Sunday, September 27, 2020

good morning jessicca


Word out of Paris is the French are interested in resuming talks with American envoys in order to prevent war between the two countries.   Negotiations broke down last year, in April 1798, when President Adams' personally appointed commissioners were told - payment of bribes were required from them if they were to be heard.  Two of the three diplomats soon sailed for home, briefly leaving behind Elbridge Gerry, the sole member of the group not of Adams' Federalist Party and the one most open to trusting French intentions.  

 Men demanding bribes from Adams' envoys were believed to represent French Foreign Minister Charles Talleyrand, despite his denials before France's ruling revolutionary committee, the Directory.  The American press named the scandal the XYZ Affair once dispatches made public by the Adams Administration referred to these agents as "X", "Y" and "Z".  The resulting diplomatic impasse came during a time when warships of the two former allies were sometimes exchanging fire with one another on the high seas, particularly in the Caribbean.

War between Britain and France led to the current military tensions as the powerful navies of both nations preyed upon neutral American shipping that traded with their enemy.  Ratification of Jay's Treaty by Congress ended England's aggressions towards American commerce while stoking French fears that the United States had entered into an alliance with its enemy, Great Britain.  


Reports of Talleyrand's desire to resume talks were welcomed by Adams, as the president struggled to contain the passions for war coming from within his own Federalist party.  Domestic response to the crisis broke along party lines with Jefferson's followers hopeful for a republican outcome to the French Revolution while Federalists saw the upheaval as the direst expression of democratic excess.  Adams feared he would be pressured into leading a divided nation into a war that could only bring disastrous consequences to his young country.

George Washington recommended his golden boy, Alexander Hamilton, to lead the large Provisional Army being raised in response to threats of a French invasion.  Adams did as Washington wished despite his misgivings over handing such authority to his main rival for power in the Federalist Party.  The alarm sounded when letters Hamilton wrote to a confidant made their way to President Adams.  Here Hamilton makes inflated threats to invade Florida, taking it and Louisiana from the Spanish before France gets the opportunity.  He further threatens to round up radicals in Virginia opposed to the Union.  Adams responds by ordering the return of diplomats to Paris.  He does this without notifying his cabinet - knowing some of them might resign in protest as this peace initiative would lend legitimacy to France's ruling revolutionaries as well as hasten the demise of Hamilton's Provisional Army.


When taking over the presidency in 1796 Adams accepted as his own the cabinet of George Washington, without appreciating the degree of loyalty these men felt towards Hamilton.  Years of insubordination and betrayal culminated in an explosive exchange between Adams and his Secretary of War, James McHenry.  Having been recently chosen as his party's presidential nominee for 1800, Adams felt free to also fire his Secretary of State, Timothy Pickering the following day.  These moves against the Hamiltonian wing of the party tore the Federalists asunder in the course of this election year.

 John Adams would face off against Thomas Jefferson, his competition for president in 1796 and his own vice-president at the time - due to a quirk in the Electoral College that awarded this office to the second place finisher.  The rise in the role of parties in democratic politics quickly proved the naivety of this Constitutional provision.  In the course of Washington's first administration the nation had rapidly separated into two ideological camps with competing views for America.

While Alexander Hamilton busied himself with Army duties, New York's other political star, Aaron Burr, was busy stealing that vote-rich state out from under the Federalists.  Electoral College votes that had gone to Adams in 1796 would certainly now go to Jefferson, requiring the president to compensate by raiding Jefferson's southern base for votes, if he were to have any chance of winning reelection.  Burr's deed would win him second spot on Jefferson's ticket as the Democratic-Republican Party's nominee for vice-president.  As it turns out Burr saw the presidency itself as his proper reward.



©  Tom Taylor 


Sunday, September 20, 2020

good morning jeremy


It required two weeks of being jostled about a carriage while traveling the rutted roads John Adams took from his home in New England to the President's House in Philadelphia, still the nation's capital.  The residence provided the country's newly elected second president came unfurnished.  A year's rent of $2,750 would be subtracted from his $25,000 annual salary.  At age sixty-one Adams planned a frugal retirement had he not won the presidency as he would have been considered too old to resume practicing law.

The Whiskey Rebellion, a taxpayer revolt in western Pennsylvania was suppressed only when Washington, as president, rode into the region at the head of his troops, bringing the matter to a peaceful resolution. Of greater concern for Washington was the threat to national security brought about by war between Great Britain and France.  Both European powers were inclined to block commerce with its adversary, despite signed guarantees protecting trade with neutrals.  More than four hundred commercial ships were confiscated by England as they carried goods between U.S. ports and French Caribbean islands, their crews sometimes impressed into the British navy.  Similarly French warships confiscated cargo from American ships destined for English ports.  Washington, and later Adams, demonstrated skill in reaching a diplomatic solution that required accurately assessing foreign threats and managing domestic anger.

No nation understood the role money played in the creation of wealth better than the British.  It was England, after all, that published Adam Smith's economic treatise on capitalism, The Wealth of Nations - that other seminal writing of 1776, along with the Declaration of Independence.  It was Hamilton's appreciation of this English proclivity toward investment that led his efforts to tie America's fortunes with Great Britain.  Here was a true win-win scenario.  The goal of Hamilton's policies as Washington's Treasury secretary was to entice English investors to provide the funding needed to develop America's promise into riches for all.  It was this Hamiltonian emphasis on believing the business of America is business that so upset republican revolutionaries such as the philosopher-king, Thomas Jefferson. 

