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

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The Republicans Nationalized

The Federalists Discredited.—By a strange turn of fortune’s wheel, the party of Hamilton, Washington, Adams, the party of the grand nation, became the party of provincialism and nullification. New England, finding its shipping interests crippled in the European conflict and then penalized by embargoes, opposed the declaration of war on Great Britain, which meant the completion of the ruin already begun. In the course of the struggle, the Federalist leaders came perilously near to treason in their efforts to hamper the government of the United States; and in their desperation they fell back upon the doctrine of nullification so recently condemned by them when it came from Kentucky. The Senate of Massachusetts, while the war was in progress, resolved that it was waged “without justifiable cause,” and refused to approve military and naval projects not connected with “the defense of our seacoast and soil.” A Boston newspaper declared that the union was nothing but a treaty among sovereign states, that states could decide for themselves the question of obeying federal law, and that armed resistance under the banner of a state would not be rebellion or treason. The general assembly of Connecticut reminded the administration at Washington that “the state of Connecticut is a free, sovereign, and independent state.” Gouverneur Morris, a member of the convention which had drafted the Constitution, suggested the holding of another conference to consider whether the Northern states should remain in the union.

From an old cartoon
New England Jumping into the Hands of George III

In October, 1814, a convention of delegates from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and certain counties of New Hampshire and Vermont was held at Hartford, on the call of Massachusetts. The counsels of the extremists were rejected but the convention solemnly went on record to the effect that acts of Congress in violation of the Constitution are void; that in cases of deliberate, dangerous, and palpable infractions the state is duty bound to interpose its authority for the protection of its citizens; and that when emergencies occur the states must be their own judges and execute their own decisions. Thus New England answered the challenge of Calhoun and Clay. Fortunately its actions were not as rash as its words. The Hartford convention merely proposed certain amendments to the Constitution and adjourned. At the close of the war, its proposals vanished harmlessly; but the men who made them were hopelessly discredited.

The Second United States Bank.—In driving the Federalists towards nullification and waging a national war themselves, the Republicans lost all their old taint of provincialism. Moreover, in turning to measures of reconstruction called forth by the war, they resorted to the national devices of the Federalists. In 1816, they chartered for a period of twenty years a second United States Bank—the institution which Jefferson and Madison once had condemned as unsound and unconstitutional. The Constitution remained unchanged; times and circumstances had changed. Calhoun dismissed the vexed question of constitutionality with a scant reference to an ancient dispute, while Madison set aside his scruples and signed the bill.

The Protective Tariff of 1816.—The Republicans supplemented the Bank by another Federalist measure—a high protective tariff. Clay viewed it as the beginning of his “American system” of protection. Calhoun defended it on national principles. For this sudden reversal of policy the young Republicans were taunted by some of their older party colleagues with betraying the “agricultural interest” that Jefferson had fostered; but Calhoun refused to listen to their criticisms. “When the seas are open,” he said, “the produce of the South may pour anywhere into the markets of the Old World.... What are the effects of a war with a maritime power—with England? Our commerce annihilated … our agriculture cut off from its accustomed markets, the surplus of the farmer perishes on his hands.... The recent war fell with peculiar pressure on the growers of cotton and tobacco and the other great staples of the country; and the same state of things will recur in the event of another war unless prevented by the foresight of this body.... When our manufactures are grown to a certain perfection, as they soon will be under the fostering care of the government, we shall no longer experience these evils.” With the Republicans nationalized, the Federalist party, as an organization, disappeared after a crushing defeat in the presidential campaign of 1816.

Monroe and the Florida Purchase.—To the victor in that political contest, James Monroe of Virginia, fell two tasks of national importance, adding to the prestige of the whole country and deepening the sense of patriotism that weaned men away from mere allegiance to states. The first of these was the purchase of Florida from Spain. The acquisition of Louisiana let the Mississippi flow “unvexed to the sea”; but it left all the states east of the river cut off from the Gulf, affording them ground for discontent akin to that which had moved the pioneers of Kentucky to action a generation earlier. The uncertainty as to the boundaries of Louisiana gave the United States a claim to West Florida, setting on foot a movement for occupation. The Florida swamps were a basis for Indian marauders who periodically swept into the frontier settlements, and hiding places for runaway slaves. Thus the sanction of international law was given to punitive expeditions into alien territory.

The pioneer leaders stood waiting for the signal. It came. President Monroe, on the occasion of an Indian outbreak, ordered General Jackson to seize the offenders, in the Floridas, if necessary. The high-spirited warrior, taking this as a hint that he was to occupy the coveted region, replied that, if possession was the object of the invasion, he could occupy the Floridas within sixty days. Without waiting for an answer to this letter, he launched his expedition, and in the spring of 1818 was master of the Spanish king’s domain to the south.

