American politics, wow is it divisive. Two sides always at each others knecks, thinking up conspiracies about the other side, and laying claims to how
dangerous the other is to the future of the Republic. If you think any of that is new; then I am here to guide you to the truth. The fact is, this
sharp divide has always existed in this country ever since end of the American Revolution. We have divided ourselves into two camps and while their
outer features have changed dramatically over the ages The Great American Divide still lives.
Part 1: After the American Revolution was the Articles of Confederation establishing a very weak confederacy of several states made up of the thirteen
colonies. However nationalists wanted to design a Republic closely resembling that thought up by Enlightenment thinkers. Charles Pinckney of South
Carolina first made the argument for these reforms in 1786 which was then followed by the creation of the Federalist Papers.
The Federalist Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, all urging the formation of a stronger central government
during the deliberations over a Constitution. Of these three men Hamilton by far wrote the most papers and was the most influential of the trio.
However not everyone liked the idea of a stronger central government, fearing the creation of an Executive branch would lead to it morphing into a
George Clinton, Robert Yates, Samuel Bryan, and Richard Henry Lee wrote their oppositional pieces called the Anti-Federalist Papers; which also
included speeches by Patrick Henry. These men were staunchly opposed to the creation of anything along the lines of the Federalist Papers, arguing it
would lead to the erosion of individual rights. However in the end most of their fears on this part were put to rest with the creation of the Bill of
Part 2: The first President George Washington had brought into his cabinet important men during the Revolutionary era. However none held more sway
over his decisions than Secretary of State and key author of the Federalist Papers; Alexander Hamilton. This led to the eventual resignation of Thomas
Jefferson and the rise of opposition to Washington’s program within the United States Congress. At the time no political parties existed so most
were either pro-Administration or Anti-Administration.
However by 1792 as Washington was running for President again (as an Independent) and the US Senate and House elections were occurring the followers
of Hamilton and Washington created their own political party; the Federalist Party. This led the followers of the administrations opponents to create
their own party, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; the Democratic – Republican Party. While Washington won the Presidency for a second term
the followers of Jefferson won control over the House of Representatives.
These two camps were deeply divided not only in character but in their vision of the Republic. Federalists wanted a strong central government that
represented urbanization, industrialism, mercantilism, and a broad interpretation of the constitution. Democratic – Republicans however wanted
strong state governments that represented yeoman farmers, local governments, free-trade, and a strict interpretation of the Constitution.
However the worst conflict arose in regards to the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror and the XYZ affair. The Federalists were Anglophiles and the
Democratic – Republicans were Francophiles, remaining loyal to the French Revolution even as the Jacobins brought about the Reign of Terror. This
led the Federalists to paint the opposition as ‘Democrats’ and ‘Jacobins’, which were epithets intended to make the public believe they wanted
to bring about mob terror in the United States. In reaction the Democratic – Republicans called Federalists closet monarchists and aristocrats,
pining for a return to British rule.
With the XYZ affair John Adams took the interpreted snub from France to rally public opinion in favor of a strong navy, leading to a quasi-war, and
passed the Alien and Seditions Act intended to harm the opposition. Shortly after this the rule by Federalists came to an end, never again would the
House of Representatives or Executive by run by the Federalist Party. Thomas Jefferson won in 1800 bringing his ideals, known as Jeffersonian
Democracy, to become the leading ideology across the country.
Part 3: By 1812 the relations between Britain and the United States had become quite strained leading to a war between the two nations. The DR’s
were calling for a declaration of war against Britain while the Federalists urged restraint because war would damage trade between the nations which
was critical for New England, the Federalist’s base. Their concerns would be thrown aside as Monroe waged war with Britain. However a controversy
did arise as some Federalists were accused of aiding the British by making friendly ‘blue light’ signals to alert British ships of American
blockade runners in New England. This was not helped by the Hartford Convention
delegates from New England met to deliberate secession due to their opposition to the war.
Because of the spreading of knowledge about ‘blue light federalists’ and the Hartford Convention, the Federalist Party collapsed after the war had
concluded; completely disgraced. By 1822 the party broke into several factions but only constituting 11% of the House seats nationally. With the
Federalists decimated and the rule after the war by Democratic – Republicans known as the ‘Era of Good Feelings’ politics became centered on the
cracking up of the party.
In the 1824 election there were now two camps, one was made up of the followers of John Quincy Adams known as National Republicans and the other was
made up of the followers of Andrew Jackson still known as the Democratic – Republican Party. With Jackson was the continuation of Jeffersonian
Democracy but in a more democratic and populist form. Both parties claimed ownership of Jefferson’s legacy, although the National Republican’s had
a higher influence of Hamiltonian ideas. When Jackson won the Presidency in 1828 the Democratic Party was born.
Part 4: National Republicans were staunchly opposed to Jackson’s very populist and democratic reforms. They feared he would transform America into a
mob democracy, threatening its status as a Republic. Many Democratic – Republicans opposed Jacksonian Democracy which they saw as an ignorant
radicalization of Jefferson’s ideals and turned to help form the Whig Party. The Whigs were made up of Conservative (non-populist) Democrats,
anti-Masons, and former Federalists.
