republic that can be tolerated in the short run but should be eradicated in the long run. Scott of Pennsylvania echoed this.
Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts said that it was the role of the north to stop southern slave trade. He said that in order to compensate slave owners for their lost slaves it would cost $10 million (presumably a number out of his head). He said that the sooner slave traffic ended, the better.
John Page from Virginia actually supported the debate of slave trade. He said that if slaves heard that Congress would not even consider changing the law, they would lose hope and rebel.
Madison gave his opinion, saying that the Constitution clearly restricted congress from prohibiting slave trade, but nothing restricted it from talking about it. They could talk about the gradual abolition of slavery, something which he deemed unlikely. He did think that making regulations to the introduction of slavery in the new Western Territory was something worthy of discussion.
The House voted to refer the petition to a committee (43 to 11) and for the committee to report back its findings to the House before the end of the session.
Even at that time, people thought that slavery was destined to end, but it was decided that it should be kept for that time being in order to keep the country together. Vermont and New Hampshire were two early states to make slavery illegal in their state constitutions. The Supreme Court in Mass found it unconstitutional in 1783. Pennsylvania and Rhode Island made it illegal within their borders. Connecticut soon followed suit.
In 1782 Virginia passed a law to allow slave owners to free their slaves.
The most forceful expression of northern opposition came from Luther Martin of Maryland. Gouverneur Morris was another anti-slavery activist who called it ‘”‘ a curse'”‘ that actually retarded Southern economic growth.
In the south, it was South Carolina and Georgia who argued intensely against emancipation. Charles Cotesworth Pinckey outlined the south”‘”s main argument: ‘”‘South Carolina and Georgia cannot do without slaves.'”‘
The south wanted full access to African slave trade, no restrictions on slavery in the West, and a provision in the constitution that would prohibit slave emancipation.
Two compromises show the slavery debate best. The first regarded slavery in the west and was decided during the Confederation Congress. The Northwest Ordinance passed in July of 1787 forbade slavery in the territory north of the Ohio River. The second is the Sectional Compromise which extended slave trade for twenty years but made regulation of commerce a majority vote instead of a supermajority of two-thirds.
The most interesting debate was in Virginia, whose black density was second highest of all southern states (40%) but whose leadership”‘”s stance was anti-slavery. Jefferson for one proposed the abolition of slavery in the western states (lost by one vote) and Madison was uncomfortable with the 3/5th compromise. Virginian”‘”s were also apposed to the continuation of slave trade. Beneath this, most Virginian citizens would not give up any control over their slaves.
On March 8th, the committee was ready to submit its report. Before the committee was allowed to speak, William Loughton Smith immediately pointed out that anti-slavery advocates were evil. James Jackson made faces at the Quakers and called them lunatics. Then he launched an incoherent tirade. This delayed the presentation but on March 16th, the committee was ready to make the report.
Before this, Jackson spoke for two hours, outlining every argument that the south would use against slavery for the next seventy years. Jackson made many arguments, not going as far as saying slavery was a positive good, but insisting that it was a necessary evil. Jackson then read from the Bible, showing its support, then from African tribal culture to show that they have slavery too.
Jackson then said there was no solution of what to do with the black”‘”s once freed. Sending them to Africa, he said, would not work, citing how the English did this to Sierra Leone and how most of the freed black”‘”s died or were enslaved by local African tribes. He also said the West is not an option since the white population will quickly spread out, and the Indians would not welcome the blacks.
No one rose to answer Jackson. The next day William Loughton Smith of South Carolina rose and repeated Jackson”‘”s points in another two hours speech. This was the first time that the proslavery arguments were out in the open.
The first census of 1790 made the northern and southern divide much more visible. It showed how slavery was dying out in the north, but still flourishing in the south. The census also showed that emancipation was not very likely. The black slave population was already at around 700,000 and growing as fast as the white population (doubling every 25 years). The larger the slave population, the harder emancipation would be.
So therefore, the south”‘”s chief argument was that the abolition of slavery is an impractical goal based on the shear number of slaves. Nobody from the north stood to counter their arguments. Firstly, some of the arguments were unanswerable. Second, those that were, were not dared to be answered because of the threat of secession by South Carolina and Georgia.
