Page images

Under this rule John Adams became Washington's Vice-President, and as presiding officer in Congress did much to lay down the rules governing that body to-day.

When Washington refused a third term, Adams was elected to succeed him. He was a strong Federalist, and believed in increasing the power of Congress to the utmost. Adams was a believer in the aristocracy of birth, and he gave great offence by using the expression “the well-born” in one of his essays. He thought that all men should be free and equal before the law, but he denied absolutely that all men are born equal.

During Adams's term of office, the people became greatly excited over the prospect of war with France. Against this war the President bent the whole power of his office, then much greater than now, because less thoroughly defined. He succeeded in keeping the country out of the war, although he brought a perfect storm of abuse on his head by the attitude he assumed. By giving out to the public the letters written by Prince Talleyrand, in which that astute diplomat had apparently tried to blackmail the American commissioners, Adams brought such a tempest of ridicule and scorn to the door of the French minister that he was forced to disavow the demands, and France had to withdraw the claims so obnoxious to America. This put an end to the war cry.

It was during this time that Jefferson became the avowed leader of the Republicans, and as such took the position of the great antagonist of the President. Adams was a Federalist, because he believed that in no other way could the country be governed. But during his term of office the party sank into insignificance, and ceased to be, in its original shape, a factor in politics. Generally speaking, Adams followed the lead of Washington in his efforts to prevent war. In other respects he kept out of politics as much as possible.


THE term “Federalist " is unmeaning to our ears now, and “Republican” has greatly changed since it was first used. When the Revolutionary War closed, the thirteen colonies became the thirteen States, still symbolized by the stripes in the flag. They were at that time bound together in a confederation, as were the Swiss Cantons a century ago. The general government had no power at all over individuals. It could deal only with the States in their sovereign capacity. Congress had no power to compel anything. Its every action had to be ratified by the State Legislatures. The bundle of sticks was tied together, it is true, but the fastening was of the loosest and flimsiest description

It was at once seen by the men who came face to face with this condition of things that two courses were open to them. The power of the general government could be increased and a nation could be formed, or it could be left where it was and the confederation of independent sovereign States could continue. Those in favor of making the nation were called Federalists, those who prepared the confederation were termed Republicans. It seems a wonderful thing to us to-day that there could have been any dispute as to the safe course, yet the disputes were very bitter. The extreme of Federalists were in favor of a strong government such as was then the government of Great Britain, and some of them proposed that Washington should be elected or made king. They were willing to introduce all features of the English government which had strength in them, including hereditary nobility. On the other hand, the extreme Republicans desired no government whatever. Although they believed in individual ownership of property, they were very close to being Anarchists. They founded their beliefs on the Rights of

Man” and the doctrinaire utterances of the French writers—such as Rousseau (in his Contrat Civile), who preceded the French Revolution. Fortunately, France was allowed to work these theories out and America was saved from them.

Washington and Adams took the Federalist side, probably as much from their practical experience of the impossibility of carrying on a government without power of any kind as from their theoretical disapproval of Republican ideas. But neither Washington nor Adams were extreme in their ideas, and both scouted the suggestion of a monarchy with an indignation not unmixed with contempt. They were ein favor of giving Congress sufficient power to govern in fact, for they realized the position in which Congress then was-that of a body which could only suggest legislation to the States -to be little less than ridiculous.

At this time the question of States' rights was not even raised. It seemed to be conceded that the States had the power to draw out of the confederation into which they had gone, should they see fit. In fact, the States were then everything and the general government nothing. This should, perhaps, be modified a little. The general government afforded in Congress an opportunity for consultation between the representatives of the States on matters of interest to all. It then became the duty of the respective Legislatures to indorse the conclusions arrived at, should they see fit.

The practical working of this system showed within the first year or two its absurdity, and it ranged the strongest men on the Federal side. But in this country it has often been proved that we arrive at a desired point somewhat in the same manner as does a ship when the wind is ahead. We run to starboard for a while and then tack to port. In other words, we reach the position which is satisfactory to all, by trying first one thing and then another, always moving steadily on, even when we seem to be sailing the farthest away. In our history it has been proved time and again that neither party has all the right, but that each owns and clings to something that is good.

This was prominently brought out in the struggle between the Federalists and the Republicans. The Federalists succeeded under Washington and Adams in giving some strength to Congress and in attaching some importance to the national counsels. Adams, with his strong bias toward a powerful central government, carried the Federalists a little too far, and as a result he was succeeded by Jefferson, the leader of the Republicans. But the good had been done-Congress had acquired a power and dignity it was never to lose. It was time for the other side to have a chance-time for it to correct the tendency towards extreme Federalism which was beginning to show itself.

