America’s first big political hill to climb was whether we should have a One-Party government.
And, rather quickly, it was decided “No”.
That original one-party was supposed to be the Federalist Party according to its two biggest proponents John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, who, with that in mind, also pushed for the ratification of the Constitution-as-written by the Federal Convention in Philadelphia (May through September 1787) and presented it back to the states later that year.
It’s important to understand that all the terms used here – federalism, Federalist, Anti-Federalist, States’ Rights, etc – held many different meanings fewer than 70 years ago. Back then, when William F. Buckley and friends used those concepts to formulate a new American ideal of “conservativism”, they were trying to become the dominant intellectual wing of the Republican Party. After what they considered to be a dangerous drift away from the original Republican brand, which many people do not know, wasn’t about “Big Business in a free market economy”, rather its older brand, the “Doctrine of Liberty”, as laid out by one of the founders of the Republican Party in a speech to Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard in 1862 which was delivered by George William Curtis.
In the northeast business sector that doctrine was more or less scuttled in the 1870s, which ushered in the gilded age with the post-Civil War industrial revolution, and quickly fell to a much lesser position in national Republican Party thinking but remained an anchor in small towns and public schools well into the 1960s when parents still controlled their local public schools. It was a key element of the process of assimilation, the “melting pot”, across the country of the millions of immigrants who came ashore between the 1870s thru 1930.
None of the terms we introduced here (federalism, Federalist, Anti-Federalist, States’ Rights, etc), mean quite the same today as they did in 1955 or 1824 or in 1787, so in order to understand their intended usage we need to peer beneath the label, for while federalism originally stood for the simple notion that our “federal” government would share power equally with regional governments as a single political system, which was a unique occurrence that had never actually happened before. Fewer and fewer today understand that in its simplest terms.
When all the delegates gathered in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, they shared the same general view just stated, which is why they quickly dispensed with the attempt to strengthen the old Articles of Confederation and began devising a whole new system of governance from the ground up. James Madison of Virginia and Alexander Hamilton of New York were both noteworthy in steering the convention in this direction and ultimately drafting it. It would take almost three years of debate and old fashion arm-twisting back in their home state assemblies, taking until May 1790 before all 13 states would finally sign on, but only after a list of additions to the original Constitution (as written) had been agreed to. The men who caused those additions to be written were called “anti-Federalists”, a name they did not give themselves but was attached to them by the press.
This bevy of public debates in city newspapers would become a part of the national record, highlighted by the famous Federalist Papers, largely written by Hamilton and Madison under the sobriquet Publius. Today these are recognized as the history of the ratification debate when, in fact, there were many more opinions offered on the topic.
Those debates resulted in the Bill of Rights being added to the Constitution in September 1789, after it had already been ratified by 11 of the by-then 14 states. As mentioned, most of those debates were fought in several newspapers around the country, and if you didn’t know, the honesty and integrity of the Press were about the same in 1787 as it is today. Each one had its own particular dog in the fight, not only advocating one point of view but maligning the other often to the point of libel.
This is the point in American history when the term “anti-Federalist” first arose and was intended to frame arguments against ratifying the Constitution, as written, in a negative and weaponized manner. Wikipedia reported that the great patriot from the Revolution, “Give me liberty or give me death” Patrick Henry, actually voted against ratification in 1789, but failed to mention that the Virginia Assembly only voted for it once the Bill of Rights had been guaranteed. Nor did Wiki say that those labeled “anti-Federalists” denied that they were ever against the Constitution, saying instead that the Constitution didn’t go far enough, especially in protecting individual “civil rights”.
(This incidentally is how Wikipedia reports most of its history, so unless you are simply interested in factsheet info such as so-and-so’s birthday, keep in mind its general biases.)
In the end, the anti-Federalists won, for as just mentioned, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in September 1789 as Articles I thru X, and sent out to the states for ratification which would take another two years, December 1791, for that ratification process to be completed, which should give you some idea just how slow the deliberative process can be for what should have been a no-contest set of amendments. Since Virginia was “agin it” before they were “fer it”, the history of the politics of their process (G Gordon Hylton wrote an important 40-pg history,” Virginia and the Ratification of the Bill of Rights” in 1992 for the Univ of Richmond Law Review) provides all sorts of insights.