Fernando Fairfax, a Virginian, did respond though. He drafted a ‘”‘Plan for Liberating the Negroes within the United States'”‘. St. George Tucker developed an even fuller version.
All plans would try to solve a moral and economic problem with a political solution, and all knew that speed and slowness were neededthe plan would be put in action quickly but slowly implemented. They assumed that slave owners would be compensated using the money received from selling Western lands. Second, it was assumed that the majority of slaves would be transported elsewhere. Some said an American colony in Africa, others said somewhere in the west, and others said the Caribbean.
The main prohibiting factor was cost. If $100-200 was paid for every slave, it would cost the country about $140 million. Since the federal budget in 1790 was $7 million, that option was not feasible. What might have been possible was to spread the emancipation and thereby the debt produced over a century. This would raise the debt from $77.1 million to about $125 million, a number that was still palatable.
Any attempt to emancipate slaves in 1790 would have to go against significant odds. But the American Revolution went against many odds as well. Nevertheless, slavery seemed an even more insuperable challenge. One person came forward to answer the challenge. The oldest, wisest member of the revolutionary generation. By that time though, Benjamin Franklin was ill.
Still, Franklin was one of the most important revolutionaries to live, had probably the best timing out of them all, and had immense power in America. Though in 1729 he had claimed that blacks were innately inferior to whites and had even owned a few slaves, he decided to become the president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1787 and make that the final project of his life.
Franklin wanted to introduce a proposal at the Constitutional Convention for gradual emancipation, but was convinced against it, and so the letter was this proposal in petition form. Even though his health was getting worse, Franklin made a final appearance in print under the pseudonym ‘”‘Historicus,'”‘ publishing a parody of James Jackson”‘”s speech.
Franklin said he noticed a similarity between Jackson”‘”s speech on behalf of slavery and an Algerian pirate”‘”s speech named Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim on behalf of Algerian”‘”s enslaving Christians. Ibrahim made the same points as Jacksonit is in the interest of their state to enslave Christians, we can”‘”t compensate the masters with our treasury, they are better off with us than in Europe where they would cut each other”‘”s throats in religious warfare, etc.
This was reprinted in several newspapers, but nowhere south of the Potomac. It was his last act, he died on April 17th. Franklin unfortunately did not succeed in the short term. Although most of the founding brothersJefferson, Washington, Adams, and Hamiltonwere opposed to slavery, they did not think it was possible to stop it at that time. Madison in principle was opposed to slavery, but because he represented those who were pro slavery, and because the issue had the power to dismember the union, he did not like/want to touch the matter.
Madison had much influence, most of it behind the scenes. This influence was revealed when the House had a vote on March 24rg on the committee report. Many northerners changed their vote. Massachusetts”‘” Fisher Ames was one who did and expressed regret at how far the issue got. A secret arrangement obviously might have taken placepossibly dealing with assumption being passed while this issue avoided and could have something to do with Jefferson”‘”s dinner party.
Madison wanted to go farther. He wanted a vote to take place to prohibit any future emancipation scheme. After the report was read which was fairly conciliatory, helping both sides, it was amended.
Congress would have no power to interfere in the emancipation of slaves or their treatment at any time. This report passed by the House put an end to the debate over slavery. When a new petition from the Quakers was received in 1792, it was disregarded.
Chapter Four: The Farewell
George Washington had always been a legend in American politics, even before the country was created. Washington was present in almost every major event of America. Washington was, in a sense, the center of American politics.
All of a sudden, on September 19, 1796, a letter from Washington was published in Philadelphia”‘”s American Daily Advertiser saying that it is time for a new President to be chosen. Every major newspaper republished this. The Courier of New Hampshire gave it the title of ‘”‘Washington”‘”s Farewell Address.'”‘ Washington”‘”s retiring set the precedent of two terms in office. (This precedent was solidified by the 22nd amendment)
Some American people felt lost because of this Farewell Letter, since no one had ever led the country other than Washington.
Insiders had seen in it coming for about six months before the announcement. Fisher Ames of Massachusetts said that Washington”‘”s resignation would signal the beginning of the party races. Madison said that the first presidential race would most likely be Jefferson against Adams.
Washington had threatened to retire since he was first elected, but why did he choose to retire at that time? Age.
