Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

2

with the Modern Anti-Federalists," — a humorous allegory, which may have suggested to the Senator from Ohio his excellent conceit of the Israelite with Egyptian principles. "Many," wrote Franklin, "still retained an affection for Egypt, the land of their nativity, and whenever they felt any inconvenience or hardship, though the natural and unavoidable effect of their change of situation, exclaimed against their leaders as the authors of their trouble, and were not only for returning into Egypt, but for stoning their deliverers Many of the chiefs thought the new Constitution might be injurious to their particular interests,—that the profitable places would be engrossed by the families and friends of Moses and Aaron, and others, equally well born, excluded." Time has decided this first point in favor of the Unionists. None of the evils prophesied by their opponents have as yet appeared. The independence of the individual States remains inviolate, and, although the central executive has grown yearly more powerful, a monarchy seems as remote as ever. Local distinctions are now little prized in comparison with federal rank. It is not every man who can recollect the name of the governor of his own State; very few can tell that of the chief of the neighboring Commonwealth. The old boundaries have grown more and more indistinct; and when we look at the present map of the Union, we see only that broad black line known as Mason and Dixon's, on one side of which are neatness, thrift, enterprise, and education,— and on the other, whatever the natives of that region may please to call it .

After 1789, the old Egypt faction ceased to exist, except as grumblers; but the States-Rights men, though obliged to acquiesce in the Constitution, endeavored, by every means of " construction" their ingenuity could furnish, to weaken and restrict the exercise and the range of its power. The Federalists, on the other hand, held that want of strength

Thomas Paine. [July, was the principal defect of the system, and were for adding new buttresses to the Constitutional edifice. It is curious to remark that neither party believed in the permanency of the Union. Then came into use the mighty adjectives "constitutional" and "unconstitutional," — words of vast import, doing equally good service to both parties in furnishing a word to express their opinion of the measures they urged and of those they objected to. And then began to be strained and frayed that much-abused piece of parchment which Thomas Paine called the political Bible of the American people, and foolishly thought indispensable to liberty in a representative government . "Ask an American if a certain act be constitutional," says Paine, "he pulls out his pocket volume, turns to page and verse, and gives you a correct answer in a moment." Poor Mr. Paine! if you had lived fifty years longer, you would have seen that paper constitutions, like the paper money you despised so justly, depend upon honesty and confidence for their value, and are at a sad discount in hard times of fraud and corruption. Unprincipled men find means of evading the written agreement upon their face by ingenious subterfuges or downright repudiation. An arbitrary majority will construe the partnership articles to suit their own interests, and stat pro constitutione voluntas. It is true that the litera scripta remains, but the meaning is found to vary with the interpreter. In 1791, when the two parties were fairly formed and openly pitted against each other, a new element of discord had entered into politics, which added the bitterness of class-feeling to the usual animosity of contention. Society in the Middle and Southern States had been composed of a few wealthy and influential families, and of a much more numerous lower class who followed the lead of the great men. These lesser citizens had now determined to set up for themselves, and had enlisted in the ranks of the Anti-Federalists, who soon assumed the name and style of Democrats, an epithet first bestowed upon them in derision, but joyfully adopted, — one of the happiest hits in political nomenclature ever made. In hoc verbo vinces: In that word lay victory. If any one be tempted, in this age, to repeat the stupid question, "What's in a name?" let him be answered,—Everything: place, power, pelf, perhaps we may add peculation. "The Barons of Virginia," chiefs of State-Rights, who at home had been in favor of a governor and a senate for life, and had little to fear from any lower class in their own neighborhood, saw how much was to be gained by "taking the people into partnership," as Herodotus phrases it, and commenced that alliance with the proletaries of the North which has proved so profitable to Southern leaders. In New England, the land of industry, self-control, and superior cultivation, (for the American Parnassus was then in Connecticut, either in Hartford, or on Litchfield Hill,) there was, comparatively speaking, no lower class. The Eastern men, whose levelling spirit and equality of ranks had been so much disliked and dreaded by the representatives from other Colonies in the Ante-Revolutionary Congresses, had undergone little or no social change by the war, and probably had at that period a more correct idea of civil liberty and free government than any other people on the face of the earth. General Charles Lee wrote to an English friend, that the New-Englanders were the only Americans who really understood the meaning of republicanism, and many years later De Tocqueville came to nearly the same opinion :—"Cest dans la Nouvelle-Angleterre que se sont combine'es les deux ou trois ide'es principales, qui aujourd'hui forment les bases de la the'orie sociale des Etats-Unis." In this region Federalism reigned supreme. The New-Englanders desired a strong, honest, and intelligent government; they thought, with John Adams, that "true equality is to do as you would be done by," and agreed with Hamilton, that " a government in which every man may aspire to any office was free enough for all purposes"; and judging from what they saw at home, they looked upon Anti-Federalism not only as erroneous in theory, but as disreputable in practice. "The name of Democrat," writes a fierce old gentleman to his son, "is despised; it is synonymous with infamy." Out of New England a greater social change was going forward. Already appeared that impatience of all restraint which is so alarming a symptom of our times. Every rogue, "who felt the halter draw," wanted to know if it was for tyranny like this that the Colonies had rebelled. "Such a monster of a government has seldom or never been known on earth. A blessed Revolution, a blessed Revolution, indeed! — but farmers, mechanics, and laborers had no share in it. We are the asses who pay." This was the burden of the Democratic song. But the real issue between the two parties, which underlay all their proposed measures and professed principles, was the old struggle of classes, modified of course by the time and the place. The Democrats contended for perfect equality, political and social, and as little power as possible in the central government so long as their party was not in command. The Federalists, who held the reins, were for a strong conservative administration, and a wholesome distinction of classes. The two parties were not long in waiting for flags to rally around, and fresh fields on which to fight . The French Revolution furnished both. In its early stages it had excited a general sympathy in America; and, indeed, so has every foreign insurrection, rebellion, or riot since, no matter where or why it occurred, provided good use has been made of the sacred words Revolution and Liberty. This cry has never been echoed in this country without exciting a large body of men to mass-meetings, dinners, and other public demonstrations, who do not stop to consider what it means, or whether, in the immediate instance, it has any meaning at all. John Adams said in his " Defence of American Constitutions," "Our countrymen will

