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Ellis holds that America, at its outset, was plagued by an identity crisis: Americans who asserted an essentially 'Republican' identity and revolted against Britain for certain reasons were at ends with Americans who asserted an essentially 'Federal' identity and revolted against Britain for other reasons. In textbooks these are associated with the persons of Jefferson and Hamilton, two of the first cabinet members. They are also associated with Sam Adams, ale aficionado and radical leader of the Sons of Liberty and the second cousin of the second President of the United States.
However, Adams' dislike of the government had financial roots. Adams was born in 1722, over thirty years after a Royal attempt to consolidate power in New England by consolidating its authority under a dominion. The overthrow of the short-lived dominion might have resulted in an early schism with the crown, had Dutch protestant William and Mary not succeeded Catholic sympathizer Charles II in the Glorious Revolution. Like the Whig party of England, Bostonians shared a puritan heritage and a commercial economy that was predicated on income derived from shipping. By comparison, Tories had an agricultural power base that was mercantilist (supported the strict government control of shipping,) amenable to an Anglican church that mirrored Catholicism, and aristocratic. Adams attended Harvard College where he received a bachelor's degree in 1740 and a Master of Arts degree in 1743; the title of his master's thesis was "Whether it be lawful to resist the supreme magistrate if the commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved."
Adams became further embittered with English rule the year after he obtained his Masters' when Parliament forbid the establishment of private paper currencies; his family had helped spearhead such a commercial venture and lost a considerable amount of money.
Adams was considered more traditional and at the same time more extremist than his contemporaries: his commercial failings did not cause him to hate England, but rather underscored prejudices that he had developed growing up as a Puritan who saw the establishment of Boston as a utopian attempt at the creation of a uncorrupted, theocratic society. It was Adams who coined the term 'Boston Massacre;' Adams' power resulted from his ability to appeal to traditional, puritan values in a way that was compatible with the commercial interests of his peers.
Federalists represented commercial interests (usually shipping) and valued a stable, formally structured American republic over more libertarian concerns. They were concentrated in areas that derived an income from shipping and trade, and found English rule untenable because it failed to reflect their interests. Federalists were pragmatists; they preferred a cogent, defensible federation to a fragmented, militarily indefensible one that was unable to protect its trade routes from piracy. Federalists had a reputation among the polity for being elitist. John Adams suffered popular disfavor after arguing that a Senate should be established to reflect the interests of "the rich, the well-born and the able."
Such men nicknamed Adams "the last Puritan" for his views; in 1788 he wrote in his diary, "Neither Interest, I fear, display that Sobriety of Manners, Temperance, or Frugality -- among other manly Virtues -- which once were the Glory and Strength of our Christian Sparta on the Bay..." Adams supported the Bill of Rights, reflecting Republican sympathies. Commercial interests, which thrived on stability as they do today, were taken aback by Shay's rebellion and demanded a stronger central government with the ability to resolve the new country's debt crisis and curtail rebellions.
Whereas commercial interests sought an accessible central government that would provide a political economy consistent with their interests, Republican interests could be considered more libertarian in the sense that they harbored an ideological distaste for arbitrary, authoritarian government (most of the social legislation we think of as 'puritanical,' such as restrictions on drinking, marijuana, child labor, and prostitution, were in fact the product of early 20th century progressives.) In the 1790's, many Republicans were to side with the French despite the considerably more radical aspects of their revolution. Their efforts were ideologically rooted in the classical liberalism of John Locke, David Hume and other enlightenment scholars.
Republicans were often well-schooled in the languages and societies of Greece and Rome; it is from the Roman republic that they derived their name. Prominent republicans, sometimes called anti-federalists, tended to be from agrarian, aristocratic families; many were intimately involved in the process of establishing the governments of their respective states following the Revolution. Jefferson, for instance, missed out on the Constitutional Convention because he thought it more urgent to attend to the legislature of the State of Virginia.
According to Ellis, the future of America was determined in the 1790's by these disparate groups of elites. The first stable dichotomous arrangement between disparate interests had occurred in parliament between the Tories and the Whigs; however it wasn't expected that two groups would vie for power in the context of the new government. Republican elites were able to mask their demographic similarities (and maintain their libertarian image) with the Tories by compartmentalizing the feudal aspects of their commercial lives through the peculiar institution of slavery. The two-party system continues to underscore the nature of American politics. The Republican Party maintains similarities to the federalists: they couch their ideas in Christian and free market terms. The Democrats vaguely reflect the populist concerns of their forbears.
An example of the way that this plays out in a modern political context is tax policy. Democrats ostensibly favor higher taxes and enhanced social services, whereas Republicans argue that lower taxes encourage growth by keeping money available for private investment in private hands. The respective parties are not only appealing to the electorate in terms of the middle 50% of the voting population; they are also appealing to those that provide them with financial support. Public sector workers that will receive the money the government spends provide campaigning power and soft-dollar money to democrats, whereas corporate interests that don't want to part with the money provide the same to Republicans. Unfortunately, the most recent trend has been for well-politicized commercial interests to do both: they push for the election of candidates from both parties that will hand them contracts and tax cuts. Republics who wish to devolve power to the state level currently champion the question of state vs. local authority. An example of this has been that states have only recently (90's) been allowed to set their own speed limits. Before this, the speed limit was 55, even in desolate areas of the Middle West.
Ellis contends that the founding fathers had better command of written English and that many were shy or poor public speakers. Adams was constantly rebuking claims of elitism and was even accused of wanting to be an American king. Although Aaron Burr was a moderate, he became reviled for having shot Hamilton and even lead a conspiracy to create another American republic in the west. By far, two of the greatest contributors to the creation of the new Republic were Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
As we would say today, Jefferson and Washington were from the same demographic: they were both planters from Virginia. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence at the age of 33, and nearly doubled the size of the United States by purchasing the Louisiana territory from Napoleon. Jefferson considered himself an enemy of authoritarianism: as he famously stated, "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." His achievements outside politics were of considerable note: he founded the University of Virginia and was a pioneer in the fields of architecture and archaeology. Jefferson even wrote a deistic version of the Bible in which he removed mention of all miracles, which he believed to be impossible.
One of Jefferson's chief contributions was to establish the ideal of an American republic built on the agriculture of yeoman farmers. Jefferson said in a correspondence "The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management." (Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.) This contrasted dearly with the views of Alexander Hamilton, who envisioned America as a commercial and manufacturing power. Ironically, it was the combined philosophy of both that was to establish America as the wealthiest country in the history of the world: American wealth is broad-based because of the Jeffersonian notion of broad-based capital ownership, something that is made possible through institutional commercial lending. Because property in America is owned to a large extent by the middle class and because commercial lending actively promotes the "American Ideal" of home ownership, democratic government is stable in that it usually reflects the interests of the population of the country.
Equally important is the influence of George Washington, who was likened by his contemporaries to the legendary Roman general Cincinnatus. Like Cincinnatus, Washington was a hugely popular hero, indispensable to the American citizenry, yet one that was willing to put down the sword and take up…[continue]
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