Keep in mind, those ten amendments saved the federal Union on more than one occasion and may be instrumental in rescuing it through this latest crisis, which, after all, is said and done, might be the most existential of all constitutional crises the Nation has ever faced. (Yes, even more than the Civil War.)
So, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton were the foremost spokesmen for a one-party system, when it should have been obvious from the “Federalist debates” and the adding of the Bill of Rights that virtually every aspect of government invited spirited and honest philosophical disagreement that reached into the soul of every citizen, based on basic human understanding that went beyond mere political arguments and was driven by education, class and wealth, vocation, and religion, many simply not negotiable. A one-party state invited both class and rank distinctions, which we now know reserves slots and special protections in the ruling class for the least deserving of individuals, from John Quincy Adams of one sort, and Hunter Biden of another.
Honestly, it is hard to imagine a government, built from the ground up, on the shoulders of the towns and states, and the people that started building it as much as 150 years earlier, where the federal government could ever be the first platform of governance and not the last, and consisting of anything other than multiple political parties espousing routinely disparate principles and interests. In the vast majority of these scenarios, as well, many of the interests and concerns would be based on local and Regional issues much more than they would be grounded in centralized National ones. Politics, as they say, is local.
It seems America has more or less decided on two parties, although almost from the beginning the struggle has been ongoing to secure greater power for the last-born, the federal government, at the diminishment of the birthrights of the first-borns; the individuals, towns, cities, and states.
Both of our current parties have sat atop the roost in being able to control that power, the Republicans generally from 1865 to 1932 (67 years) and the Democrats from 1932 to the current time (90 years), each era marked by intermittent popular interventions at the behest of the People, of the out-party to flush away the excesses of the in-party, proving the survival-instincts of the society is still intact.
Over most of those years, The People had served as “quality control”, stepping in from time to time, flushing the pot. The Republicans fell because they had become much too wealth and rank conscious, not unlike the original Federalists, only with a flair for fancy dinner attire.
It’s the predictability of those “flushings” that seems to be in peril these days, for when the last voter-supported flushing of the system seemed to be just what the Peoples’ doctor ordered, in 2016, the in-party at that time simply (and rather nakedly, in that they got caught) circumvented all pretense of law and denied the People their choice in 2020. Or did they?
We won’t dwell on this event here, but it is largely the reason this discussion is being undertaken now, in this place and this time, because it’s the autocratic one-party elephant in the room.
Alexander Hamilton was the titular founder of the Federalist Party, under his belief that it should be the only political party, but he was not a Puritan. When George Washington stepped from power in 1796, Thomas Jefferson had already formed the Democratic-Republican Party in 1792, to serve as an opposition party to the Federalists. Jefferson, it was hoped, would succeed Washington, who leaned Federalist, but being larger than life, felt he didn’t want to take sides in a debate that had existed from the beginning.
Ultimately, it would be John Adams who would succeed Washington in 1796 and be America’s only Federalist president. That party fell from power in 1800 with the election of Thomas Jefferson, putting the Federalist Party to bed forever, and replacing it with the next three presidents – Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe – thus ending what some call the American classical era, where each of these presidents was a veteran of the Revolution.
Some would argue that the only lasting Federalist contribution besides Hamilton was John Marshall, who in Marbury vs Madison, 1804, invoked the doctrine of judicial review when the Supreme Court invoked its right to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional.
We think early-on historians who wrote textbooks for high schools and college freshmen found it difficult to write about those early histories built around concepts that might have been confusing or boring (or both) for young minds, so instead conveniently pigeon-holed that early period into just “the Founders”, meaning those first 38 years.