Throughout his life good health seemed to be a luxury that he had in abundance, but towards his mid-sixties his age began to catch up with him, and soon it was very difficult for him to continue.
If Washington had stayed in office one more term, he would have died while President, possibly setting a monarchial precedent on being presidentpresident”‘”s after might have stayed in office until death. Nevertheless, age wasn”‘”t the only reason for retirement. The media began to get to Washington. He was criticized more his second term than in any other and was losing the political battle. Nevertheless, Washington supporters were still in the large majority and he was very respected.
The main critique of Washington was that he was a quasi king. The people had given him the power of one, claimed one New York editorial. One example of the semblance of him being king was when it was decided that the statue of King George III would be replaced by one of Washington. Some called him George IV.
By resigning voluntarily he showed that he was a Republican, not a Monarch. People have come to interpret his farewell address as advice to the country on ‘”‘how to sustain national unity and purpose, not just without him, but without a king.'”‘
Washington asked his country to be more unified and bipartisan, as well as diplomatically independent.
All of this came to during the controversial debate over Jay”‘”s Treaty. It could be the context of everything he wrote in the Farewell Address. In 1794, Washington sent Chief Justice John Jay to London in order to negotiate a treaty that would avoid war with the then superior English.
Jay returned in 1795 with a treaty that said the English were our naval and commercial superiors. It accepted English rights to retain tariffs on American exports, while giving English imports the least tariffs. It also promised that the US would pay back all pre-revolutionary debts to the British.
Britain agreed to pay back for confiscated American cargoes, and to evacuate its troops from American posts. It was a repudiation of the Franco-American alliance of 1778 which was necessary in winning the Revolution.
The treaty aligned America with England, the to-be most powerful country in Europe and postponed any war with England until America was capable of fighting one.
The treaty was incredibly unpopular and thoroughly protested. Madison and Jefferson tried to veto it in the house and prove that the house had more power to make treaties than the executive branch. At first they had a majority, but nobody could win face to face against Washington.
In hindsight the treaty was a great decision, making America neutral between England and France to avoid any war. But why was Jefferson and Madison against it so? Firstly, they did not know its positive effects at that time. Secondly, they did not want a monarchial government, so they thought Washington was overstepping his power.
At first Jefferson was not anti-Washington, for he knew that no attack against Washington could succeed. He instead attacked Hamilton for the National Bank, among other issues. When Washington used force to put down the Whiskey Rebellion, that protested a tax on whiskey, Jefferson decided that Washington went too far.
Jefferson also liked France far more than England. France was revolutionary and had a chance at becoming a Republic, while England was under George III”‘”s reign. The treaty was doing wrong.
Jefferson became anti-Washington, yet still tried to maintain his friendship with the president. This of course failed because of his public statements
Some examples of Republicans against Washington: James Monroe in France telling the French that America will not pass the Jay”‘”s Treaty, that it will help in the war, and even give $5 million. When this didn”‘”t happen he even said that they can retaliate by seizing American ships.
Edmund Randolph the second secretary of state to Washington made many anti-Washington remarks in an interview transposed by Joseph Fauchet, then captured and sent to Washington. When the Fauchet dispatch was read, Randolph resigned.
By writing his farewell address Washington wanted to say that:
1) He was retiring but would still have authority/be in charge
2) A middle course to put down critics
3) Say what the American Rev meant. CBeing united
There is also a debate over who wrote the Farewell Address. Some of the words were Madison”‘”s, most Hamilton”‘”s, all ideas Washington”‘”s. It is a metaphor to the collaboration that Washington wanted.
In May of 1792 Washington asked Madison to write the address, since he was planning to retire after one term. Madison wrote a draft and gave Washington the advice of having it printed in newspapers as a direct address to the people. Washington”‘”s cabinet gave him the advice of staying one more term so he put the address away for then.
On May 15, 1796 Washington sent Hamilton the first draft of his retirement address, with the first section completely in Madison”‘”s words. Washington wanted to prove that his decision to retire was solely his, not because he might lose if he tried to run for reelection. Including the draft from 1796 proved this.
The second section included Washington”‘”s views on neutrality of the country. It took Hamilton two months to edit. He amplified the fact that overcoming party differences was necessary. He sent it back to Washington on July 30th. After some more modification, it was sent to the printer.
