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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

It may be that the Whiskey Insurrection


the close of the year 1793, Jefferson, weary of endless contests with Hamilton, whom he accused, not without some justification, of constantly encroaching on his colleague's proper department, not wholly satisfied with the policy of the Government and perhaps feeling that Genet's indiscretions had made his difficult task for the moment impossible, resigned his office. He would have done so long before had not Washington, sincerely anxious throughout these troubled years to hold the balance even between the parties, repeatedly exerted all his influence to dissuade him. The following year saw the "Whiskey Insurrection" in Pennsylvania--a popular protest against Hamilton's excise measures. Jefferson more than half sympathized with the rebels. Long before, on the occasion of Shay's insurrection, he had expressed with some exaggeration a view which has much more truth in it than those modern writers who exclaim in horror at his folly could be expected to understand--the view that the readiness of people to rebel against their rulers is no bad test of the presence of democracy among them. He had even added that he hoped the country would never pass ten years without a rebellion of some sort. In the present case he had the additional motives for sympathy that he himself disapproved of the law against which Pennsylvania was in revolt, and detested its author. Washington could not be expected to take the same view. He was not anti-democratic like Hamilton; he sincerely held the theory
of the State set forth in the Declaration of Independence. But he was something of an aristocrat, and very much of a soldier. As an aristocrat he was perhaps touched with the illusion which was so fatal to his friend Lafayette, the illusion that privilege can be abolished and yet the once privileged class partially retain its ascendancy by a sort of tacit acknowledgment by others of its value. As a soldier he disliked disorder and believed in discipline. As a commander in the war he had not spared the rod, and had even complained of Congress for mitigating the severity of military punishments. It may be that the "Whiskey Insurrection," which he suppressed with prompt and drastic energy, led him for the first time to lean a little to the Hamiltonian side. At any rate he was induced, though reluctantly and only under strong pressure, to introduce into a Message to Congress a passage reflecting on the Democratic Societies which were springing up everywhere and gaining daily in power; and in return found himself attacked, sometimes with scurrility, in the more violent organs of the Democracy.

Washington's personal ascendancy was, however, sufficient to prevent the storm from breaking while he was President. It was reserved for his successor. In 1797 his second term expired. He had refused a third, thereby setting an important precedent which every subsequent President has followed, and bade farewell to politics in an address which is among the great historical documents of the Republic. The two points especially emphasized were long the acknowledged keynotes of American policy: the avoidance at home of "sectional" parties--that is, of parties following geographical lines--and abroad the maintenance of a strict independence of European entanglements and alliances.

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