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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

But the Federalists forgot everything


accusation that Jefferson in

the matter of Louisiana forgot his principles, and acted in a manner grossly inconsistent with his attitude when the Federalists were in power. Certainly, the purchase can only be defended constitutionally by giving a much larger construction to the powers of the Federal authority than even Hamilton had ever promulgated. If the silence of the Constitution on the subject must, as Jefferson had maintained, be taken as forbidding Congress and the Executive to charter a bank, how much more must a similar silence forbid them to expend millions in acquiring vast new territories beyond the borders of the Confederacy. In point of fact, Jefferson himself believed the step he and Congress were taking to be beyond their present powers, and would have preferred to have asked for a Constitutional Amendment to authorize it. But he readily gave way on this to those who represented that such a course would give the malcontent minority their chance, and perhaps jeopardize the whole scheme. The fact is, that "State Rights" were not to Jefferson a first principle, but a weapon which he used for the single purpose of resisting oligarchy. His first principle, in which he never wavered for a moment, was that laid down in the "Declaration"--the sovereignty of the General Will. To him Federalism was nothing and State Sovereignty was nothing but the keeping of the commandments of the people. Judged by this test, both his opposition to Hamilton's bank and his purchase of the Louisiana territory were justified;
for on both occasions the nation was with him.

Jefferson's inconsistency, therefore, if inconsistency it were, brought him little discredit. It was far otherwise with the inconsistency of the Federalists. For they also changed sides, and of their case it may be said that, like Milton's Satan, they "rode with darkness." The most respectable part of their original political creed was their nationalism, their desire for unity, and their support of a strong central authority. Had this been really the dominant sentiment of their connection, they could not but have supported Jefferson's policy, even though they might not too unfairly have reproached him with stealing their thunder. For not only was Jefferson's act a notable example of their own theory of "broad construction" of the Constitution, but it was perhaps a more fruitful piece of national statesmanship than the best of Hamilton's measures, and it had a direct tendency to promote and perpetuate that unity which the Federalists professed to value so highly, for it gave to the States a new estate of vast extent and incalculable potentialities, which they must perforce rule and develop in common. But the Federalists forgot everything, even common prudence, in their hatred of the man who had raised the people against them. To injure him, most of them had been ready to conspire with a tainted adventurer like Burr. They were now ready for the same object to tear up the Union and all their principles with it. One of their ablest spokesmen, Josiah Quincey, made a speech against the purchase, in which he anticipated the most extreme pronouncements of the Nullifiers of 1832 and the Secessionists of 1860, declared that his country was not America but Massachusetts, that to her alone his ultimate allegiance was due, and that if her interests were violated by the addition of new Southern territory in defiance of the Constitution, she would repudiate the Union and take her stand upon her rights as an independent Sovereign State.


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