never run delirious after a word or a name." Mr. Adams was inueh mistaken. If, according to the Latin proverb, a word is sufficient for a wise man, so, in another sense, it is all that is needful for fools. But as the Revolution advanced in France towards republicanism, the Federalists, who thought the English system, less the king and the hereditary lords, the best scheme of government, began to grow lukewarm. When it became evident that the New Era was to end in bloodshed, instead of universal peace and good-will towards men,—that the Rights of Man included murder, confiscation, and atheism,— that the Sovereignty of the People meant the rule of King Mob, who seemed determined to carry out to the letter Diderot's famous couplet,—

"Et des boyaux dn dernier prStre
Serrcz Ie cou du dernier des rois,"—

then the adjective French became in Federal mouths an epithet of abhorrence and abuse; up went the flag of dear Old England, the defender of the faith and of social order. The opposition party, on the contrary, saw in the success of the French people, in their overthrow of kings and nobles, a cheerful encouragement to their own struggle against the aristocratic Federalists, and would allow no sanguinary irregularities to divert their sympathy from the great Democratic triumph abroad. The gay folds of the tricolor which floated over them seemed to shed upon their heads a mild influence of that Gallic madness that led them into absurdities we could not now believe, were they not on record. The fashions, sartorial and social, of the French were affected; amiable Yankees called each other citizen, invented the feminine citess, and proposed changing our old calendar for the Ventose and Fructidor arrangement of the one and indivisible republic. (We wish they had adopted their admirable system of weights and measures.) Divines are said to have offered up thanks to the Supreme Being for the success of the good San3-culotten. At all events, their victories were celebrated by civic

festivals and the discharge of cannon; the English flag was burned as a sacrifice to the Goddess of Liberty; a French frigate took a prize off the Capes of the Delaware, and sent her in to Philadelphia; thousands of the populace crowded the wharves, and, when the British colors were seen reversed, and the French flying over them, burst into exulting hurras. When a report came that the Duke of York was a prisoner and shown in a cage in Paris, all the bells of Philadelphia rang peals of joy for the downfall of tyrants. Here is the story of a civic fete given at Reading, in Massachusetts, which we extract from a newspaper of the time as a specimen of the Gallo-Yankee absurdities perpetrated by our grandfathers:—

