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CHANGE IN FEDERALIST FEELING.
1787 and 1788. The opposition of the anti-Federalists, as already remarked, now took the form of a pretended struggle for the constitution.2 Experience soon taught the leaders that these tactics would insure them the readier and more energetic support of the masses of the people. When the opposition had assumed this tone it was difficult for the Federalists not to assume it also. At first, part of them took the position which Hamilton had taken, and saw in the constitution the best that could be accomplished under the circumstances of the time; and others professed themselves satisfied because it was free from the essential defects of the articles of confederation. They were far removed from unconditional admiration. Their entire struggle for its ratification bore the mark of a defense against unjust attacks. They lavished relatively little direct praise on the constitution; and when they did, it was most frequently in the shape of a comparison with the articles of confederation. Only with reluctance did the Federalists surrender this reserved attitude. But they could not entirely resist the pressure. Their adherents among the masses of the people were not able to understand how they could continue cool critics of the constitution they had planned, the adoption of which was due solely to their efforts, while
1 Fisher Ames writes to Wolcott, Sept. 2, 1795: "Some opinions are general and well established: admiration of our constitution and gov. ernment," etc. Gibbs, Mem. of Wolcott, I., p. 229.
The Virginia and Kentucky resolutions were the first official declaration of principles on which the doctrine of state rights was built. We quote from the Virginia resolutions: "Resolved, That the general assembly of Virginia doth unequivocally express a firm resolution to maintain and defend the constitution of the United States." And later: That the good people of the commonwealth, having ever felt and continuing to feel . . . the most scrupulous fidelity to that constitution, which is a pledge of mutual friendship and the instrument of mutual happiness." In like manner, the Kentucky resolutions declare that the state is sincerely anxious for its [the constitution's] preservation.” 'Wash's. Writ., IX., pp. 318, 319.
the anti-Federalists were preparing a shrine for it on the high altar of the temple of freedom.
A problem of this kind was then, and would be to-day, of much greater practical significance in the United States than, for instance, in England or in Germany; because in some respects the political thought of Americans is much more superficial and immature. In political questions of a concrete nature, the Americans are on an average more competent judges than any people on the continent of Europe. The political institutions of the country, its social and especially its economic relations, educate them from the cradle to independent thought on all questions involving material interests, and encourage them to summon their whole intellectual strength for their solution. But in the wearing struggles of daily life new problems of this character continually arise, and almost exhaust their intellectual strength. Their energy of mind is not in consequence great enough to give much depth to their thoughts on political problems of a general nature. The disposition towards generalization is sufficiently developed, but their observations are neither various, nor long, nor reliable enough to warrant inductions of any real value. Halftrue and vague ideas are therefore raised by them to the dignity of unimpeachable principles. These are appealed to on every occasion, so that they rapidly rise to the dignity of sovereign laws. And the more they assume this character, the stronger does the conviction become rooted that they are the stars by which the ship of state should be steered. The further the idea of democracy was pushed, first in theory and then in practice, the more did the doctrine of the equality of all men become perverted
1 The masses of the population in the southern states are here excepted. Slavery has in this, as in all other respects, produced an abnormal state of affairs. Neither do we here include adopted citizens, although in the upper strata they very soon become assimilated, so far as this matter is concerned, to the native Americans.
in the minds of the masses into the equal capacity of all men to decide on political questions of every kind. The principle of mere numbers steadily gained ground.
The political philosophy of the masses was comprised in these vague maxims. They clung to them with all the self-complacent obstinacy of the lowest and most numerous body of the working classes. They were nowhere more sensitive than here. Whoever desired their favor dared not touch this idol of theirs, and could scarcely ignore it unpunished. The fetish had been raised up for the worship of the masses by their leaders, and the masses in turn compelled their leaders to fall down and adore it. Under no form of government is it so dangerous to erect a political idol as in a democratic republic; for once erected, it is the political sin against the Holy Spirit to lay hands upon it.
The history of the United States affords the strongest and most varied proof of these assertions. Not only the quarrels of 1787 and 1788, but also the circumstances under which the constitution originated, would have inclined one to believe anything rather than that the constitution would be chosen as the chief idol of the people.
The brilliant contrast it presents to the articles of confederation is not a sufficient explanation of this, not even if it were granted that the extraordinary economic prosperity of the country was due to it to the unmeasured. extent claimed by Americans themselves.1
The current view places the labors of the Philadelphia convention in a totally false light, but the difficulties that convention had to surmount were so great that they can scarcely be exaggerated. The conflict of views and of real or
"It is to be feared we have grown giddy with good fortune; attrib. uting the greatness of our prosperity to our wisdom rather than to a course of events and a guidance over which we had no influence." Quincy in the house of representatives, April 19, 1808. Benton's Deb. of Congress, III., p. 700.
supposed interests was too great to permit of even an apparent reconciliation between them by any formula consistent with the theories of the time. A reconciliation was, on the other hand, a question of life or death to all sections of the people. It therefore became imperative that mutual sacrifices should be made at every step, and this not only in principles, but also in theories; that is, both sides were compelled, by making concessions at variance with their principles, to be untrue to their ideal. The final result could not in consequence be a harmonious whole, complete in itself. The most that could be accomplished was a certain amount of reconciliation, the effect of which was the prevention of the dissolution of the Union and the creation of a federal power with the character of a federal government to such an extent that by it the possibility of the growth of the members of the federation into one consistent whole was secured.1
A model constitution-so far as it is allowable at all to speak of such a one-would have done poor service for the United States. Besides it is very probable that it would not have been ratified. But if it had been adopted, it would not have lasted long, for the reason that it was not at all in harmony with the actual condition of affairs.
It was necessary that the constitution should be highly elastic in its nature. Its terms must be susceptible of
The originators of the constitution were conscious at the completion of their work that they had accomplished no more. They say in their communication to congress, which accompanied the constitution: "In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view that which appeared to us the greatest interest of every true American-in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each state in the convention to be less rigid in points of inferior magnitude [?] than might have been otherwise expected, and thus the constitution which we now present is the result of amity and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable." Elliot, Deb., I., p. 305.
great extension or contraction of meaning, according to the want of the moment. A more brittle bond would infallibly be broken. This is not a matter of speculation. The whole history of the United States, from 1789 to 1861, demonstrates it.
Almost from the very day on which the new order of things was inaugurated, the conflict between the opposing tendencies broke out anew, and before the close of the century it attained a degree of violence which suggested very serious fears. The thought of the dissolution of the Union was current among both parties. In accordance with their whole political tendency the anti-Federalists permitted themselves to be urged on more frequently and more easily to conceive of taking such extreme steps. But even in the speculations of the Federalists on the future, this constituted an element which was taken into consideration with other contingencies. It is indeed true that it was frequently only by vain threats that the minority sought to exert a pressure on the majority. The view which afterwards became gradually more general, that during the first years of the existence of the republic the thought of separation was never seriously entertained, is a historical misrepresentation made in the interests of party. Until the first part of the nineteenth century, the dissolution of the Union was a standing element in political speculation; and both previous to and after that period, it was repeatedly considered possible and even probable in moments of excitement, by either party, that it would be necessary to resort to this radical remedy.
Were it not that the letter of the constitution permitted all parties to verge upon the actual dissolution of the Union, without feeling themselves responsible for a breach of the constitution, it is likely that long before 1861, a serious attempt in that direction would have been made. Thanks to this circumstance, however, the danger of ruin