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However, Washington's experience in the Revolutionary war engendered in him, along with his adjutant Alexander Hamilton, deep concerns about the weakness of the Federal Government. Also, Washington, being a general, was very observant of material conditions throughout the nation, particularly infrastructure.
Unlike Jefferson, Washington travelled extensively, for business and pleasure, and saw many pockets of America that Jefferson did not see. He held a particular fascination with the American interior, which was still largely a frontier region at the time. He saw huge commercial potential in the resources of the more fertile West. However, he also noted a lack of ambition and work ethic among the inhabitants. He attributed this to the abundance of land and fertility of the soil.
Thus, the American interior would have to become "Americanized" with the values of industry and self-sufficiency before it could realize its full potential.
The Role of Beliefs in Internal Improvement Projects
The first generation of American internal improvement works was shaped almost exclusively by the monied gentry, a particularly talented and self-confident class of leaders. These men planned their public projects on a large scale over a long-term.
Washington envisioned a "…channel of commerce between Great Britain and the American interior. To realize this vision, he emphasized the construction of roads, canals, and bridges," most notably the Potomac River Canal.
These internal improvements were also meant to achieve another goal, the interconnectedness of the Republic. The transportation infrastructure was partly meant to prevent the individual states from becoming insular and neglectful of the larger republic. The planners desired the exchange of ideas and experiences as much as the exchange of goods.
The cost and scale of the projects envisioned by Washington required a strong federal government. This could only be granted through the consent of the individual states. At the Constitutional Convention, many states were reluctant to empower the federal congress in the areas of trade, finance, and foreign policy.
Washington himself was disappointed with the resulting Constitution, blaming it on the short-sightedness of the states.
The Role of Jefferson's Beliefs in Internal Improvement Projects
Jefferson's strict Republican views led him to oppose many of the Federalists' most important projects. Jefferson campaigned to block the creation of the National Bank. He also sought to prevent the development of a deepwater Navy, knowing that it would lure the United States into a commercial empire. Such an empire would not only enrich the federal government through tariffs but would also demand the creation of federal institutions to oversee the nation's trade relations with other nations.
Jefferson and the Republicans chose to stem the growth of federal power through the obstruction of individual internal improvement projects. The federal government believed that it had authority to order these projects because they were for "..the general welfare, but…authority was not clearly granted by the Constitution."
This uncertainty produced many debates over many small internal improvement projects, such as harbor improvements and post roads.
For Jefferson, every action taken by the federal government should serve to either secure or increase the liberty enjoyed by Americans. To this effect, Jefferson arranged for the purchase of Louisiana from Napoleon.
For Jefferson, the acquisition of the humongous Louisiana territory would increase the degree of liberty for many Americans by increasing access to cheap property.
Jefferson believed that property was essential for liberty because property provided man with independent means. Agricultural property, in particular, was ideal for Jefferson because it promoted integrity, self-sufficiency, and self-cultivation, the key features of Jefferson's Gentleman-Farmer ideal. Also, property ownership would incentivize many Americans to take an interest in the laws and civic affairs of the Republic.
Federalism was adopted by Washington as a necessary evil to prevent a greater evil, the threat of subjugation or annihilation by foreign interests such as the England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. We can see Federalist institutions as mere reactions to exigent circumstances. These exigent circumstances, of course, proved to be temporary. The United States has been a first-rate power for over a century and a hegemonic power for over a half-century. Thus, it might be time to ask if it reasonable to maintain such institutions long after the threat of annihilation has passed.
Larson, J. (2001). Internal Improvement. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Maier, et. al. (2006). Inventing America. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Larson, 2001, p. 9
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