Although remembered as a paradigm of historic virtue, which it wasn’t, this rendering of the first 38 years did set into stone the key cornerstones to our Republic to be first learned as a classical period of wisdom and harmony, which again, it wasn’t, but in doing so secures in the young minds full of mush a body of evidence that would have to be overcome to turn their minds away from the original purposes of the Founding, which originally was taught as a miracle, as one of the most magnificent of blessings from God.
We still subscribe to that as both true, and the proper way to teach it.
This should be their first impression, then let time, further study and experience, modify those original teachings. Sunday schools taught the events of the Book of Genesis in basically the same way. Teach the mystery first.
It’s not unlike the child who, once taught the 6th Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”, then only learns as an adult that its true translation is “Thou shalt not commit Murder”. That child walks away with a different view once his/her reasoning abilities had matured to handle the difference. With the young minds, this had been a teaching tool of American schools to teach all sorts of things to the young, especially history much like churches taught the Decalogues. It is the same today, only it is no longer the churches, nor even the People in their schools, who get the first crack at the children.
It is important to note, here, that the anti-Federalists were not a political party. Rather, they simply believed the greater power should reside with the states (and the People) and not the new federal government, and believed the Constitution could be used and abused simply by redefining certain terms that could confer greater powers to the federal government in the future. After all, that’s what lawyers were wont to do even in the 18th Century. They also understood the significance of a governing body that was three arms-lengths away from the People, while states officials were only two arms-lengths away, and cities and towns and their executives only one. They also knew lawyers much prefer to write rules from an echo chamber three arms lengths away.
Everyone who reads this knows that has been exactly the truth almost all those 245 years.
What we also know is that over that 245-year history, those opening three lines of the Constitution, “We the People” has been rendered less and less significant to the millions who now manage the government, elected and employed.
Adams was a fine lawyer, a Puritan in his formative years, morally upright to the point of eccentricity (which was generally believed only to be found in virgins making ready to take the vows), unbending in his beliefs, but also with the annoying habit of never having an unuttered thought. Obnoxious. But he had been the driving force in Philadelphia in 1776 to push the Continental Congress toward the Declaration of Independence, so headed the Massachusetts delegation in the Constitutional Convention. We’ve always liked his cousin Sam better, so we confess a prejudice. To the people of the several states, he was a rotten president by all accounts of the by-then 16 states and was not re-elected for a second term; winning only the (7) northern Atlantic seaboard states, while Thomas Jefferson won the other 9 states, by an electoral college margin of 73-65, but a vote margin of 61.4% to 38.6%, which should give you all some insights as to why One Party-staters today would like to get rid of the electoral college.
Alexander Hamilton, the Party founder, on the other hand, was scarcely over 30 when he made his major contributions to The Federalist Papers that largely caused the Constitution to be ratified, but because of the Federalist Papers, he was probably viewed in a more positive light in those Atlantic seaboard states. Only he never got a chance to run mainly because Adams never liked him, and Hamilton saw himself as a king-maker, not a king.
Before all that, still in his 20’s, he served four years as aide-de-camp to General Washington, but desperately wanting a battle ribbon, the General gave him a command at Yorktown. He was the first Secretary of the Treasury at a time when that was the most important position in government outside the presidency, his face firmly affixed to our 10 dollar bill. A brilliant monetary man, he set the United States on a fiscal course that guided America’s money management until Wilson and FDR would decide to restructure it in keeping with their more modern ideas of Big Government in the 20th Century.But Hamilton was also very ambitious and headstrong. We’re not sure what the 1800’s version of “horn dog” was, but Hamilton was enmeshed in more than one scandal with the ladies, which is still difficult for 20th Century lotharios to get a mental picture of when girls could crawl in and out of the back seat of dad’s Ford inside 30 minutes. (Outside of tavern wenches, we still cannot picture a lady of that period getting out of even her first layer of duds in that same amount of time, although we’re told French courtesans were Olympic-quality in their skill sets.) Eventually, Hamilton’s wicked tongue would catch the ear of Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s VP, who would challenge him to a duel in 1804, which he lost.
As much as Hamilton disliked Adams they both disliked Jefferson more, only Adams and Jefferson had reconciled somewhat in later years, both even deciding to die on the same day, July 4, 1826, Jefferson at 83, Adams at 90, on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. (Never believing in coincidence Scholars still debate their mutual collaboration in this.)