One thing that did not make it into the farewell address was the idea of a national university that Washington wanted. Hamilton put the idea in as a two sentence paragraph, far less than Washington had wanted.
So, again, the farewell was largely a prophecy on what the US would/should become in the future, and advice on how to attain it, and a justification for Washington”‘”s strong executive leadership in the 1790s.
Things seemed good for the country, despite some current opposition. Treaties with hostile Indian”‘”s were being negotiated, the British were taking troops off the Western territory, trade with Great Britain was helping the US economy immenselywar debts were being paid off much faster than before. The only problem was Frances”‘” seizing of ships in the West Indies. Washington predicted a ‘”‘quasi war'”‘ with France soon.
Washington suggested that because of his departure the federal government should be enlarged (larger navy, more federal initiatives, etc)
Washington said nothing about the blacks in his Address, keeping the silence Congress had adopted. He did leave in his will a provision to free all his slaves and sell some of his property to make sure they have a place to live on.
Washington wrote his ‘”‘Address to the Cherokee Nation'”‘ telling the Indians that they should assimilate to American culture, if not, their destruction would be inevitable. It was in a friendly to Indians tone.
Reactions to the address:
Most of the public was regretful that the greatest politician in America was retiring. They embraced his message ‘”‘as a transcript of the American people'”‘. He left office in March 1796 with many cheers and a minority of howls from critics.
Washington died on December 14, 1799, feeling his pulse before he did so and asking to be buried four days after (fearing to be buried alive as he thought Jesus was).
Chapter Five: The Collaborators
America had never had an election when Washington retired in 1796 and so no routine for one had yet been established. Nobody knew what would happen to the country during an election.
By the spring of 1796 it became obvious that the choice was between Adams and Jefferson. The two were ‘”‘the odd couple of the revolution'”‘. Complete opposites. Tall and short, candid and elusive, etc. They were also friends and soul mates. Both bonded when humiliated by George III in England when he turned his back on them in public.
Throughout the American revolution there were many collaboratorsWashington and Hamilton, Hamilton and Madison, etcbut the Adams-Jefferson collaboration is the greatest (story) of them all.
John Adams was born to a farmer who sent him to Harvard. After graduating he worked as a schoolteacher and apprentice lawyer. In 1764 he married Abigail Smith, creating an incredible intimate partnership. In 1765 he led opposition against the Stamp Act and other British policy.
He and cousin Samuel Adams were key in the Continental Congress, assuring that the US would break from the British. He and Franklin negotiated the alliance with France, then he drafted the Massachusetts Constitution. He then went back to Europe. When he returned he was elected the first vice president of the United States.
Adams then suffered two setbacks. First, he was victim to, as he called it, the most insignificant office in man”‘”s creation. The vice president had two duties. He must be ready to become president if something happens to Mr. P, and he must cast the tie breaking vote in the senate, of which he is the president. Insignificant already, he soon was also restricted of speaking in the senate.
Washington also never asked Adams of advice, thinking Adams was part of the legislature since he was President of the Senate and therefore he was trying to not violate the separation of powers.
Adams was partly responsible for the entire situation, because of his comments in senate, when he was allowed to speak. It was regarding how the President should be addressed in Senate. Adams said that the President should be referred to as ‘”‘His Majesty'”‘ or ‘”‘His Highness'”‘. Nobody agreedno one wanted to be associated with monarchy. For the rest of Adams”‘” life, he lived under the suspicion that he wanted to restore a monarchy in America.
Adams”‘” Davila Essays were the beginning of a rift in his and Jefferson”‘”s friendship. Jefferson was quoted in them as saying something anti-Adams. Adams was outraged, saying that Jefferson of all people should know that he is not a monarchist.
Jefferson wanted to keep the friendship, saying that it did not depend on political views. Adams responded writing that they had never had a serious discussion on forms of government but that the friendship was still dear to his heart. It was still dear to Jefferson”‘”s heart as well, so he said that he did not know his comments were for Adams”‘” writings.
For a time the friendship endured, though just barely. It was not helped by the ever so widening gap between Federalists and Republicans.
‘”‘Jefferson”‘”s enthusiasm for the French Revolutionpushed Adams over the edge'”‘ He did not think that the revolution had any relation to the American one and that Jefferson was anti-English because of the huge debt he owed to them, and not because of politics.