"The day was ushered in by the ringing of the bells, and a salute of fifteen discharges from a field-piece. The American flag waved in the wind, and the flag of France over the British in inverted order. At noon a large number of respectable citizens assembled at Citizen Raynor's, and partook of an elegant entertainment. After dinner, Captain Emerson's military company in uniform assembled and escorted the citizens to the meeting-house, where an address pertinent to the occasion was delivered by the Rev. Citizen Prentiss, and united prayers and praises were offered to God, and several hymns and anthems were well sung; after which they returned in procession to Citizen Raynor's, where three farmers, with their frocks and utensils, and with a tree on their shoulders, were escorted by the military company formed in a hollow square to the Common, where the tree was planted in form, as an emblem of freedom, and the Marseillaise Hymn was sung by a choir within a circle round the tree. Major Boardman, by request, superintended the business of the day, and directed the manoeuvres."

In the Gallic jargon then fashionable, England was "an insular Bastille of slaves," and New England "the Vendee of America." On the other side, the Federalists returned cheer for

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Thomas Paine.cheer, — looked with true British contempt on the warlike struggles of the restless Frenchman,— chuckled over the disasters which befell "his little popgun fleets,"—and damned the Democrats for a pack of poor, dirty, blasphemous cutthroats. Hate one another was the order of the day. The religious element, which always exasperates dissension, was present. French Democrats had set up the Goddess of Reason (in private life Mme. Momoro) as an object of worship; American Democrats were accused of making Tom Paine's " Age of Reason" their Bible; "Atheist" and "Infidel" were added to the epithets which the Federalists discharged at their foes. So fierce and so general was the quarrel on this European ground, that a distinguished foreigner, then travelling in this country, said that he saw many French and English, but scarcely ever met with an American. Weld, a more humble tourist, put into his book, that in Norfolk, Virginia, he found half the town ready to fight the other half on the French question. Meanwhile, both French and English treated us with ill-disguised contempt, and inflicted open outrages upon our commerce. But it made little difference. One faction was willing to be kicked by England; and the other took a pleasure in being soufflcte by France. The rival flags were kept flying until the close of the war of 1812. An outbreak of Democratic fury bordering upon treason took place, when Senator Mason of Virginia violated the oath of secrecy, and sent a copy of Jay's treaty with England to the "Aurora." Meetings passed condemnatory resolutions expressed in no mild language. Jay was "a slave, a traitor, a coward, who had bartered his country's liberties for British gold." Mobs burned Jay in efligy, and pelted Alexander Hamilton. At a public meeting in Philadelphia, Mr. Blair threw the treaty to the crowd, and advised them to kick it to hell. They carried it on a pole in procession, and burned it before the English minister's house. A Democratic society in Richmond, Virginia, full of the true modern South Carolina "sound and fury," gave public notice, that, if the treaty entered into by "that damned arch traitor, John Jay, with the British tyrant should be ratified, a petition will be presented to the next General Assembly of Virginia praying that the said State may recede from the Union, and be left under the government and protection of one hundred thousand free and independent Virginians!" A meeting at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, resolved, "that it was weary of the tardiness of Congress in not going to war with England, and that they were almost ready to wish for a state of revolution and the guillotine of France for a short space, in order to punish the miscreants who enervate and disgrace the government." Mr. Jefferson's opinion of the treaty is well known from his rhetorical letter to Rutledge, which, in two or three lines, contains the adjectives, unnecessary, impolitic, dangerous, dishonorable, disadvantageous, humiliating, disgraceful, improper, monarchical, impeachable. The Mazzei letter, written not long after the ratification, displays the same bitter feeling. The Federalists had a powerful ally in William Cobbett, who signed himself Peter Porcupine, adopting for his literary alias a nickname bestowed by his enemies. This remarkable writer, who, like Paine, figured in the political conflicts of two nations, must have come into the world bristling with pugnacity. A more thorough game-cock never crowed in the pit . He had been a private in the English army, came to the United States about 1790, and taught French to Americans, and English to Frenchmen, (to Talleyrand among others,) until 1794, when the dogmatic Dr. Priestley arrived here, fresh from the scene of his persecutions. The Doctor losing no time in laying his case before the American public, Cobbett answered his publication, ridiculing it and the Doctor's political career in a pamphlet which became immediately popular with the Federalists. From that time until his de