A central government having been established, the Federalists took a new name and became the Whigs. The Whigs were those who were in favor of a liberal construction of the powers of Congress. Events, in modifying the Federalists, also modified their opponents, and the Republicans became the party in favor of a strict construction of Congressional powers. The former held that Congress had all power not specifically given to the States, the latter believed the powers of Congress were confined to those expressly granted to it. To the former the nation had become the fountain and spring of power; to the latter the power resided wholly in the States, except so far as they had parted with it. This difference of opinion was destined to produce in time the question of States' rights. It was inherent in the American people that they should in time build up a nation, but in the transformation necessary for the confederation of independent States to the nation in which the States are enlarged municipalities, it was certain that two parties should arise. The one would be anxious to build the nation as rapidly as possible; the other would try in conservative fashion to hold the people back and delay the change. Surveying the history of the United States, main differences between the parties have had their rise in this one fact, which has dominated all others.

When John Adams gave up the reins of government to Jefferson he left a man behind who was to do more to establish the power of Congress than any other man ever did. This was John Marshall, the great Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. The chief justice defined the powers of Congress and of the Constitution in a way that made the latter the supreme law of the land, and he made it plain that no act of a State could stand when in conflict with it. It was a foregone conclusion then that State sovereignity should gradually disappear and that the nation should be builded.

The names of parties changed. The Federalists became the Whigs, and these melted into the Republicans. The original Republicans changed their name to Democrats. Although there were small parties arising from time to time, these were they which continued.


THOMAS JEFFERSON-he who wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, for which his name was placed among those proscribed by the government of George the Third--became President of the United States as the leader of the Republican party. Prior to the Revolution Jefferson had been a member of the House of Burgesses in Virginia, and in 1779 he was elected governor of his State. In 1782 he went to France as the American Minister, and in the following year, as Chairman of the Committee on Currency in Congress, he gave this country the decimal coinage. In 1784 he went to France again, and while there studied the condition of the French people under that form of government we all now believe to have been the worst the world ever saw. What Jefferson examined day after day produced a profound impression on him, and when he came back to this country in 1789 he came as the most firm believer in the rights of the people.

Jefferson trusted the people absolutely. He believed that while they might make mistakes, the country was safer in their hands than it could ever be in those of any minority who were not elected and who could not be deposed at any time. He imbibed the utmost hatred of institutions, such as Those of France under the last three representatives of monarchies, and he de. tested a privileged class. He believed the existence of one to be exceedingly dangerous, and he was opposed to any form of centralization of power.

As Washington's Secretary of State, Jefferson made his exceedingly acute mind felt in all the foreign relations of this government. When John Adams had served his term as President, Jefferson succeed him. His first effort was to republicanize the government. The alien and sedition laws passed by the Federalists were believed by Jefferson to be in direct opposition to the Constitution, and to be also a step toward the creation of a privileged government. He at once pardoned all those who had been convicted under these acts, and denounced in the strongest way any attempt to coerce opinions. He believed in the fullest personal freedom, and in politics he ranged himself on this side always. He held that differences of opinion in politics were not cause for dismissal from office, and no President has made fewer changes among the office-holders.

He divested the position as President of all the pomp which Washington and Adams had permitted to grow up around it. He abolished the weekly levees and other receptions, as savoring too much of royalty, and he traveled always as a private citizen. In fact, he believed himself to be nothing more than a private citizen temporarily serving the people. The power of the President to pardon those convicted of offenses against the people he restricted in practice by never pardoning any one unless the judge who sentenced him joined in the petition. When urged to prosecute newspapers that attacked him, Jefferson refused on the ground that freedom of opinion was sacred, and that no guardian of the people's rights was equal to a free press.

His terms in office are marked as those in which the freedom of the individual in his opinions, his speech, and his action was made a part of the unwritten law of the land. It would, perhaps, be better to say that this freedom became, as the result of Jefferson's work, one of the traditionary principles of the nation. To him must be given the credit of creating American citizenship as we know it, and of putting into practical and enduring shape the dreams of countless visionaries. No people on earth are as free, even from the domination of caste, as are the Americans, and this great privilege they owe to Thomas Jefferson.

But Jefferson showed he thoroughly understood that freedom of the individual involves the resistance to oppression from any quarter by the community. The Barbary pirates had tyrannized over European nations, as represented by the crews of their ships, for centuries, and they had endured the shame. Jefferson sent Decatur to put a stop to the outrages, so far as Americans were concerned, and the pirates of North Africa were driven out of the business. The President had a keen eye to the future, and when Napoleon offered to sell Louisiana-under which name were included the valleys of the Mississippi and the Missouri, and the country as far west as the Rocky Mountains-he promptly availed himself of the opportunity, more than doubling the territory of the United States, and giving us that which we were soon to need.