Perhaps the greatest confrontation between the two camps arose when Jackson took on the Second Bank of the United States. The Whigs were staunch
defenders of the bank, proclaiming it to be a source of financial stability for this country. Jacksonians despised the bank as a conspiracy designed
to take away the freedoms of this nation and enslaved the citizens to a global banking cabal centered in London. Whigs warned that if the bank were to
not have its charted extended then financial chaos would ensue; which it did.
Under Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren, the nation entered a serious depression leading to riots and deep hostility directed at the Democrats.
This led to the rise of Whigs to control over the House and Executive with the election of William Henry Harrison. The campaign became notable for its
slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”, not to mention the image Harrison formed with his log cabin campaign; leading one Democratic newspaper to
“Give him a barrel of hard cider, and ... a pension of two thousand [dollars] a year ... and ... he will sit the remainder of his days in his log
Plus the Democrats also hammered the Whigs hard with a song:
“Rockabye, baby, Daddy's a Whig
When he comes home, hard cider he'll swig
When he has swug
He'll fall in a stu
And down will come Tyler and Tippecanoe.
Rockabye, baby, when you awake
You will discover Tip is a fake.
Far from the battle, war cry and drum
He sits in his cabin a'drinking bad rum.
Rockabye, baby, never you cry
You need not fear OF Tip and his Ty.
What they would ruin, Van Buren will fix.
Van's a magician, they are but tricks.”
The 1840s were the only decade that elected Whigs to the Presidency. While being staunchly opposed to the Mexican – American War which was started
by Democrat, James Polk, they nominated a hero from the war for their party and held back attacks against the war. But this could not hold the party
together for long because the issue of slavery was already beginning to tear the party apart. While most were opposed to the expansion of slavery some
wanted to ban slavery outright and others wanted slavery to continue. This led to the party’s collapse and the rise of the Republicans.
Part 5: With the Whigs deceased they broke off into either the Democratic Party or joined the newly formed Republican Party. Those who joined the
Democrats were opposed to our politics becoming based on geographic regions, supported the expansion of slavery westward, and/or did not want a war to
develop. Those who joined the Republicans were free soilers, opposed the expansion of slavery even with popular democracy, and/or were very
pro-business. The 1856 Presidential campaign, first for the Republicans, was led by John C. Fremont with the slogan: "Free speech, free press, free
soil, free men, Frémont and victory!"
By 1860 tensions were so high that South Caroline promised if Lincoln is elected President they would secede from the union. The Republicans however
subscribed to a strong Whiggish ideal that liberty and the union was intertwined; that we could not have one without the other and that states do not
hold the right to secession. This was diametrically opposed to the Jeffersonian ideal that states held the right to secession; thus emphasizing once
again the split in our politics dating back to Hamilton and Jefferson.
Lincoln during his Presidency had, what we can assume, called himself and the Republicans the true
“You say you are conservative — eminently conservative — while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. What is
conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried? We stick to, contend for, the identical old policy on the point
in controversy which was adopted by "our fathers who framed the Government under which we live;" while you with one accord reject, and scout, and spit
upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new.”
At the time the Federalists, Whigs, and Republicans all followed a form of Conservatism which was best expressed by the British statesman Edmund Burke
and the American statesmen Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Daniel Webster. While those who followed in the footsteps of
Jefferson were the Liberals; they were supportive of free-trade, popular democracy, and free-trade. It was almost a division between a more elitist
or, aristocratic, spirit among the Federalist – Whig – Republican parties and the more democratic or, populist, spirit among the Democratic –
Republican and Democratic parties.
Part 6: By 1892 the politics had changed with the rise of the Populists who supported bimetallism and labor agitation that was beginning to erupt in
the Midwest. This created a new transformation of the Jeffersonian ideals, coming together under the leadership of the Liberal William Jennings Bryan.
In 1896 the country was suffering through a devastating depression which was blamed on the Democrats and Grover Cleveland. The party suffered the
largest loss in the House in recorded history, for any party.
The chaos within the Democratic Party with two warring factions; the Bourbons and the Bimetallists, threatened to tear the party apart. Both laid
claim to the champions of Jefferson and Jackson’s ideals, the Bimetallists claimed that an international cabal of bankers were controlling our
country through the gold standard and this was allowed to happen, if not encouraged, by the Bourbon Democrats and Republicans. Bryan, only 36, became
the youngest nominee for any party after securing the nomination thanks to his great oratorical piece, the
“Cross of Gold
“If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us the
producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will
answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify
mankind upon a cross of gold.”
It was again the outgrowth of the Jeffersonian democracy that had permeated the Democratic Party since its founding. With those words you could hear
the echoes of Jefferson and Jackson ringing through the convention and all through the countryside. However, Bryan was defeated by William McKinley
who ran on a much more Hamiltonian platform. He emphasized the gold standard for stability, a strong military, an increase in the tariff, and a
cultural pluralism to bring wealth to all of the races in the country while integrating them into the White majority culture.