[ocr errors]

parture for England, in 1800, Cobbett's pen was never idle. His "Little Plain English in Favor of Mr. Jay's Treaty" was altogether the best thing published on that side of the question. Cobbett had more than one point of resemblance to Paine, the object of his early invective, but later of his unqualified admiration. These two men were the best English pamphleteers of their day. In shrewdness, in practical sense, Cobbett was fully Paine's equal. He was as coarse and as pithy in expression, but with more wit, a better education, more complete command of language, and a greater variety of resources. Cobbett was a quicker and a harder hitter than Paine. His personal courage gave him a great advantage in his warfaring life. In 1T9G, in the hottest of the French and English fight, the well-known Porcupine opened a shop in Philadelphia. He filled his show-window with all the prints of English kings, nobles, and generals he could collect, and "then," he says, "I took down the shutters, and waited." Party-feeling reached the boiling-point whun Washington retired to Mount Vernon. Mr. Adams, his successor, had none of that divinity which hedged the Father of his Country to protect him. Under the former administration, he had been, as Senator Grayson humorously called him, "his superfluous Excellency," and out of the direct line of fire. He could easily look down upon such melancholy squibs as Frencau's "Daddy Vice" and "Duke of Braintree." But when raised above every other head by his high office, he became a mark for the most bitter personal attacks. Mr. Adams unfortunately thought too much about himself to be the successful chief of a party. Ho allowed his warm feelings to divert him from the main object and end of his followers. He was jealous of Hamilton,— unwilling, in fact, to seem to be governed by the opinion of any man, and half inclined to look for a reelection outside of his own party. Hamilton, the soul of the Federalists, mistrusted and disliked Mr. Adams, and made the sad mistake of

publishing his mistrust and dislike. It must be confessed that the gentlemen who directed the Administration party were no match as tacticians for such fileleaders as Jefferson and Burr. Many of their pet measures were ill-judged, to say the least. The provisional army furnished a fertile theme for fierce declamation. The black cockade became the badge of the supporters of government, so that in the streets one could tell at a glance whether friend or foe was approaching. The Alien and Sedition Laws caused much bitter feeling and did great damage to the Federalists. To read these acts and the trials under them now excites somewhat of the feeling with which we look upon some strange and clumsy engine of torture in a mediaeval museum. How the temper of this people and their endurance of legal inflictions have changed since then! There was Matthew Lyon, a noted Democrat of Irish origin, who had published a letter charging the President with " ridiculous pomp, idle parade, and selfish avarice." He was found guilty of sedition, and sentenced to four months' imprisonment and a fine of one thousand dollars. There was Cooper, an Englishman, who fared equally ill for saying or writing that the President did not possess sufficient capacity to fulfil the duties of his office. What should we think of the sanity of James Buchanan, should he prosecute and obtain a conviction against some Black-Republican Luther Baldwin of 1859, for wishing that the wad of a cannon, fired in his honor, might strike an unmentionable part of his august person? What should we say, if IIora«e Greeley were to be arrested on a warrant issued by the Supreme Court of New York for a libel on Louis Napoleon, as was William Cobbett by Judge McKcan of Pennsylvania for a libel on the King of Spain?

Fiercer and more bitter waxed parlydiscord, and both sides did ample injustice to one another. Mr. Jefferson wrote, that men who had been intimate all their lives would cross the street ami look the other way, lest they should be obliged to

[graphic]
« EdellinenJatka »