Bohemian Tangents

This site is my primary blogging place.

Archive for May 2015

Defining Liberalism

leave a comment »

Words have histories and often change meaning, sometimes drastically, over time. The term “liberal” would probably make a good “Exhibit A” if you wanted to make a case for words that seem to have evolved into their own antonyms (opposites) over time. I decided to explore the formal political-philosophical category of “liberalism” to shed light on “liberal” semantically. I consulted the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary’s definition of liberalism:

1) the quality or state of being liberal as: (a) lack of strictness or rigor, (b) broad-mindedness, open-mindedness; (2) a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity; (3) a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint esp. by government regulation in all economic activity and usu. based upon free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard; (4) a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of man, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for tolerance and freedom of the individual from arbitrary authority in all spheres of life esp. by the protection of political and civil liberties and for government under law with the consent of the governed; (5) an attitude or philosophy favoring individual freedom for self-development and self-expression

One way to give some kind of clarity to these many meanings is to dichotomize liberalism as follows

1) Classical liberalism: a political ideology, a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties and political freedom with representative democracy under the rule of law and emphasizes economic freedom. Classical liberalism developed in the 19th century in Europe and the United States. Although classical liberalism built on ideas that had already developed by the end of the 18th century, it advocated a specific kind of society, government and public policy as a response to the Industrial Revolution and urbanization. Notable individuals whose ideas have contributed to classical liberalism include John Locke, Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo. It drew on the economics of Adam Smith and on a belief in natural law, utilitarianism, and progress.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_liberalism

2) Social liberalism: a political ideology that seeks to find a balance between individual liberty and social justice like classical liberalism, social liberalism endorses a market economy and the expansion of civil and political rights and liberties, but differs in that it believes the legitimate role of the government includes addressing economic and social issues such as poverty, health care and education. Under social liberalism, the good of the community is viewed as harmonious with the freedom of the individual. Social liberal policies have been widely adopted in much of the capitalist world, particularly following World War II. Social liberal ideas and parties tend to be considered centrist or center-left. The term social liberalism is used to differentiate it from classical liberalism, which dominated political and economic thought for several centuries until social liberalism branched off from it around the Great Depression.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_liberalism

Actually social liberalism branched off way before the Great Depression and this branching off happened in Great Britain and was done by “new liberals” long before Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Great Depression came along. Wikipedia’s entry on social liberalism goes on to note the historical change in Great Britain:

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, a group of British thinkers, known as the New Liberals, made a case against laissez-faire classical liberalism and argued in favor of state intervention in social, economic, and cultural life. The New Liberals, which included intellectuals like T. H. Green, L. T. Hobhouse, and John A. Hobson, saw individual liberty as something achievable only under favorable social and economic circumstances. In their view, the poverty, squalor and ignorance in which many people lived made it impossible for freedom and individuality to flourish. New Liberals believed that these conditions could be ameliorated only through collective action coordinated by a strong, welfare-oriented and interventionist state.

I say history provides lessons showing us why words change meaning. The effects of the industrial revolution where workers worked in abusive horrific conditions illustrated that the “liberty” of the capitalist factory or mine owner was at the expense of the liberty of the laborers being abused. The world of industrial capitalism was vastly different from the predominantly agrarian world conceived of by classical liberals and populated by yeoman farmers, shopkeepers, artisans, and small businesses. John D. Rockefeller and his Robber Baron cohorts had new notions of “personal liberty” far beyond the ideas of classical liberals like John Locke or Thomas Jefferson.

Advertisements

Written by joethebohemian

May 26, 2015 at 8:44 pm

Posted in politics

Jefferson and Hamilton, Part III: The Prevalance of Partisanship, The Elusiveness of Objectivity

leave a comment »

Recap: The rivalry between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton was important enough to cause political parties to be formed in spite of the fact that these were considered “factions” at that time, a sign of grown men not being able to come together, govern, and get things done. The larger issue that engulfs the rivalry issue is the fact that partisan bias and historical revisionism afflict just about every biography written for either founding father. Yet another issue is how current American culture or “pop culture” views these men and how that influences a study of them and their rivalry. Any essay, article, or book on either of these American icons has to be decoded for partisan bias, historical revisionism, and pop culture clichés in the elusive search for “objective truth”.

