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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Whatever his theoretic preferences


Bermuda, of good blood but with

the bar sinister stamped upon his birth. He had migrated to New York to seek his fortune, but his citizenship of that State remained an accident. He had no family traditions tying him to any section, and, more than any public man that appeared before the West began to produce a new type, he felt America as a whole. He had great administrative talents of which he was fully conscious, and the anarchy which followed the conclusion of peace was hateful to his instinct for order and strong government. But the strong government which he would have created was of a different type from that which America ultimately developed. Theoretically he made no secret of his preference for a Monarchy over a Republic, but the suspicion that he meditated introducing monarchical institutions into America, though sincerely entertained by Jefferson and others, was certainly false. Whatever his theoretic preferences, he was intensely alive to the logic of facts, and must have known that a brand-new American monarchy would have been as impossible as it would have been ludicrous. In theory and practice, however, he really was anti-democratic. Masses of men seemed to him incapable alike of judgment and of action, and he thought no enduring authority could be based upon the instincts of the "great beast," as he called the mob. He looked for such authority and what seemed to him the example of history, and especially to the example of England. He knew how powerful both at home and abroad was the governing
machine which the English aristocracy had established after the revolution of 1689; and he realized more fully than most men of that age, or indeed of this, that its strength lay in a small but very national governing class wielding the people as an instrument. Such a class he wished to create in America, to connect closely, as the English oligarchy had connected itself closely, with the great moneyed interests, and to entrust with the large powers which in his judgment the central government of the Federation needed.

Jefferson came back from France in the winter of 1789, and was at once offered by Washington the Secretaryship of State. The offer was not a very welcome one, for he was hot with the enthusiasm of the great French struggle, and would gladly have returned to Paris and watched its progress. He felt, however, that the President's insistence laid upon him the duty of giving the Government the support of his abilities and popularity. He had accepted the Constitution which he had no share in framing, not perhaps as exactly what he would have desired, but certainly in full good faith and without reserve. It probably satisfied him at least as well as it satisfied Hamilton, who had actually at one time withdrawn from the Convention in protest against its refusal to accept his views. Jefferson's criticisms, such as they were, related mostly to matters of detail: some of them were just and some were subsequently incorporated in amendments. But there is ample evidence that for none of them was he prepared to go the length of opposing or even delaying the settlement. It is also worth noting that none of them related to the balance of power between the Federal and State Governments, upon which Jefferson is often loosely accused of holding extreme particularist views. As a fact he never held such views. His formula that "the States are independent as to everything within themselves and united as to everything respecting foreign nations" is really a very good summary of the principles upon which the Constitution is based, and states substantially the policy which all the truest friends of the Union have upheld. But he was committed out and out to the principle of popular government, and when it became obvious that the Federalists under Hamilton's leadership were trying to make the central government oligarchical, and that they were very near success, Jefferson quite legitimately invoked and sought to confirm the large powers secured by the Constitution itself to the States for the purpose of obstructing their programme.


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