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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·The Men and Measures of the New Government · Foreign Influences and Domestic Politics·»

The Rise of Political Parties

Dissensions over Hamilton’s Measures.—Hamilton’s plans, touching deeply as they did the resources of individuals and the interests of the states, awakened alarm and opposition. Funding at face value, said his critics, was a government favor to speculators; the assumption of state debts was a deep design to undermine the state governments; Congress had no constitutional power to create a bank; the law creating the bank merely allowed a private corporation to make paper money and lend it at a high rate of interest; and the tariff was a tax on land and labor for the benefit of manufacturers.

Hamilton’s reply to this bill of indictment was simple and straightforward. Some rascally speculators had profited from the funding of the debt at face value, but that was only an incident in the restoration of public credit. In view of the jealousies of the states it was a good thing to reduce their powers and pretensions. The Constitution was not to be interpreted narrowly but in the full light of national needs. The bank would enlarge the amount of capital so sorely needed to start up American industries, giving markets to farmers and planters. The tariff by creating a home market and increasing opportunities for employment would benefit both land and labor. Out of such wise policies firmly pursued by the government, he concluded, were bound to come strength and prosperity for the new government at home, credit and power abroad. This view Washington fully indorsed, adding the weight of his great name to the inherent merits of the measures adopted under his administration.

The Sharpness of the Partisan Conflict.—As a result of the clash of opinion, the people of the country gradually divided into two parties: Federalists and Anti-Federalists, the former led by Hamilton, the latter by Jefferson. The strength of the Federalists lay in the cities—Boston, Providence, Hartford, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston—among the manufacturing, financial, and commercial groups of the population who were eager to extend their business operations. The strength of the Anti-Federalists lay mainly among the debt-burdened farmers who feared the growth of what they called “a money power” and planters in all sections who feared the dominance of commercial and manufacturing interests. The farming and planting South, outside of the few towns, finally presented an almost solid front against assumption, the bank, and the tariff. The conflict between the parties grew steadily in bitterness, despite the conciliatory and engaging manner in which Hamilton presented his cause in his state papers and despite the constant efforts of Washington to soften the asperity of the contestants.

The Leadership and Doctrines of Jefferson.—The party dispute had not gone far before the opponents of the administration began to look to Jefferson as their leader. Some of Hamilton’s measures he had approved, declaring afterward that he did not at the time understand their significance. Others, particularly the bank, he fiercely assailed. More than once, he and Hamilton, shaking violently with anger, attacked each other at cabinet meetings, and nothing short of the grave and dignified pleas of Washington prevented an early and open break between them. In 1794 it finally came. Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State and retired to his home in Virginia to assume, through correspondence and negotiation, the leadership of the steadily growing party of opposition.

Shy and modest in manner, halting in speech, disliking the turmoil of public debate, and deeply interested in science and philosophy, Jefferson was not very well fitted for the strenuous life of political contest. Nevertheless, he was an ambitious and shrewd negotiator. He was also by honest opinion and matured conviction the exact opposite of Hamilton. The latter believed in a strong, active, “high-toned” government, vigorously compelling in all its branches. Jefferson looked upon such government as dangerous to the liberties of citizens and openly avowed his faith in the desirability of occasional popular uprisings. Hamilton distrusted the people. “Your people is a great beast,” he is reported to have said. Jefferson professed his faith in the people with an abandon that was considered reckless in his time.

On economic matters, the opinions of the two leaders were also hopelessly at variance. Hamilton, while cherishing agriculture, desired to see America a great commercial and industrial nation. Jefferson was equally set against this course for his country. He feared the accumulation of riches and the growth of a large urban working class. The mobs of great cities, he said, are sores on the body politic; artisans are usually the dangerous element that make revolutions; workshops should be kept in Europe and with them the artisans with their insidious morals and manners. The only substantial foundation for a republic, Jefferson believed to be agriculture. The spirit of independence could be kept alive only by free farmers, owning the land they tilled and looking to the sun in heaven and the labor of their hands for their sustenance. Trusting as he did in the innate goodness of human nature when nourished on a free soil, Jefferson advocated those measures calculated to favor agriculture and to enlarge the rights of persons rather than the powers of government. Thus he became the champion of the individual against the interference of the government, and an ardent advocate of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of scientific inquiry. It was, accordingly, no mere factious spirit that drove him into opposition to Hamilton.

The Whisky Rebellion.—The political agitation of the Anti-Federalists was accompanied by an armed revolt against the government in 1794. The occasion for this uprising was another of Hamilton’s measures, a law laying an excise tax on distilled spirits, for the purpose of increasing the revenue needed to pay the interest on the funded debt. It so happened that a very considerable part of the whisky manufactured in the country was made by the farmers, especially on the frontier, in their own stills. The new revenue law meant that federal officers would now come into the homes of the people, measure their liquor, and take the tax out of their pockets. All the bitterness which farmers felt against the fiscal measures of the government was redoubled. In the western districts of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, they refused to pay the tax. In Pennsylvania, some of them sacked and burned the houses of the tax collectors, as the Revolutionists thirty years before had mobbed the agents of King George sent over to sell stamps. They were in a fair way to nullify the law in whole districts when Washington called out the troops to suppress “the Whisky Rebellion.” Then the movement collapsed; but it left behind a deep-seated resentment which flared up in the election of several obdurate Anti-Federalist Congressmen from the disaffected regions.

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