Thomas Jefferson added to the structure which was slowly being built within the limits of this country, the corner stone of citizenship with all that the word means now. On it, as he defined it, rests nearly everything we have. Had he done nothing else his name would live so long as the flag shall be known on earth.


JAMES Madison, fourth President of the United States, began his political career as a member of the Constitutional Convention of Virginia, where he ranged himself on the side of individual rights as expressed in that instrument. In 1780 he went to Congress, and he was struck at once by the absurd position in which the Confederation theory had placed the government. As Congress owned nothing, and had no power to tax individuals, it could only raise money by making requisitions on the States. These the States might honor or let alone, as they saw fit, and it more than once happened that Legislatures adopted the latter course. Apart from the absurdity of the general government making requisitions which might not be honored, it was apparent that the government could not go on without money. Madison therefore identified himself with the Federalists in advocating the impost law, which was the first tax levied by Congress.

It was at this time that he devised the celebrated three-fifths rule, counting five slaves as equal to three individuals. As the impost was levied on the population, the representatives of the slaveholding States desired to have slaves counted as chattels only. Madison's rule was, however, adopted. He opposed any support of the Church by the State, opposed the issue of paper money by the States, and was in favor of giving the control of foreign commerce to the general government in order to increase its revenues by customs.

Madison's fame as a statesman will, however, rest on his definition of the true relation between the general government and the States, which was called the “Virginia plan” in the convention which drew up the Constitution. Prior to the passage of this great instrument, the States alone were represented in Congress; the general government had no direct relations with the people. Madison devised the plan of having Representatives elected by the people themselves in the Congressional districts, while the States continued to be represented in the Senate. The value of this became apparent at once. It gave the people a voice in proportion to the population, and, giving them direct control over national legislation, reconciled them to government taxes and courts. In electing the Representatives the three-fifths rule was applied to the slaveholding States.

When Madison was elected President to succeed Jefferson, he was chosen as belonging to the Republican party. While he believed in giving the nation more power, and was so far a Federalist, he also believed that the rights of the citizen were the foundation of prosperity. During his first term he took the position that if England or France would repeal the embargo against American commerce, he would revive the non-intercourse act against the other country. France took advantage of the offer, and the President declared non-intercourse with England. This resulted in hostilities which brought on the War of 1812. Although the war was popular, Madison, who was essentially a man fitted for peaceful times, did not increase his reputation while it lasted. As is always the case during a war, the parties became merged for the time it went on, so that it is, perhaps, not too much to say that during Madison's second term there were no politics.


JAMES MONROE, after an experience in the army, began his civil life as a member of the Assembly of Virginia in 1782. He served as a member of the fourth, fifth and sixth sessions of the Continental Congress, and opposed the ratification of the Constitution. He was, however, the third Senator elected by Virginia, and in 1794 went to France as an envoy. He was a strong anti-Federalist, and one of the bitterest opponents of Washington. For all that, the President sent him to France again. When he appeared before the French Convention he made a speech that was severely criticised by Randolph. From 1799 to 1802 he was governor of Virginia. Jefferson sent him to France, where he negotiated the purchase of Louisiana, and Madison made him Secretary of State.

When Monroe was elected President in 1816 he was the candidate of the Republicans. His whole political life had been marked by the most bitter anti-Federalist feelings. The subjects which engaged his attention princi. pally were the defenses of the Atlantic seaboard, the internal improvements of this country, the Seminole war and the acquisition of Florida, the Missouri Compromise, and resistance to foreign interference as expressed in the Monroe doctrine.

He believed in making the defenses of the Atlantic coast as complete as possible, and he urged Congress to move in the matter again and again. He was very much interested in the acquisition of Florida from Spain, and at last succeeded in concluding the treaty. The Seminole war did not call for much attention from the President. He took little part in the fierce controversy and the many contests which rose over the celebrated “Missouri Compromise.” He felt that the President should keep out of such purely political issues. He was, however, very much interested in the question of internal improvements, but he laid down, in his message vetoing the Cumberland road bill, the principle that the government should only help those internal improvements which were of manifest advantage to the nation. This belief of President Monroe was brought to the front at the time the Union and Cen. tral Pacific railroads were subsidized. The fame of James Monroe will rest for all time on the celebrated “Monroe

« PreviousContinue »