Thomas Jefferson is the beneficiary of being the hero of American libertarians, fans of “limited government”, and this adoration augments an already much loved icon. Nevertheless, Hamilton is greatly admired by many biographers, such as Ron Chernow, and Darren Staloff. Chernow puts Hamilton on a pedestal while trashing Jefferson and his republican cohorts: “Washington’s first term was devoted largely to the economic matters in which Hamilton excelled and Woodrow Wilson justly observed  that ‘we think of Mr. Hamilton rather than of President Washington when we look back to the policy of the first administration’. Hamilton had a storehouse of information that nobody else could match. Since the ‘science’ of finance was new to America, Fisher Ames observed, ‘A gentleman may therefore propose the worst of measures with the best of intentions’. Among the well-intentioned men who were woefully backward in finance, if forward-looking in politics, were Hamilton’s three most savage critics of the 1790’s: Jefferson, Madison, and Adams. These founders adhered to a static. archaic worldview that scorned banks, credit, and stock markets. From this perspective, Hamilton was the progressive of the era, his critics the conservatives”.  Contrast this assessment with Jefferson’s affiliation with the classical liberalism of John Locke and Adam Smith and you have a founding father considered a “liberal” by some and a “conservative” by at least one author.

Partisan spin aside, the basic facts and accomplishments of Hamilton are the quintessential “rags to riches” story:

When Alexander Hamilton was 10, his father abandoned him. When he was around 12, his mother died of a fever in the bed next to his. He was adopted by a cousin, who promptly committed suicide. During those same years, his aunt, uncle and grandmother also died. A court in St. Croix seized all of his possessions, sold off his personal effects and gave the rest to his mother’s first husband. By the time he was a young teenager, he and his brother were orphaned, alone and destitute.

Within three years he was a successful businessman. Within a decade he was effectively George Washington’s chief of staff, organizing the American revolutionary army and serving bravely in combat. Within two decades he was one of New York’s most successful lawyers and had written major portions of The Federalist Papers. Within three decades he had served as Treasury secretary and forged the modern financial and economic systems that are the basis for American might today. Within five decades he was dead at the hands of Aaron Burr.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/25/books/creating-capitalism.html

Darren Staloff, author of Hamilton, Adams, and Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding, has stellar praise for Hamilton:

“By almost any measure, Alexander Hamilton was the most important figure in the founding of the American republic. Soldier, statesman, legislator, constitutional theorist, political polemicist, and national administrator, Hamilton combined all the roles that were vital to American nation building. His vision of a strong  federal government with an independent judiciary and a vigorous executive has become second nature to most Americans. His goal of state-supported industrial and commercial development and modernization is the unstated desideratum of every successful American political movement in the last century. Indeed, in terms of political and economic practice, it is fair to say we are all Hamiltonians, whether Democrats or Republicans, progressives or conservatives, radicals or reactionaries.”

Staloff also notes that “Hamilton is perhaps the least loved founding father. No national or state holiday celebrates his life. No memorial commemorates his contributions to American life and ideals. His words are rarely quoted by politicians, and his writings are even less frequently cited by pundits. But for the ten-dollar bill, his face would be utterly unknown to the American people. Washington became the father of his nation, and Jefferson its most beloved spokesman. Hamilton has become its bastard, unrecognized and somehow illegitimate in the public mind. Various causes have been offered, such as Jefferson and his republican cohorts piling on condemnation, depicting him as an “embryo-Caesar” and a tool of the plutocratic elites. In this century, politicians of both parties—and writers sympathetic to them—have adopted Jefferson as their guiding light among among the founding generation. On both left and right, there have been few willing to defend the ambitious New Yorker. Progressive novelist John Dos Passos described him as a crypto-Napoleon who “consolidated property interests” and “inaugurated the authoritarian trend”

American libertarians, such as Thomas DiLorenzo find that Hamilton cursed the United States with an augmented federal government.

Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Arch Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution–and What It Means For Americans Today

“Jefferson’s ideas have been entirely marginalized, while those of his arch rival Hamilton now form the backbone of the American political establishment. The Revolution of 1776 was a Jeffersonian Revolution to throw off the yoke of British mercantilist imperialism and install it its place a voluntary union of free and independent states. Hamilton and his acolytes, however — no matter how bravely and earnestly they fought against the Red Coats — wanted to import British mercantilism to America with the U.S. aristocracy (Hamilton and his Federalist buddies) on the receiving end of the mercantilist spoils system.” In fact, DiLorenzo argues that the Constitution itself was a virtual coup against the free republic of the Articles of Confederation for the purpose of increasing the authority of the central government — key to Hamilton’s plans.