History suggests that Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton didn’t like one another, at all, but even they, while never intentional we’re fairly certain, were able to extend an important handshake.
Modern conservatives (of the William F. Buckley National Review school) liked Hamilton more than they did Jefferson, who they considered to be a romantic, and also a little too rural agrarian in his sensibilities. They saw Jefferson as a little too much the aristocrat; landed upper class, best schools, Renaissance man, inventor, philosopher and intellectual, architect, and builder of universities. Hamilton, on the other hand, was self-educated, of questionable parentage, rags-to-riches, but also intellectual, though less lofty and more pragmatic, very ambitious, viewing the world through the eyes of urbanity and not the rolling hills of Virginia. But he was killed in a gunfight. Hamilton was a man of ambition, when “ambitious” was a term of scorn by the upper classes, as one who, in the English sense of the day, was always trying to rise above his station…without the invitation by his betters. So there had to be something else, found in his letters and writings that drew modern conservatives to him.
But it was Thomas Jefferson who actually betrayed his class in the name of Liberty (“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”) both knowingly and willingly, (which no modern establishmentarian would ever do) as did other southern colonial leaders who put their John Hancock’s on the Declaration in 1776. They were all considered in the south as men who had betrayed their class, which these days does not sound like a very Republican thing to do.
Charles Beard, a Wilson-era Progressive historian (who cost one of us an “A” in his last semester at university because he told the prof on the final exam that Beard was full of baloney and explained why) attempted to show that these men started the American Revolution against the King for economic gain and nothing else, proving Beard was, in fact, full of baloney. Think about it. Imagine John Kerry deciding that he would risk all he owned, go into hiding for seven years, lose all his friends from Yale and down at the Filson Club, on the chance that this new ragtag group he’d signed up with could actually defeat the greatest army in the world, all for an “ideal”.
Think about it. What are the percentages, especially if you’re a Beta male? Beard was a progressive fool (but we repeat ourselves)because he could never understand or even consider the greater personal courage it required to look your own class(mates) in the eye and deny them – over a thing as trivial as the dignity and rights of a bunch of “low-borns” (a thing, by the way, no modern Progressive has been able to do since Whitaker Chambers quit the Communist Party in the 1940s.) Beard was a cynic about the nobility of human ideals, as are most Progressives, but still, Jefferson’s constitutional views have been trolling around like little spirochetes in the venereal version of Progressive American political theory for two generations, at least.
While intellectually we favor Hamilton more in Constitutional matters (which was his baby, not Jefferson’s, anyway) we will always measure Jefferson for the unquantifiable courage required to place his ideals of human liberty and dignity over his comfortable station in life. And to our now-departed friends at National Review, Jefferson also did (still does) a thing that no conservative or constitutional writer has ever been able to do since, which was to make intellectuals around the world weep over this little-understood and new-found notion of liberty. With one simple phrase – “we hold these truths to be self-evident” – he answered a question scholars of the old Soviet Union had been seeking for over a generation. It was they who pointed this out to one of us many years ago, not the other way around, that the operative word of the entire preamble to the Declaration is “self-evident”, meaning that even Ivan Ivanovich (Homer Simpson) could figure out how to “pursue life, liberty, happiness” without permission of the State.
With that, Jefferson’s language also brought about the one and only handshake between himself and Alexander Hamilton, about which they both agreed. While we doubt they ever physically shook hands on anything, they would agree that the Constitution was written for the common man in his pursuits and not just for the social elites in their pursuit of theirs, which seems to be the more common political theme these days.
As we move ahead, we think readers should take a look at the most recent Red-Blue political map of the United States, or better still, a county-by-county view after the 2016 election. Any such image represents what we like to call “the Blue GOP Diaspora”, and take note of the blue areas. What you will notice is that the wellspring of Progressivism in the United States today is in the Northeast which, until around 1914, was the home of the intellectual soul of the Republican Party. Strikingly low in any of these Maps is the number of red counties in comparison to the Blues.