By the time Jefferson stepped down from office, the friendship was diminished to nearly nothing. Adams knew that they were destined to become ‘”‘the great competition'”‘.
Madison and Jefferson were collaborating too. It was the opposite of the Jefferson-Adams collaboration. In that one Jefferson was the younger and Adams was the older, while in the Jefferson-Madison collaboration, the opposite was true. Madison was therefore Jefferson”‘”s subordinate. Their collaboration was far more smooth than the Adams one.
Jefferson C grand strategist
Madison C the agile tactician
Madison and Jefferson exchanged letters. Madison keeping them political while Jefferson tried not to. Jefferson was trying to deny to himself that he was running for public office again. When Washington retired in 1776, he was ‘”‘the last'”‘ person to know he was running against John Quincy for President.
Adams had his own collaborator now that Jefferson was gone. His wife, Abigail, had a very close relationship with him, and luckily she was very politically adept. They sent letters to each other discussing politics. It gave Adams a way to express himself outside the senate, where he was forbidden to speak.
It was with her help and collaboration that he decided that he would run for president, and like Jefferson (as well as tradition of the time) not campaign, and at all times have her at his side in the Presidency. They estimated the votes and saw that it was a big possibility that the result might be a tie. Or, if Jefferson is second, the Jefferson would be the vice presidentbut could they keep the collaboration? Abigail thought so.
Adams won the election 71 to 68, second was Jefferson who would become the vice-president. He wrote to Adams saying that he still wanted to maintain their friendship and has no ill-feelings towards Adams.
Adams decided to work with Jefferson and to create a bipartisan administration in which Jefferson would have a big influence as vice-president. Adams also said that he would send someone from the opposite partymost likely Jefferson or Madisonto negotiate a peace treaty with France.
Jefferson”‘”s first response was positive. He wrote a letter congratulating Adams on his victory, vaguely promising to renew their friendship, and looking forward to combating upcoming political problems. Unfortunately, the letter was sent to Madison first, who gave Jefferson a few reasons not to send it to Adams. In short, Jefferson was persuaded to choose politics over friendship.
Madison told Jefferson not to be drawn into the policy-making process of Adams”‘” administration. Jefferson listened. He instead became the leader of the opposite party, the Republicans, and setup location in Monticello instead of with Adams.
On Adams”‘” side, his cabinet, which he kept from Washington”‘”s presidency, threatened to resign if a bipartisan system were implemented.
On March 6, 1797 both sides found out what the other will do at a dinner at Washington”‘”s presidential mansion in Philadelphia. Adams learned that Jefferson would not join in Adams”‘” party, and Jefferson learned of the threat to resign from Adams”‘” cabinet if Jefferson joined. They left the dinner and parted ways.
Adams”‘” presidency was dominated by a big foreign policy problem, with an even bigger divide over how to solve it. Jefferson appears to be right: Whoever followed Washington was probably doomed to failure.
Adams had a choice: War with France or try for diplomacy. He chose the latter, and built up the navy if the latter didn”‘”t work. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to negotiate with the unstable French government, especially when the US was not strong. The party struggle in the US greatly increased the challenge. Adams”‘” cabinet was not even faithful to him, it was faithful to Hamilton.
So, Abigail and Adams were collaborating on one side, and Jefferson and Madison on the other.
Adams made a few controversial decisions because he tried to bridge party gap differences.
1) He sent Elbridge Gerry on the peace delegation to France. Gerry was a Republican.
2) He appointed his son, John Quincy Adams as American minister to Prussia.
–This decision could be seen as monarchial (grooming son for presidency)
Talleyrand, the French foreign minister, refused any negotiations, and asked for a bribe if the Americans wanted to negotiate. Adams did not bite and ordered the coalition to come home. This was known as the XYZ affair and Adams knew it would become popular.
Republicans tried to use the affair to their advantage, creating pro-French rallies.
Soon after the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed which made the deporting of foreign-born residents legal (most Republicans) and made it a crime to publish any false, scandalous, and malicious writings or writings against the Government of the United States. Adams signed the acts. His support was mainly due to Abigail Adams who wanted to protect her husband. The passing of the bill would haunt his political future forever.
