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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

The Federalists had won the first round


The

majority in Congress was with Hamilton; but his opponents appealed to the Constitution. They denied the competency of Congress under that instrument to establish a National Bank. When the Bill was in due course sent to Washington for signature he asked the opinions of his Cabinet on the constitutional question, and both Hamilton and Jefferson wrote very able State Papers in defence of their respective views. After some hesitation Washington decided to sign the Bill and to leave the question of constitutional law to the Supreme Court. In due course it was challenged there, but Marshal, the Chief Justice, was a decided Federalist, and gave judgment in favour of the legality of the Bank.

The Federalists had won the first round. Meanwhile the party which looked to Jefferson as leader was organizing itself. It took the name of "Republican," as signifying its opposition to the alleged monarchical designs of Hamilton and his supporters. Later, when it appeared that such a title was really too universal to be descriptive, the Jeffersonians began to call themselves by the more genuinely characteristic title of "Democratic Republicans," subsequently abbreviated into "Democrats." That name the party which, alone among American parties, can boast an unbroken historic continuity of more than a century, retains to this day.

At the end of his original term of four years, Washington was prevailed upon to give way to the universal

feeling of the nation and to accept a second term. No party thought of opposing him, but a significant division appeared over the Vice-Presidency. The Democrats ran Clinton against John Adams of Massachusetts, and though they failed there appeared in the voting a significant alliance, which was to determine the politics of a generation. New York State, breaking away from her Northern neighbours, voted with the Democratic South for Clinton. And the same year saw the foundation in New York City of that dubious but very potent product of democracy, which has perhaps become the best abused institution in the civilized world, yet has somehow or other contrived to keep in that highly democratic society a power which it could never retain for a day without a genuine popular backing--Tammany Hall.

Meanwhile the destinies of every nation of European origin, and of none perhaps more, in spite of their geographical remoteness, than of the United States, were being profoundly influenced by the astonishing events that were shaping themselves in Western Europe. At first all America was enthusiastic for the French Revolution. Americans were naturally grateful for the aid given them by the French in their own struggle for freedom, and saw with eager delight the approaching liberation of their liberators. But as the drama unrolled itself a sharp, though very unequal, division of opinion appeared. In New England, especially, there were many who were shocked at the proceedings of the French, at their violence, at their Latin cruelty in anger, and, above all perhaps, at that touch of levity which comes upon the Latin when he is face to face with death. Massacres and _carmagnoles_ did not strike the typical Massachusetts merchant as the methods by which God-fearing men should protest against oppression. The strict military government which succeeded to, controlled and directed in a national fashion the violent mood of the people--that necessary martial law which we call "the Terror"--seemed even less acceptable to his fundamentally Whiggish political creed. Yet--and it is a most significant fact--the bulk of popular American opinion was not shocked by these things. It remained steadily with the French through all those events which alienated opinion--even Liberal opinion--in Europe. It was perhaps because European opinion, especially English opinion, even when Liberal, was at bottom aristocratic, while the American people were already a democracy. But the fact is certain. By the admission of those American writers who deplore it and fail to comprehend it, the great mass of the democracy of America continued, through good and evil repute, to extend a vivid and indulgent sympathy to the democracy of France.


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