In this context, it is not difficult to look back on the classical era as that time in our history where we divided ourselves up, ideologically, into “either-or” communities of Voters; if you were a Republican, you voted one way, and for one group of like-minded politicians, and if you were a Democrat, you voted in the opposite direction. But this binary choice had an entirely different dynamic in 1800 than the one we see all around us today. More specifically, even Within the either-or proposition, there lies – beneath the surface – even more finely fractured sub-disciplines that frequently butt heads before coming to some semblance of reluctant submission to the louder and the more powerful voices within these factions.
It seems to us that the primary underpinnings of the national dynamic, during the period between 1800 and the beginning of the Civil War, was comprised, more or less, of the standard-issue, garden variety “social distance” between the “haves” and the “have nots”. Though certainly not new, in the general history of human civilization(s), we are of one mind that it was exceedingly ubiquitous, and tremendously discomfiting to the “have-nots”, to be working so hard to rid themselves a plantation Elites only to wind up replacing them with Industrial Revolution Elites. Not for nothing, but when you look at the big Tech oligarchy we are confronted with today, a good many of us quietly Pine for the good old days before 1900.
It should be of no surprise to anyone that our national politics evolved in lockstep with the shifting forces of power, wealth, and influence in the private sector. Every one of us paying attention well enough understands that politics and money chase each other around, in endless circles, like puppies chasing their own tails. It’s the nature of our so-called body impolitic to see, through the eyes of the “have-nots”, that none of this childishness produces any useful personal life-improving outcome while the only thing that the “haves” seem to see is this or that noble enterprise that may (or may not) provide sufficient ancillary benefit to enough of the “have-nots” to keep the “haves” in power.
In every case that fool’s errands are run by the “haves”, the cost of their follies is universally passed on to “we, the have-nots”, with little or no repercussions for those whose messes we almost always have to clean up behind them. One need look no further back than the period beginning with the crash of the stock market in 1929, running through the Great Depression, and up to the present Covid-19 pandemic to recognize the ill-effects of putting all our faith in the fewest among us, in possession of the greatest power and wealth, who routinely scramble protect their own interests while leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.
To be sure, other political parties have come and gone since the days of the Founders, but it has been the Democrats and Republicans that have remained successfully entrenched in their respective political power bases. Among others, there has been the Bull Moose Party, the Green Party, the Libertarian party, the unofficial party of the Tea Party Patriots and, of course, the up-and-coming (and our personal favorite, with all due sarcasm intended) Democratic Socialist Party, whose moniker couldn’t be anymore oxymoronic. As well, although not yet an official political party in the United States, there is also the BLM / Marxist party currently working hard to dismantle our current system of governance.
We may have missed a few, but you get the idea, and we list them here only to make the larger point that – when all is said and done at election time – winners and losers only fall into the either-or choice of Republican or Democrat. Any candidate outside of those two choices will, theoretically, never be seated because our electoral system is an either-or, winner-take-all process. Once a politician is seated, of course, they can call themselves whatever they want (and align themselves whichever way they choose) in accordance with which, of the two sides, they intend to cast their votes in the house or Senate.
As we bring this chapter to a close, we invite you to consider at least a cursory review of Curtis’ “Doctrine of Liberty” which was a principal source of teaching material in American public schools from the end of the Civil War up through the beginning of the Vietnam War, at least in fly-over country. It was the Republican Party’s original brand and, while the Party leadership surrendered quickly after the Civil War, the People and their schools never really did until the federal government took over public education in the 1960s with federal funding. This became a major strategy to subordinate state and local sovereignty to the all-power dollars of the federal government.
We, the authors, are of the Boomer generation and will be the last to have been educated under the Doctrine of Liberty. As such, you should not find it surprising that our generation is the one that has saddled up for one last ride, hoping to spare our grandchildren the expense of taking this all back with blood forty years from now, by putting an end to this downward spiral before it’s too late. Hell… it’s the whole reason we even decided to put this Treatise together in the first place.