It is worth noting that the same Darren Staloff who says Hamilton was the most important figure in America’s founding as a republic has also painted a rosy portrait of Jefferson, who was “much more than simply a revolutionary statesman and political theorist. The American Da Vinci, he truly was the universal man idealized by the Renaissance. The breadth of his mind was stunning, his intellectual appetite canine and omnivorous. In addition to political philosophy, Jefferson read widely in metaphysics, epistemology, and moral and aesthetic philosophy. One of the few early Americans who could actually do the calculus associated with Newton’s mechanics, he was an avid student of the sciences, conversant with the most recent developments in chemistry, biology, zoology, and botany, and he had more than a passing interest in meteorology. Widely read in classical and modern history, he was equally fascinated by the emerging sciences of political economy and sociology and proved himself a fairly accomplished amateur anthropologist. A devoted philologist, Jefferson’s expertise spanned both classical and modern Romance languages, and he devoted considerable study to the languages of the Amerindians and medieval Anglo-Saxons. An accomplished draftsman and violinist, he was a devotee of the theater and opera, a knowledgeable collector of artifacts, paintings, and statuary, and the greatest architectural genius of the early republic. Quite simply, Thomas Jefferson thought about more in one week than occurs to us mere mortals in a year. He was indeed an “extraordinary collection of talents.”

Biographer Joseph J. Ellis, whose American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson won the 1997 National Book Award for Nonfiction, has a unique way of trying to twist Jefferson’s psychological abnormalities into political virtue:  “Given the political framework created by the constitutional settlement of 1788, which made the establishment of an ongoing political dialogue of some sort inevitable, and given the stigma that surrounded organized political parties, a premium was put on a distinctive form of intelligence that could adroitly navigate between the two imperatives. Crudely put, this meant creating a political party while claiming, in all sincerity, that you were doing nothing of the sort. As it turned out, this was a talent that Jefferson possessed in abundance. At certain points in the story the distinction between Jefferson’s genuine self-deception and outright duplicity is impossible to identify with any certainty. Putting the best face on his multiple misrepresentations arose it seems from the visceral urge to avoid all explicit forms of conflict. Biographer Dumas Malone found that Jefferson’s “boldness of mind was sheathed in a scabbard of politeness…. It would have been surprising if such a man did not occasionally cross the thin line between courtesy and deception”. Ellis manages to conclude that Jefferson’s mental abnormalities were also “mental agility” that enabled him to leap over the huge obstacles of the political culture of his time. Only a man with a psychological multiplicity “… who is accustomed to negotiating his many-chambered personality, playing hide-and-seek within himself, was psychologically prepared to function this modern world of party politics.”

Jon Meacham wrote his best-selling biography, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power in 2012, and advocates for Jefferson’s mixture of ideals and pragmatism without getting into American libertarian-style partisanship. Meacham attempts to mediate between partisan distortions of the great man and portray his greatness.

The historical tendency persists in encapsulating the competing traditions of the early American republic as a contest between Jefferson and Hamilton. For partisans of each man, it was then and has been ever since–convenient to caricature the other, with Hamilton as the scheming proto-Brit bent on monarchy and Jefferson as the naive proto-Frenchman intoxicated by visions of excessive democracy. Inevitably, such shorthand is incomplete. In the first hours of the decade and sporadically throughout, Jefferson sometimes found himself in agreement with Hamilton and sometimes with Washington or Adams. He was a working politician and diplomat who believed in an effective central government and was able himself to assert political power having been the governor of Virginia and experienced the years of the Articles of Confederation.

“There was, however, a foundational point on which Jefferson never compromised: a conviction that drove much of his political life from 1790 until his death. He feared monarchy or dictatorship, which is different from fearing a strong national government, though Jefferson is often thought to have believed them the same thing. One of the terms he used to describe his opponents—“Monocrats”—is telling, for the word means government by the one.”

“Jefferson fretted over the prospect of the return of a king in some form, either as an immensely powerful president unchecked by the Constitution of 1787 or in a more explicitly monarchical or dictatorial role. He did not oppose the wielding of power. He was a good-hearted, fair-minded student of how best to accumulate and use it. In romantic moments, he dreamed of a future of virtuous yeomen living in harmony. In realistic ones, he suspected the America of which he was an architect could be yet another short-lived chapter in the story of the tyranny of the few over the many. ‘We were educated in royalism: no wonder if some of us retain that idolatry still, ‘ Jefferson had once written to Madison.”

