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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

The Federalist party virtually died of the blow


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event amply justified her claim. The oppression laws which the Federalists had induced Congress to pass were virtually dead letters from the moment of their passing. And when the time came for the nation to speak, it rose as one man and flung Adams from his seat. The Federalist party virtually died of the blow. The dream of an oligarchical Republic was at an end, and the will of the people, expressed with unmistakable emphasis, gave the Chief Magistracy to the author of the Declaration of Independence.

CHAPTER V

THE VIRGINIAN DYNASTY

I have spoken of Jefferson's election as if it had been a direct act of the people; and morally it was so. But in the actual proceedings there was a certain hitch, which is of interest not only because it illustrated a peculiar technical defect in the original Constitution and so led to its amendment, but because it introduces here, for the first time, the dubious but not unfascinating figure of Aaron Burr.

Burr was a politician of a type which democracies will always produce, and which those who dislike democracy will always use for its reproach. Yet the reproach is evidently unjust. In all societies, most of those who meddle with the government of men will do so in pursuit of their own interests, and in all societies

the professional politician will reveal himself as a somewhat debased type. In a despotism he will become a courtier and obtain favour by obsequious and often dishonourable services to a prince. In an old-fashioned oligarchy he will adopt the same attitude towards some powerful noble. In a parliamentary plutocracy, like our own, he will proceed in fashion with which we are only too familiar, will make himself the paid servant of those wealthy men who finance politicians, and will enrich himself by means of "tips" from financiers and bribes from Government contractors. In a democracy, the same sort of man will try to obtain his ends by flattering and cajoling the populace. It is not obvious that he is more mischievous as demagogue than he was as courtier, lackey, or parliamentary intriguer. Indeed, he is almost certainly less so, for he must at least in some fashion serve, even if only that he may deceive them, those whose servant he should be. At any rate, the purely self-seeking demagogue is certainly a recurrent figure in democratic politics, and of the self-seeking demagogue Aaron Burr was an excellent specimen.

He had been a soldier not without distinction, and to the last he retained a single virtue--the grand virtue of courage. For the rest, he was the Tammany Boss writ large. An able political organizer, possessed of much personal charm, he had made himself master of the powerful organization of the Democratic party in New York State, and as such was able to bring valuable support to the party which was opposing the administration of Adams. As a reward for his services, it was determined that he should be Democratic candidate for the Vice-Presidency. But here the machinery devised by the Convention played a strange trick. When the votes of the Electoral College came to be counted, it was found that instead of Jefferson leading and yet leaving enough votes to give Burr the second place, the votes for the two were exactly equal. This, under the Constitution, threw the decision into the hands of the House of Representatives, and in that House the Federalists still held the balance of power. They could not choose their own nominee, but they could choose either Jefferson or Burr, and many of them, desiring at the worst to frustrate the triumph of their great enemy, were disposed to choose Burr; while Burr, who cared only for his own career, was ready enough to lend himself to such an intrigue.


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