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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 2894

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Current political theories.]

The chief intellectual interest of the people was in politics. The State and the national constitutions both protected freedom of speech, and Americans were accustomed freely to discuss public men and public measures. Public opinion was, however, created by a comparatively small number of persons,-the leading planters of the South, merchants and great families in the Middle States, the gentlemen and clergy in New England. Already two different schools of political thought had appeared. The one is typified by John Adams's elaborate work, "The Defence of the American Constitutions," published in 1787. "The rich, the well-born, and the able," he says, "… must be separated from the mass and placed by themselves in a senate." The leading spirit in the other school was Thomas Jefferson. He wrote in 1787: "I am persuaded that the good sense of the people will always be found the best army. They may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct themselves." The accepted principle of republican government was nevertheless that there should be a limited number of voters, following the lead of experienced statesmen of a higher social class.

[Sidenote: Political methods.]

A few symptoms of a change in political methods were visible. In 1788 a nominating convention was held in Harrisburg; this method of selecting candidates by representatives of the voters of their party was rapidly e

xtended. In 1789 the secret Columbian Order, or Tammany Society, was formed in New York. At first benevolent and literary, the correspondent of the Massachusetts Historical Society, by 1800 it had become a political organization and was controlling local elections. In several States, and particularly in New York, factions had grown up about leading families of public men; in a few years they became political machines subject to the direction of a few leaders. Buying of votes was almost unknown, but there was much disorder at elections.

[Sidenote: Respect for authority.]

In many respects both the State and national governments were weak. The legislatures had, during the Revolution, been accustomed to ride roughshod over the minority, and they were still inclined to grant charters and privileges only to party friends; Federalist legislatures would charter only Federalist banks. Americans enjoyed their individual liberty, but resented the use of force either for collecting taxes or for upholding the authority of government; and the States were not accustomed unhesitatingly to accept the action of Congress. On the other hand, the Anglo-Saxon respect for law was recovering from the shock of the Revolution. There was a strong feeling of loyalty to the State governments, and the beginning of national interest and patriotism. By common consent the new Constitution was put quietly into effect by those who expected its success.

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