“The Jefferson of the cabinet, vice presidency, and presidency can be best understood by recalling that his passion for the people and his regard for republicanism belonged to a man who believed that there were forces afoot–forces visible and invisble, domestic and foreign–that sought to undermine the rights of man by re-establishing the role of priests, nobles, and kings. His opposition to John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, to the British and to the financial speculators, grew out of this fundamental concern.”

“Like significant politicians before and after him, Jefferson was devoted to an overarching vision, but governed according to circumstance. Committed to the broad republican creed, supported by allies in politics and in the public who believed him to be an unshakable advocate of liberty under the law, Jefferson felt himself free to maneuver in matters of detail. Where some saw hypocrisy, others saw political agility. As long as a political leader has some core strategic belief, which Jefferson did in the form of republicanism, then tactical flexibility can be a virtue. Even Alexander Hamilton recognized his commitment to the nation, no matter how deeply the two disagreed about the means: “To my mind, a true estimate of Mr J’s character warrants the expectation of a temporizing rather than a violent system”, said Hamilton in 1801. Even implacable foes such as the federalists and republicans agreed and cooperated from time to time, and who even in their hours of starkest hostility, served in the same cabinet, dined at the same tables, and moved through the same intimate American world of the late 18th century. Wars are indeed often fought between brothers. Jefferson’s decade of struggle with the Federalists shows there can can be no more brutal or bewildering battles than those that divide a family against itself.

The two factions or political parties are attached to two founding fathers who had different views as to what the United States was and how it was to be governed. Which side won? Both did. The two regions, north and south, represented respectively by Federalism and Republicanism, were enabled to function as they wished. Jefferson and Madison were both slave-owning planters representing Virginia and its mode of production, slave labor. Without saying directly they wanted to continue benefiting from slavery they railed against the money-men and stock-jobbers who wanted to impose federal tyranny over their way of life and livelihood.  Essentially, the Constitution provided for planters whose “property” of slaves each counted as 3/5 of a person. Therefore, their “property” gave them the representation in government they desired. Hamilton, the “tyrannical capitalist” was essentially setting up a mercantilist United States to promote trade and manufacturing. For him, the victory was that the United States could grow into a powerful nation as had Britain, whose model of global imperialism and mercantilism he studied. Historians focus on how Hamilton and the Federalists won in the 1790’s over Jefferson and Madison, the Republicans, and the tide turned in 1800, when Jefferson became president. Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe served 24 years as Democratic-Republicans. By 1818 the Democratic-Republicans had become the only active national party, yet its leaders incorporated major economic policies that had been favored by Federalists since the time of Alexander Hamilton. President Monroe continued the policies begun by Madison at the end of his presidency to build an American System of national economic development. These policies had three basic aspects: a national bank, protective tariffs to support American manufactures, and federally-funded internal improvements. Madison actually charted the Second Bank of the United States in 1816 and his successor, Monroe, is noted for presiding over “The Era of Good Feelings”. Essentially what happened is the one dominant party, The Democratic-Republican absorbed the Federalist party’s policies.

http://www.ushistory.org/us/23a.asp

The Jefferson-Hamilton rivalry was based on the two different ways of life and two different economies for the north and south in the aftermath of achieving independence from Britain. In a sense, both sides won, except for the slaves of course. Both sides fought to interpret the Constitution in terms of their regional needs. The United States was and never has been a perfectly homogeneous nation.

 

Written by joethebohemian

May 26, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Jefferson and Hamilton, Part 2: The 2 Party System

leave a comment »

My sole source for this blog post is Joseph J. Ellis, a noted historian specializing in the Founding Fathers. His biography, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, won the National Book award. His book, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, won the Pulitzer Prize. I have used his book, American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic for this blog post. I particularly like Ellis’s psychological explorations into the complex men who founded this nation.

 The Federalist party was led by Alexander Hamilton and the Democratic-Republican party was led by Thomas Jefferson. Now this system did not arise because of some harmonious arrangement of the founding fathers saying these political parties should be established. In fact, the creation of a 2-party system succeeded despite entrenched resistance by virtually all the founders to its very existence. Jefferson said: “The Fathers hoped to create not a system of party government under the Constitution but rather a Constitutional government that would check and control parties.” As the man primarily responsible for creating the first organized opposition party in the United States, Jefferson condemned his very creation: “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all”.