In an impulsive decision on February 18, 1799 he sent another peace delegation to France. This one was smart, it put an end to the quasi-war with France. Set the precedent for future presidents for isolationism.
One reason for this rash decision was the fact that Hamilton had assembled an army and was about to attack southwestern French states. The treaty stopped this Napoleonic act.
Madison and Jefferson organized anti-Adams propaganda. Jefferson half-heartedly because of his memories of friendship, but Madison truly believed that Adams was a traitor, that he concocted the XYZ affair and wanted war with France. The two created rumors against Adams ie: Adams wanted to stop the move of the capital, and paid newspapers to publish false anti-Adams diatribes.
The high point of the Jefferson-Madison collaboration occurred the day before the passing of the Sedition Acts. Jefferson and Madison launched a pamphlet campaign that would be known as the Kentucky Resolutions in August and September. They claimed that the Sedition Acts were unconstitutional because they violated the citizens”‘” natural rights.
The two did not interfere when Federalists started prosecuting Republican editors and writers under the Sedition Laws. They lost many voters. They lost the support of immigrants when they prosecuted aliens.
By the election of 1800 it seemed imminent that Adams would lose, and he did, 73-65 to Jefferson and Burr. This was pretty much the end of the Federalist party on a national scale.
The election of Jefferson marked an end of an era. ‘”‘The “‘”people”‘” had replaced the “‘”public”‘” as the sovereign source of political wisdom.'”‘
Just before exiting office Adams signed the Treaty of Mortefontaine that ended hostilities with France. He could leave office knowing he steered the right coarse for the nation.
Chapter endsAdams invites Jefferson to dinner at his house. No record of dinner, but Adams did not go to inauguration, instead too a stage out of town to get back to his wife. He did not say another word to Jefferson for twelve years.
Chapter Six: The Friendship
Adams had finally exited the public stage, but he still had enemies in politics that he loathed. He loathed Hamilton the most who he thought of as a ‘”‘bastard brat of a Scotch Pedlar'”‘ that would have involved the US in a war with France and possibly in a Civil war.
He also had hate for Jefferson, but this was more hurt than hate.
Abigail did not know this. When Jefferson”‘”s younger daughter, Maria, died, she sent Jefferson a letter of consolation. Jefferson thought that this was a sign that she wanted to restart the friendship that their husbands had, but she was merely trying to console. He replied saying he still respected Adams personally and he too wanted to restart the friendship. The only time, he said, that Adams hurt him personally. This is when he appointed ‘”‘the midnight judges'”‘ just before his last days in office.
Abigail was enraged from this letter. Jefferson is the one who should need to apologize for his behind the back slander. She defended her husband and attacked Jefferson. He had undermined Adams she wrote.
Jefferson replied that both sides had lied and attacked the other. He also claimed that he had no role in the anti-Adams slander.
Abigail charged Jefferson with being on the side of a party/doing whatever it took in his own campaign to win an election. The second thing they charged him with was more personal. He had vilified a man whom he claimed was a long-standing friend.
After this an eight year silence had settled. Jefferson did not have time to reflect at that time. His first term was very successfulthe Louisiana Purchase doubling the size of the US.
His second term was not as successful, topping the list was the Embargo Act (1807) which not only devastated the economy, but failed in avoiding war with England.
Adams meanwhile was jealous since Jefferson wasn”‘”t even the main person in the Constitutional Convention. Jefferson merely wrote down the ideas in the Declaration, Adams argued for them.
Adams wanted to get his reputation back but could not do it. He turned to correspond with his old friend, Benjamin Rush, to whom he could pour his feelings out to.
Adams could not separate his thoughts and his feelings about them.
During his correspondence with Rush, Rush had a dream, a dream in which Adams and Jefferson made up after a letter from Adams. Then they continued their famous friendship. Adams said he would like that, but because he was Jefferson”‘”s superior (older, more time in office), he wanted Jefferson to send the letter. He would then acknowledge it.
This wasn”‘”t going to happen. Rush wrote Jefferson telling him that Adams was willing to reconcile and that an advance on his side would be cordial. Jefferson wouldn”‘”t do it, he had after all already tried to reconcile. This situation stayed dormant this way for two years.
