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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Troubles of the First Administration

By John Marshall (1755–1835)

[The Life of George Washington. Revised Edition. 1832.]

THROUGHOUT the United States, the party opposed to the constitution had charged its supporters with a desire to establish a monarchy on the ruins of republican government; and the constitution itself was alleged to contain principles which would prove the truth of this charge. The leaders of that party had, therefore, been ready from the instant the government came into operation, to discover, in all its measures, those monarchical tendencies which they had perceived in the instrument they opposed.

The salaries allowed to public officers, though so low as not to afford a decent maintenance to those who resided at the seat of government, were declared to be so enormously high, as clearly to manifest a total disregard of that simplicity and economy which were the characteristics of republics.

The levees of the President, and the evening parties of Mrs. Washington, were said to be imitations of regal institutions, designed to accustom the American people to the pomp and manners of European courts. The Vice-President too was said to keep up the state and dignity of a monarch, and to illustrate, by his conduct, the principles which were inculcated in his political works.

The Indian war they alleged was misconducted, and unnecessarily prolonged for the purposes of expending the public money, and of affording a pretext for augmenting the military establishment, and increasing the revenue.

All this prodigal waste of the money of the people was designed to keep up the national debt, and the influence it gave the government, which, united with standing armies, and immense revenues, would enable their rulers to rivet the chains which they were secretly forging. Every prediction which had been uttered respecting the anti-republican principles of the government, was said to be rapidly verifying, and that which was disbelieved as prophecy, was daily becoming history. If a remedy for these ills was not found in the increased representation of the people which would take place at the ensuing elections, they would become too monstrous to be borne; and when it was recollected that the division of opinion was marked by a geographical line, there was reason to fear that the Union would be broken into one or more confederacies.

These irritable symptoms had assumed appearances of increased malignity during the session of congress which had just terminated; and, to the President, who firmly believed that the Union and the liberty of the States depended on the preservation of the government, they were the more unpleasant and the more alarming, because they were displayed in full force in his cabinet.

Between the secretaries of the state and treasury departments, a disagreement existed, which seems to have originated in an early stage of the administration, and to have acquired a regular accession of strength from circumstances which were perpetually occurring, until it grew into open and irreconcilable hostility.

Without tracing this disagreement to those motives, which, in elective governments especially, often produce enmities between distinguished personages, neither of whom acknowledges the superiority of the other, such radical differences of opinion, on points which would essentially influence the course of the government, were supposed to exist between the secretaries, as, in a great measure, to account for this unextinguishable enmity. These differences of opinion were, perhaps, to be ascribed, in some measure, to a difference in the original structure of their minds, and, in some measure, to the difference of the situations in which they had been placed.

Until near the close of the war, Mr. Hamilton had served his country in the field; and, just before its termination, had passed from the camp into congress, where he remained for some time after peace had been established. In the former station, the danger to which the independence of his country was exposed from the imbecility of its government was perpetually before his eyes; and, in the latter, his attention was forcibly directed towards the loss of its reputation, and the sacrifice of its best interests, which were to be ascribed to the same cause. Mr. Hamilton, therefore, was the friend of a government which should possess, in itself, sufficient powers and resources to maintain the character, and defend the integrity of the nation. Having long felt and witnessed the mischiefs produced by the absolute sovereignty of the States, and by the control which they were enabled and disposed separately to exercise over every measure of general concern, he was particularly apprehensive of danger from that quarter; which he, probably, believed was to be the more dreaded, because the habits and feelings of the American people were calculated to inspire state, rather than national prepossessions. Under the influence of these impressions, he is understood to have avowed opinions in the convention favorable to a system in which the executive and senate, though elective, were to be rather more permanent, than they were rendered in that which was actually proposed. He afterwards supported the constitution, as framed, with great ability, and contributed essentially to its adoption. But he still retained, and openly avowed the opinion, that the greatest hazards to which it was exposed arose from its weakness, and that American liberty and happiness had much more to fear from the encroachments of the great states, than from those of the general government.

Mr. Jefferson had retired from congress before the depreciation of the currency had produced an entire dependence of the general on the local governments; after which he filled the highest offices in the State of which he was a citizen. About the close of the war he was re-elected to congress; but was soon afterwards employed on a mission to the court of Versailles, where he remained, while the people of France were taking the first steps of that immense revolution which has astonished and agitated two quarters of the world. In common with all his countrymen, he felt a strong interest in favor of the reformers; and it is not unreasonable to suppose, that while residing at that court, and associating with those who meditated some of the great events which have since taken place, his mind might be warmed with the abuses of the monarchy which were perpetually in his view, and he might be led to the opinion that liberty could sustain no danger but from the executive power. Mr. Jefferson, therefore, seems to have entertained no apprehensions from the debility of the government; no jealousy of the State sovereignties; and no suspicion of their encroachments. His fears took a different direction, and all his precautions were used to check and limit the exercise of the powers vested in the government of the United States. Neither could he perceive danger to liberty except from that government, and especially from the executive department.

He did not feel so sensibly, as those who had continued in the United States, the necessity of adopting the constitution; and had, at one time, avowed a wish that it might be rejected by such a number of States as would secure certain alterations which he thought essential. His principal objections seem to have been, the want of a bill of rights, and the re-eligibility of the President From this opinion, however, in favor of a partial rejection, he is understood to have receded, after seeing the plan pursued by the convention of Massachusetts, and followed by other States; which was to adopt unconditionally, and to annex a recommendation of the amendments which were desired.