 In a 1770 treatise Edmund Burke wrote that political parties were not only unavoidable products of representative government, but also performed valuable functions in orchestrating debate, much in the way that the adversarial system worked in legal trials. Adam Smith described the unhindered collision of selfish and ambitious interest groups as the dynamic, if dirty, secret of the capitalistic marketplace. Madison argued in Federalist 10 that the collision of poltical factions in an extended republic would produce greater stability, making size an asset rather than a liability. One could also argue that the contrived compromises reached at the Constitutional Convention, especially on the extent of executive power and the blurry line separating state and federal jurisdiction, created an inherently argumentative context that made the emergence of political parties virtually inevitable. Inevitable indeed.

Author Joseph J. Ellis noted that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson  were called respectively, “The General” and “The Generalissimo” of the emerging Republican party (Ellis does not use the term “democratic-republican” that most other historians use). Hamilton, the Federalist, serves primarily as the impetus for the party that opposed him and his party arises by reacting to his opponents. Ellis refers to Hamilton as “the fixed object against which Madison and Jefferson do their political version of isometric exercises”. Minor roles belong to Washington and Adams who did not apparently fathom the bickering of the major players and considered this bickering dissonant noise drowning out classical harmonies.

 Washington and Adams considered “parties” or “factions” as epithets conveying a disreputable commitment to a narrow and usually private agenda at he expense of the public interest. Their role model was Viscount Bolingbroke, a British opposition thinker much admired by America’s revolutionary generation for his endorsement of disinterested virtue as the hallmark of statesman ship, floating above factional squabbles and misguided popular surges, to act in the long-term interest of the nation regardless of the political cost at the moment.

This disdain for polls, popularity, and partisanship is the legacy left behind by such patriots as Washington and Adams, “the gold standard for our diluted political currency”. Washington and Adams were the last of a classical breed, and Jefferson was the first president to point the way to modernity as he avowed–though he was reluctant to admit it–leader of a political party. Ellis notes that in this historical period there was not political vocabulary to discuss political parties, just as there was only terminology about kings, courts, monarchies with which to assail those with whom one disagrees. Being regarded as a party leader in those days was a major stigma. Apparently, Jefferson possessed “a distinctive form of intelligence that could navigate between the two imperatives”, that is, expressing one’s party-affiliated ideas while disowning the fact one has instigated “factionizing”. To Jefferson Ellis attributes “a deep affinity for multiplicity” and the “possession of a many-chambered personality, playing hide-and-seek with himself” and therefore prepared psychologically to function within this “modern” world of party politics. Famed Jefferson biographer, Dumas Malone, said: “the boldness of his mind was sheathed in a scabbard of politeness… It would have been surprising if such a man did not occasionally cross the thin line between courtesy and deception”. Ellis credits Jefferson with “inventing the two-party system” which he meant he had the mental agility to leap over huge obstacles on the path of that very invention and thereby make possible “the politics of the future”

Founders like Washington and Adams did not understand different versions of truth could co-exist alongside one another and both claim, with considerable plausibility, to be true. Unlike math, politics did not encompass problem-solving by sheer logic and truth, but rather an ongoing and never-ending struggle between contested versions of the truth. The model for politics would be the Darwinian jungle rather than the Newtonian universe.

 We are already familiar with the milestone of Hamilton’s creation of the first Bank of the United States and this was among the topics of conversation for Jefferson and Madison as they cruised up the Hudson River in May 1791. These two men shared their mutual chagrin for “stock-jobbers”, “Tories”, “monocrats” who had triumphed with the passage of the bill creating the Bank of the United States. “All such despicable creatures”, observed Madison, “dabbled in federal filth”, presumably suggesting that all private investors in the bank were determined to make a private fortune at public expense. This anti-federalist tandem of Virginians held that the true impulses of the American Revolution were being highjacked by a conspiracy of northern bankers and “paper men” moving forward under the satanic leadership of Alexander Hamilton. The ultimate goal of this Federalist faction was to undermine the republican government and replace it with a monarchical state in which the presidency became a hereditary rather than elective office and “money men” became the new American aristocracy.

