President George Washington had two strong willed men in his administration. Alexander Hamilton, born in the Caribbean to a single mother, had worked his way up to become the first treasury secretary. Thomas Jefferson, born rich in Virginia, was a slave owner who served as the first secretary of state. These two adversaries battled over the role of the government and the economy during the first years of the nation. By 1800, Jefferson had split with the Federalist Party of George Washington to head the Democratic-Republicans to a victory in that year’s election, signaling his defeat of Hamilton.
Strong Central Government
The root of Hamilton Federalism was a strong central government. To him, the Constitution was a charter binding the states to create a stable union. This stability depended, in this perspective, on the national government possessing more power than the individual states. His first plan was to create a national debt, largely by assuming the debt of the states. Doing so would provide the national government with a strong credit record, he believed. He also wanted to charter a Bank of the United States to make loans to manufacturers and other commercial enterprises.
Hamilton and the Federalists wanted the young nation to become a manufacturing empire to sustain economic growth. Hamilton called for tariffs, or taxes placed on foreign goods to raise the price, to encourage manufacturing and make American produced goods more affordable. This British model of economic growth rankled Jefferson who saw the potential for America becoming a nation of urban dwellers.
Jefferson abhorred the idea of America becoming an urban, manufacturing nation, something that could happen rapidly under the Hamiltonian vision. Instead, he believed rural individualism, symbolized by the yeoman farmer, was the best way to sustain a republic. Small yeoman farmers were the exemplars of American virtue, he claimed. Having spent time in Europe, Jefferson witnessed the disease, poverty and filth of many cities and did not want America taking a similar course. Moreover, people who worked for others, rather than being self-sufficient farmers, were susceptible to pressure from bosses to vote a certain way. This lack of political independence threatened American democracy, according to Jefferson.
Revolution of 1800
The disagreement over the best course for America culminated in what Jefferson called the Revolution of 1800. Jefferson, representative of the Democratic-Republicans, defeated the Federalists leading to the first turnover of political power to the opposition in American history. Democratic-Republicans would control the Executive branch and most of the federal government from 1801 to 1829.
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