With his rise also came the rise of the political legend Theodore Roosevelt. An ardent follower of Alexander Hamilton who brought his ideas into
greater circulation by trying to create a new movement within the Republican Party;
“Hamilton, the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time, was of course easily the
foremost champion in the ranks of the New York Federalists; second to him came Jay, pure, strong and healthy in heart, body, and mind. Both of them
watched with uneasy alarm the rapid drift toward anarchy; and both put forth all their efforts to stem the tide. They were of course too great men to
fall in with the views of those whose antagonism to tyranny made them averse from order. They had little sympathy with the violent prejudices produced
by the war. In particular they abhorred the vindictive laws directed against the persons and property of Tories; and they had the manliness to come
forward as the defenders of the helpless and excessively unpopular Loyalists. They put a stop to the wrongs which were being inflicted on these men,
and finally succeeded in having them restored to legal equality with other citizens, standing up with generous fearlessness against the clamor of the
Theodore Roosevelt’s politics and political style became attractive for many people throughout the nation. With his strong executive,
confrontational personality, and high intelligence, the man commanded a certain kind of admiration from the well-educated and the illiterate worker
alike. Under his authority the Republican Party began to implement more policies which favored a strong executive and a strengthening of the central
government at the expense of the state governments.
However by 1913 a new President was on the scene, this one a Democrat. Bringing with him once again the Jeffersonian democracy just in a new way; he
combined Jefferson’s populism with Hamilton’s centralization. It is rather similar to the politics of Theodore Roosevelt but with a more
Jeffersonian character. Just as the Jeffersonians long championed democracy, he too championed it by saying, "The world must be made safe for
democracy". He also broke down the tariff while implementing the income tax, an idea which was popular among the populists.
Americans ended up rejecting Wilsonian politics in 1920 with an overwhelming landslide for Republican Warren Harding; ushering in the most
Conservative era in the 20th century. Along with that came the rise of support for Hamilton among the Conservatives. With Henry Cabot Lodge
“Hamilton was the greatest constructive mind in all our history and I should come pretty near saying... in the history of modern statesmen in any
And Calvin Coolidge explaining:
“When America ceases to remember his [Hamilton’s] greatness, America will no longer be great.”
Part 7: In 1932 Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the Presidency; he stood in a stark contrast from his cousin Theodore in that Franklin was a disciple of
Thomas Jefferson. Under his Presidency he even had a memorial for Thomas Jefferson erected in Washington, D.C. While it may seem contradictory, that
Franklin would be both a statist and a Jeffersonian it actually fits as I said earlier, the underlying current of the philosophy. It was always about
the poor, farmers, and the masses in general.
Jefferson, without ever having to be in favor of social programs, actually became an inspiration for the New Deal. This was the carrying on of the
Liberal spirit in American politics which Jefferson and Jackson both exemplified. Even though during the Progressive era both parties accepted
Hamilton’s idea of a strong central government they still differed on style and in what form it should be.
It was not just Franklin who revered Jefferson but so did John F.
“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the
possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
The Jeffersonian spirit however also arose within the Republican Party during the 1960s with Barry Goldwater. It however came in the form of
protection of states’ rights led by those who feared the Civil Rights reforms went too far, infringing upon private property and violating the 10th
amendment. This led to not only the creation of the Dixiecrats in 1948 when the Democratic Party refused to remove Civil Rights from the platform but
also the movement led by George Wallace in 1968. Then the eventual switch of many Southern Democrats into the Republican Party.
A Jeffersonian spirit of conspiracy regarding international cabals, the banking elite, and the central government became widespread among Republicans.
The populist spirit also arose in the once solely Hamiltonian party. It came into its own with the rise of Ronald Reagan and the populism exploded
within the party.
Today, both parties are experiencing a balancing act between their Hamiltonian side; brought into the Democratic Party in large part during the
Johnson administration and having been in the Republican Party since its inception. And the Jeffersonian side; brought into the Republican Party in
large part during the Reagan administration and having been in the Democratic Party since its inception.
Even President Barack Obama is a follower
of Thomas Jefferson rather
than Alexander Hamilton:
“Jefferson was not entirely wrong to fear Hamilton's vision for the country, for we have always been in a constant balancing act between
self-interest and community, market and democracy, the concentration of wealth and power and the opening up of opportunity.”
But today, at this very moment, the Jeffersonian spirit has awoken in earnest. It has come alive in the campaign of Republican Presidential candidate
Ron Paul. He is not a Hamiltonian, by any means, and fits quite well into the Jefferson – Jackson tradition of populist attacks against the
concentration of wealth and power, against a banking cabal, and in favor of the masses of people, even if it is a different approach than the
Democrats have, and continue, to have.
In the American tradition you are one or the other; Hamiltonian or Jeffersonian. For me, I am a Hamiltonian more than a Jeffersonian. I believe in the
Federalist – Whig – (classical) Republican tradition over the more Jeffersonian Democratic tradition. So, what are you and what did you think of
this history lesson in American politics?
edit on 12/18/2011 by Misoir because: (no reason given)