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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3708

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Old statesmen gone.]

The United States was in 1825 half a century old, and the primitive political methods of the early republic were disappearing. Most of the group of Revolutionary statesmen were dead; Jefferson and John Adams still survived, and honored each other by renewing their ancient friendship; on July 4, 1826, they too passed away. The stately traditions of the colonial period were gone: since the accession of Jefferson, the Presidents no longer rode in pomp to address Congress at the beginning of each session; and inferior and little-known men crept into Congress.

[Sidenote: New constitutions.]

The constitutions framed during or immediately after the Revolution had been found too narrow, and one after another, most of the States in the Union had adopted a second, or even a third. Each change was marked by a popularization of the government, especially with regard to the suffrage. Immigrants had begun to have a sensible effect upon the community. In 1825 there were ten thousand, and the number more than doubled in five years. These changes were reflected in the management of State politics; the greater the number of voters, the greater the power of organization. Hence there had sprung up in the States a system of political chiefs, of whom Aaron Burr is a type.

[Sidenote: Political proscription.]

[Sidenote: Four Years' Tenure Act.]

Three new political devices had now become general among the States. The first was the removal of administrative officers because they did not agree in politics with the party which had elected a governor. This system was in use in Pennsylvania as early as 1790; it was introduced into New York by 1800, and gradually spread into other States. At first it was rather a factional weapon: when the adherents of the Livingstons got into power, they removed the fri

ends of the Clintons; when the Clintonians came in, they turned out the Livingstons. Later, it was a recognized party system. In 1820 Secretary Crawford secured the passage by Congress of an apparently innocent act, by which most of the officers of the national government who collected and disbursed public money were to have terms of four years. The ostensible object was to secure more regular statements of accounts; it was intended and used to drop from the public service subordinates of the Treasury department who were not favorable to Crawford's Presidential aspirations.

[Sidenote: The Gerrymander.]

The second device appears to have been the invention of Elbridge Gerry, when governor of Massachusetts in 1812, and from him it takes the name of Germander, The Federalists were gaining in the State; the Republican legislature, before it went out, therefore redistricted the State in such fashion that the Republicans with a minority of votes were able to choose twenty-nine senators, against eleven Federalists. No wonder that the "New England Palladium" declared this to be "contrary to republicanism and to justice."

[Sidenote: Political organization.]

A third and very effective political device was the caucus. The term was applied particularly to a conference of the members of each party in Congress, which had taken upon itself the nomination of the Presidents. The influence of the extending suffrage, and of political tricks and devices, had as yet little effect in national politics. It was evident, however, that the principles of political manipulation could be applied in national elections. The Republican party of New York was in 1825 managed by a knot of politicians called the Albany Regency. Of these, the ablest was Martin Van Buren, and four years later he succeeded in building up a national political machine.

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