Early American Republic and Founding Brothers Essay
The early stage of the formation of American Republic was riddled with uncertainties and complications. Besides, some of the dilemmas faced by the new government suggested more than one solution, with feasible arguments supporting both sides. As a result, many issues of the era prompted the compromises which catered to the interests of both sides without severing the ties with either.
The issue that arose early in the development if the union is that of differences in political approaches. This became evident after the Republican party emerged as a response to the dominant Federalist Party, but was observable from the very beginning of the union conception. The centralized government created as an alternative to then overthrown external ruling power was somewhat questionable, as its existence contradicted the principles that were upheld during and through the Revolution. In addition, the Southern states, which differed greatly from their Northern affiliates, were not initially sympathetic with the New-York based government. Later in the course of events the conflict took form of the opposition between the Federalists and the newly emerged Republicans, which is illustrated best by the gradual distancing of the former friends and companions, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton (Ellis 186).
Some of the issues were highlighted during the first meeting of the country’s new government in 1789 in New York City. The concerns voiced during the meeting can be grouped into four broad categories. First, the proliferation of the Republic was challenged by the geographical factor. The sheer volume of the territories under control, as well as the number of people populating them, has put the successful function of the government at risk. The author points to the fact that only one historical precedent of comparable magnitude can be traced, which is the Rome under the Cicero’s reign, but the proof of success by this argument is weak, as his Republic was relatively short-lived. The second issue was the fundamental part of the Constitution which empowered the people to adhere to force in the cases when their rights were violated to the point where this would result in overthrowing an existing governing body. While such condition is thought of today as absolutely necessary in securing the possibility of the abuse of power by the government, at the time it was unclear how such setup will change the ruling principles and whether it will discourage the creation of the political parties. The third concern was based on the diversity of the state’s members. The states were formally united, but at the initial stage, there was no conclusive evidence that they are willing to collaborate. They had more differences than similarities and pursued their own interests, which often diverged, which obviously threatened the union’s integrity.
Finally, the slavery was deemed a serious problem, as it both undermined the ethical foundations of the union and posed several challenges of political origin. The most notable manifestation of the latter surfaced in 1790 when the first census results were published. It illustrated the huge ethnic diversity of the population: of the almost four million citizens, roughly seven hundred thousand were slaves. Essentially, this demanded a conclusive decision on how to treat such a large segment of the population which technically had to be regarded as “people,” which was obviously in contradiction with the prevailing popular view. Concurrent with these developments, gradually more parties raised concerns regarding the moral side of the question, which increased tensions within the government. For instance, during 1790, several petitions were received by the House of Representatives, demanding the cease of the slave trade. These demands were met with severe resistance from the representatives of the Southern states, who appealed to the Constitution, which specifically prohibited the passing of laws banning the slave trade until 1808 (Ellis 82). Nevertheless, it did not contain any specific prohibition of reviewing the decision in the future, which opened the possibility for petitions, but also for instabilities, as the decision to jettison the ban would most likely alienate the Southern states.
The financial direness of the country which resulted from the recent war was another issue. According to the account by Thomas Jefferson, which Ellis finds somewhat over-exaggerated, by 1790 the debts of individual states have reached the amount which threatened the integrity of the republic (73). Citing his conversation with Hamilton, Jefferson stated that unless Hamilton’s financial plan is adopted, the union will face consequences of unforeseeable magnitude. While Jefferson later reconsidered his fears, the debts remained an issue until the passing of the Assumption Bill and the Residence Bill, which, in turn, triggered political complications.
Ellis also illustrates a minor issue related to the reputation of George Washington. According to the author, Washington’s figure was so favored by the public that his image granted him unprecedented power. Such setup contradicted his views on the authority, and since he deemed it unacceptable, once the level of his influence became threatening to his understanding of the governing integrity, he addressed it by resigning after his second term (Ellis 145). This can be thought of as a compromise between the efficiency of governing function and the ideological as well as philosophical integrity of the ideals he upheld. This move allowed him to establish standards that are considered the norm today, but at the time the decision was risky: it undermined the country’ stability, leaving it without a decent leader, and challenged the preferences of the public accustomed to long-term monarch rulers. In the hindsight, however, the advantages of the move certainly outperform the risks.
Some of the mentioned issues were addressed directly and served as a reason behind the facilitation of new alliances rather than drawbacks. For instance, the concerns regarding the instability of the Republic and the disparities between the states has prompted the inclusion of the ban on the laws restricting the slave trade, creating the compromise between the ethical and political goals. The advantages granted by this decision included the loyalty of the Southern states, which were an important economic and political power. Aside from that, according to the consensus, the postpone of the abolition allowed to address more relevant issues. Such postpone, termed by Ellis as “the silence,” has taken the form of dismissing the petitions demanding the abolition (81). The approach also created the risk of the slave uprising, which would have been extremely undesirable given the already weak and unbalanced state of the country. The delay also resulted in aggravation of the situation, with more time passing without the resolution on the matter leading to greater dissatisfaction among its opponents, not to mention the slaves. This latter notion has since been proven correct by the development of events in the eighteenth century, with the massive eruption of violence and economic disaster of the Civil War, the consequences the government was trying to avoid in the first place. On the grander scale, the threat of the union’s dissipation can be viewed as contributing to overcoming the differences and bringing the members of the government closer together.
Similarly, the dinner arranged by Jefferson to straighten out the disagreements between Madison and Hamilton resulted in the compromise between the political ethics and financial stability. While the goal of absorbing the states’ debt by the federal government was reached, the social outcry was immediate, with leading figures projecting the decreased trust in sound political procedures. Besides, the adoption of the Bills introduced the disadvantage for the Southern states, which by 1790 had managed to repay most of their debt (Ellis 62). This argument has been central to Madison’s fraction and involved feasible risks of losing the economically valuable affiliates. Nevertheless, the decision turned out to be beneficial as it contributed to the resolution of the legislative deadlock in the Congress while the possible shortcomings were averted.
The era of the foundation of American Republic was far more uncertain than perceived by contemporary Americans. The Revolution and establishment of the new government were filled with uncertainties, and the subsequent proceedings were filled with contradictions, some of which posed serious threats and divided the formerly united stakeholders into polar opposites. Many of these situations were resolved through political and diplomatic savvy and often required a sacrifice of principles. Looking back at the events it is tempting to ascribe transparency and clarity to the compromises made by the Founding Brothers. However, at the time of the decision-making, most of the steps seemed less fail-safe and more threatening to the stability and integrity of the newly formed union. Viewing the events from the foresight gives us better understanding of why the compromises described in the paper are regarded as exceptionally far-sighted and politically wise.
Ellis, Joseph. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2003. Print.
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