 To expose the “Federalist plot” Jefferson and Madison chose Philip Freneau to launch the National Gazette as the official voice of what became the Republican Party. Jefferson said Freneau’s real job would be to promote “the ancient Whig doctrine”, referring to the British Whigs opposed to the tyrannical Catholic king, James II and ultimately resulted in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the beginning of the Constitutional Monarchy officially ending absolutist monarchy in Britain. Freneau would be given exclusive access to all foreign intelligence passing through Jefferson’s office (as Secretary of State) and “the publication of all proclamations and public notices within my department”.

Ellis finds Jefferson and Madison to be sincere in their belief a Federalist plot was afoot. These anti-federalists were simply operating in the same ideological lens that hey had used when opposing King George III who had wanted to “enslave” American colonists. The villains of the Federalist plot were intimate acquaintances of Jefferson and Madison as Hamilton co-authored the Federalist papers with Madison. To Jefferson, Hamilton “was not only a monarchist, but for a monarchy bottomed on corruption” and his old friend Adams had lost the revolutionary faith and “been taken up by the monarchical federalists”. It would seem the monarchists, like the Communists of a later time, were everywhere. All the “Federalist plotters” were duly elected or appointed officials chosen by the citizenry in accord with the very Constitution Madison had done so much to shape. The actual legitimacy held by the so-called monarchists mattered little to the southern constituency of Virginians supporting Jefferson and Madison who used their regional vernacular denigrations like “stock-jobbers”, “money men”, and “monocrats” to great effect.

Madison’s turnabout was very much a symptom and consequence of the realignment of political power in Virginia after the narrow victory of the Federalists in the ratifying convention of 1788. The shift occurred in response to the debate over Hamilton’s financial plan in 1790-91, chiefly the federal assumption of state debts and the establishment of a national bank. These developments forced the planter class of Virginia to realize for the first time that their days as America’s premier political elite were numbered, soon to be replaced by the commercial and financial elite of New York and New England. Ellis notes the personal motivations behind most conspiracy theories where impersonal forces of unwelcomed change impact upon those persons ill-served by this change. British and Scottish creditors had been bleeding the Virginia planter class to death. Bankruptcy often arrived as a complete surprise on many Virginia plantations, a product of accounting legerdemain that many planters took considerable pride in not comprehending. Both Jefferson and Madison would die bankrupt. Hamilton’s financial plan for fiscal solvency galvanized all their pent-up frustrations, which were rendered even more passionate because the planters had not the dimmest understanding of what Hamilton was talking about.

The proverbial elephant in the living room could not be discussed as forbidden by the etiquette of Virginian political banter. Jefferson and Madison never mentioned slavery as a factor in their indictment of the Federalist agenda as it would have decimated their entire case. Their orchestrated silence on the slavery issue provides one of those rare occasions where the very absence of evidence is the most important piece of evidence of all. At one time, Madison had supported robust federal sovereignty as strongly as Hamilton, but he changed his mind in 1791 as did other staunch Virginia Federalists. One of the reasons for the shift floating silently above the demonized “money men” was the realization that, once the federal government assumed control over domestic policy, slavery was doomed.


In the spring of 1790, two Quaker petitions circulated, urged Congress to take up the question of the slave trade as well as the persistence of slavery itself in any self-respecting American republic. Ben Franklin signed one, making either impossible to ignore, thus producing the first open and fully recorded debate over slavery in the history of the U.S. Madison led the floor fight in the House of Representatives to black any extension of federal authority over slavery, arguing the Constitution specifically forbade any congressional limitation on the slave trade for 20 years and implicitly relegated any and all legislation regarding slavery itself to the state governments.

 In the debate over the U.S. national bank that raged throughout February 1791, the anti-federalist opponents led by Jefferson and Madison, based their opposition on its unconstitutionality, arguing that Congress possessed only enumerated powers, that the power to create a corporation (a bank) was not one of them, so the bank violated the 10th amendment, which reserved all powers to the states not specifically delegated to the federal government. But the winning argument proved to be Hamilton’s, which cited the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) to sanction congressional authority as one of the implied powers of the Constitution. Hamilton quoted words from the Federalist 44: “No axiom is more established in law, or in reason, than that wherever a general power to do a thing is given, every particular power for doing it, is included. Madison was the author of Federalist 44. His earlier incarnation as an unbridled federalist was being thrown in his face.

There is a great deal more to this story and it will be continued in the next installment.

Written by joethebohemian

May 4, 2015 at 1:45 am

Posted in politics