When Edward Coles visited Adams in 1811, Adams said, ‘”‘I always loved Jeffersonand still love him.'”‘ Word spread to Jefferson. He wrote Rush saying that was enough for him, he wanted to reconcilebut then widened the gap again by saying Adams is a good man, except his political views are sometimes flawed.
Adams finally made the first move though. On January 1, 1812, a short note left Quincy (Adams”‘” residence) to Monticello (Jefferson) relaying family news and saying ‘”‘two pieces of Homespun'”‘ were on their way. Rush was ecstatic.
Jefferson thought the homespun referred to domestically produced clothing, but in fact it was a metaphor to a copy of John Quincy”‘”s book, Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory.
This was the beginning of a 158 letter correspondence which eventually brought back the friendship. Adams would write more than two letters sometimes for every one of Jefferson”‘”s.
Why was Adams so enthusiastic and made the first steps?
There was unfinished business between the two. Also, Adams wanted his political views to not be lost from history, and he knew that the letters would become major historical documents.
Adams wanted to be immortal in history. If he wrote what people wanted to hear, he would do that.
It was two American icons looking back at the Revolution they had fought.
There is no doubt that they were posing, but it was definite that they had regained each others trust. There is also an improbable ending. They both died within five hours of each other, on the day of the fiftieth anniversary (almost to the hour of it) of the announcement to f American independence to the world in 1776.
Adams surprisingly in the correspondence delivered the more powerful, aggressive prose, while Jefferson”‘”s were not as memorable, even though he was the superior in linguistics. Jefferson wanted the correspondence to be fluid and lyrical while Adams preferred it to be an argument, and that is what it became.
Until 1813 the letters were peaceful. In 1813 Adams exploded after reading a letter written by Jefferson to a Dr. Priestley in which Adams was referred to as a man in the past. Jefferson said the letter was meant to refer to the Federalist party as a whole. It blamed the Hamiltonians who he knew Adams hated. The following letters proceeded to explain each other”‘”s views.
In one letter, Abigail Adams inserted a small excerpt saying she is still friends with Jefferson and is happy for the correspondence. Jefferson had been forgiven.
In the rest of their letters they mentioned the before unmentionable subjects because trust was recovered. They would not die before they explained themselves to each other.
Jefferson laid out his story of the Revolution in the summer of 1813 giving Adams an opportunity to critique it as he loved to do.
The first major argument was of the role of the aristocracy (elites) and the others in governing or of the few and the many. Adams thought that the power should rest with the few, the aristocracy. Jefferson agreed that there will always be an aristocracy but he said that there is a natural aristocracy based on talents and a pseudo-aristocracy based on birth. The latter is the evil one. In America he said there is much more equality in opportunity so that those with the talents can rise to the top.
Adams responded saying that it was human nature for an aristocracy to form. ‘”‘A snowball when rolls accumulates snow'”‘ Adams then said that there is no distinction of natural and artificial aristocracy. Talent and aristocracy usually come together. The pillars of aristocracy after all ‘”‘are Beauty, Wealth, Birth, Genius, and Virtues'”‘ Adams seemed to be defying the Republican legacy itself.
Another argument that began in 1815 and stayed until the end was the French Revolution. Jefferson started on the issue by apologizing that he did not trust Adams before. He acknowledged Adams was right about France, and was happy that Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo. Jefferson was at last saying he was sorry for the main disagreement that Adams and him ever had.
The two tried to stay away the question of slavery. It only came up once 1819 during the debate over the Missouri Compromise which asked the question of whether slavery should be expanded Westward.
Adams thought the Federal government should make the laws and that slavery should be abandoned based on moral principle, Jefferson did not like slavery, but thought that the state should make the decision. They were most comfortable with silence.
After 1820 the correspondence stopped being argumentative and went back to being melancholic. They wanted to preserve the friendship, especially after Abigail died in October of 1818. They decided to look back on the good times of the past, the end was near.
Jefferson fell into a coma on the third of July, the day before the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration, his final words being ‘”‘is it the fourth'”‘. He wanted to die on that fateful day, and he did. The next morning, at the same time that Jefferson died, Adams fell into unconsciousness, woke up at five thirty, said ‘”‘Jefferson survives'”‘ and died.
Preface: The Generation