There was nothing for the king to do but to make the best of the inevitable by ceding the Floridas to the United States in return for five million dollars to be paid to American citizens having claims against Spain. On Washington’s birthday, 1819, the treaty was signed. It ceded the Floridas to the United States and defined the boundary between Mexico and the United States by drawing a line from the mouth of the Sabine River in a northwesterly direction to the Pacific. On this occasion even Monroe, former opponent of the Constitution, forgot to inquire whether new territory could be constitutionally acquired and incorporated into the American union. The Republicans seemed far away from the days of “strict construction.” And Jefferson still lived!

The Monroe Doctrine.—Even more effective in fashioning the national idea was Monroe’s enunciation of the famous doctrine that bears his name. The occasion was another European crisis. During the Napoleonic upheaval and the years of dissolution that ensued, the Spanish colonies in America, following the example set by their English neighbors in 1776, declared their independence. Unable to conquer them alone, the king of Spain turned for help to the friendly powers of Europe that looked upon revolution and republics with undisguised horror.

The Holy Alliance.—He found them prepared to view his case with sympathy. Three of them, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, under the leadership of the Czar, Alexander I, in the autumn of 1815, had entered into a Holy Alliance to sustain by reciprocal service the autocratic principle in government. Although the effusive, almost maudlin, language of the treaty did not express their purpose explicitly, the Alliance was later regarded as a mere union of monarchs to prevent the rise and growth of popular government.

The American people thought their worst fears confirmed when, in 1822, a conference of delegates from Russia, Austria, Prussia, and France met at Verona to consider, among other things, revolutions that had just broken out in Spain and Italy. The spirit of the conference is reflected in the first article of the agreement reached by the delegates: “The high contracting powers, being convinced that the system of representative government is equally incompatible with the monarchical principle and the maxim of the sovereignty of the people with the divine right, mutually engage in the most solemn manner to use all their efforts to put an end to the system of representative government in whatever country it may exist in Europe and to prevent its being introduced in those countries where it is not yet known.” The Czar, who incidentally coveted the west coast of North America, proposed to send an army to aid the king of Spain in his troubles at home, thus preparing the way for intervention in Spanish America. It was material weakness not want of spirit, that prevented the grand union of monarchs from making open war on popular government.

The Position of England.—Unfortunately, too, for the Holy Alliance, England refused to coöperate. English merchants had built up a large trade with the independent Latin-American colonies and they protested against the restoration of Spanish sovereignty, which meant a renewal of Spain’s former trade monopoly. Moreover, divine right doctrines had been laid to rest in England and the representative principle thoroughly established. Already there were signs of the coming democratic flood which was soon to carry the first reform bill of 1832, extending the suffrage, and sweep on to even greater achievements. British statesmen, therefore, had to be cautious. In such circumstances, instead of coöperating with the autocrats of Russia, Austria, and Prussia, they turned to the minister of the United States in London. The British prime minister, Canning, proposed that the two countries join in declaring their unwillingness to see the Spanish colonies transferred to any other power.

Jefferson’s Advice.—The proposal was rejected; but President Monroe took up the suggestion with Madison and Jefferson as well as with his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams. They favored the plan. Jefferson said: “One nation, most of all, could disturb us in this pursuit [of freedom]; she now offers to lead, aid, and accompany us in it. By acceding to her proposition we detach her from the bands, bring her mighty weight into the scale of free government and emancipate a continent at one stroke.... With her on our side we need not fear the whole world. With her then we should most sedulously cherish a cordial friendship.”

Monroe’s Statement of the Doctrine.—Acting on the advice of trusted friends, President Monroe embodied in his message to Congress, on December 2, 1823, a statement of principles now famous throughout the world as the Monroe Doctrine. To the autocrats of Europe he announced that he would regard “any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.” While he did not propose to interfere with existing colonies dependent on European powers, he ranged himself squarely on the side of those that had declared their independence. Any attempt by a European power to oppress them or control their destiny in any manner he characterized as “a manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” Referring in another part of his message to a recent claim which the Czar had made to the Pacific coast, President Monroe warned the Old World that “the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintained, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.” The effect of this declaration was immediate and profound. Men whose political horizon had been limited to a community or state were led to consider their nation as a great power among the sovereignties of the earth, taking its part in shaping their international relations.

The Missouri Compromise.—Respecting one other important measure of this period, the Republicans also took a broad view of their obligations under the Constitution; namely, the Missouri Compromise. It is true, they insisted on the admission of Missouri as a slave state, balanced against the free state of Maine; but at the same time they assented to the prohibition of slavery in the Louisiana territory north of the line 36° 30'. During the debate on the subject an extreme view had been presented, to the effect that Congress had no constitutional warrant for abolishing slavery in the territories. The precedent of the Northwest Ordinance, ratified by Congress in 1789, seemed a conclusive answer from practice to this contention; but Monroe submitted the issue to his cabinet, which included Calhoun of South Carolina, Crawford of Georgia, and Wirt of Virginia, all presumably adherents to the Jeffersonian principle of strict construction. He received in reply a unanimous verdict to the effect that Congress did have the power to prohibit slavery in the territories governed by it. Acting on this advice he approved, on March 6, 1820, the bill establishing freedom north of the compromise line. This generous interpretation of the powers of Congress stood for nearly forty years, until repudiated by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case.

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