Thursday, February 26, 2009

American Factions

I talked in the last post about Roman factions, and it is interesting to compare the Roman experience with that of the United States in the years after the Constitution was ratified. The United States began, as the Roman Republic, with no political parties – only different political philosophies. The main opponents were Hamilton (traditionalist/for strong central government) and Jefferson (government by the people/Republican).

Hamilton perceived early on that one of the keys to government was to forge an alliance between the government and men of wealth. In his mind democracy was unworkable because it would always lead to anarchy. Hamilton despised public opinion and told Washington that he considered it “of no value.” By the time the revolution ended he had arrived at his architecture of government which included strength supported by wealth which would be sustained, if need be, by a standing army.

Jefferson came to a political philosophy opposite that of Hamilton quite early in life, under the influence of his father. The young Jefferson housed a prejudice against all aristocracy as a divider of men, and declined reelection to the Congress so he could go home to Virginia, join the House of Burgesses and reform the caste system in operation at that time. Jefferson then went to France a democrat, saw the evils of that monarchy and took pleasure in the first awakenings of the French revolution.

Although Washington was sympathetic to the philosophy of the Federalists he was essentially a president without party. The election of 1796, however, pitted the Federalist Adams against the Republican Jefferson. Adams won the presidency and for the only time in American history the vice-president, Jefferson, represented a different party. Jefferson openly opposed the policies of Adams so strongly that the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 as an attempt to control criticism of government. The backlash from this law swept Jefferson and the Republicans into office in 1800 and destroyed the Federalist Party forever.

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