How extraordinary it was to live amidst the wilderness dressed in aristocratic finery.  It was clear to all you were among society's elite.  Truth be told, though, you would never attain the English landed gentry's luxury of idle time.  One's wealth in the New World was too much based on speculative land investments and seaborne trade deals of comparable risk.  Even once wealthy Federalists of historic note, such as Robert Morris and James Wilson, ended their careers either in bankruptcy or, on occasion, locked up in debtor's prison.

Oliver Wolcott, Hamilton's successor at Treasury, was among a fortunate few American gentry able to afford working full time in public service.  Hamilton's leave of Washington's cabinet was prompted by his need to replenish the family's coffers by returning to Wall Street.  Washington settled on Timothy Pickering as Jefferson's replacement at State only after the president's first six choices turned him down.  No government paycheck could alone cover the expenses of a true gentleman.

The presidential election of 1796 was the first partisan contest for the office now that George Washington had retired to Mount Vernon.  Federalists favoring Hamiltonian policies backed John Adams while Republicans had Thomas Jefferson as their champion - competing visions for America guaranteed to draw passionate argument.  Still, only a quarter of eligible voters bothered to vote that year.  Your polling station may be a great distance from your farm requiring you to travel the better part of the day to cast your ballot, neglecting your chores.

A frontiersman discovers some neck of wilderness to be heaven on earth and returns the following year bringing with him his family and closest friends.  In time clan gatherings grow into settlements, often taking the name of its founder, such as Boone.  Native people are displaced as the procession of emigrants moves the frontier ever west, over the Appalachians and into the tribal lands of the Ohio Valley. 



©  Tom Taylor


Sunday, September 13, 2020

good morning justin


King Louis XVI of France was an unlikely hero of the American Revolution but his fleet's blockade of Yorktown enabled Washington to checkmate the British troops trapped there and win independence for the colonies.  Payback was the French monarch's reward in engineering England's defeat in 1781.  Not twenty years prior it was the British expelling France from North America in the French and Indian War.  Now with both nations removed from the domain there was little to resist colonial expansion west and the birth of a new republic.  

As for the young French monarch, he was a man out of time. 

Thomas Jefferson viewed French reformers as kindred spirits in republicanism - power residing with the people.  John Adams saw these same revolutionaries as dreamy, ill-informed novices ill-prepared to hold power.  Both men while serving as diplomats to France saw the nation as a powder keg ready to blow.  War, debt and stagnant economics had people already simmering when the affairs of state were handed off to nineteen year old Louis XVI in 1774.  Aristocracy was ill-suited for the times.  Louis knew it.  Attempts were made for a peaceful transition to constitutional monarchy but storming the Bastille in 1789 turned the French Revolution into carnage and confusion, overseen with cruelty and oppression.

A black-eye for republicanism, fears Adams.  Does this mean you won't be honoring your alliance with the United States?

As author of the Declaration of Independence how could Thomas Jefferson not meddle in French reform under the monarch's nose while Minister to France?  Jefferson sees a French constitutional system ahead.  They are "awakened by our revolution."  About the time of the Bastille, Washington calls Jefferson home to be his Secretary of State.  Jefferson had hoped to be part of the unfurling of a new French republic.  Instead he was to return to a Federalist Philadelphia and serve people having a fundamentally different vision for America than his.  

Upon leaving the army George Washington pledges to never again hold public office.  Not with this government, anyway.  To its last the war had been verging on defeat.  Congress had no money to supply the army.  Yorktown was the hail Mary that worked.  

In September, 1788 a new Constitution had been ratified and a government was being formed in Philadelphia.  Alexander Hamilton writes Washington a letter requesting him to be their president.  His selection was the unanimous choice of the Electoral College.  Refusing to serve would leave everyone with a sense of desertion.  

Washington's consent meant Hamilton would play an important role as Secretary of the Treasury.  Hamilton's policies on money and power were controversial but were also shared by Washington.  His stature insured unpopular measures would go largely unchallenged.  Political criticisms voiced against Washington's administration were directed at Hamilton - not Washington.  At least through the first term the president remained largely an untouchable.

Son of a Scottish drifter, Alexander Hamilton spent his short boyhood on St. Croix, an island where more than ninety percent of the population was enslaved.  An orphan by twelve Hamilton begins work as a clerk for a mercantile firm having connections in New York.  Four years later his employer sends him off to what is now Columbia University.  In 1775 he quits school and joins the Revolution, soldiering with Washington's ragtag army.  Within two years he is one of Washington's aide-de-camp.  Hamilton has the daring needed to dazzle powerful men with his brilliance.  His rise is meteoric. 

The moneyed interests of the Northern states endorsed Hamilton's efforts to transform a collection of agrarian states into a nation running on economic capitalism.  He believed government should promote the building of mills and factories as manufacturing was the true source of national power.  With no money of its own, Hamilton wanted America to mend its ties with England so the United States could attract British investment.  Commerce needed to think big - continental, all the Atlantic was their market.  

Thomas Jefferson's vision of a republic was one populated mostly with small farms.  The government would be local, exercising only enough authority to do minimal harm to its citizens.  Freedom was a plot of land and the right to think what you please without the intrusions of powerful interests.  For Jefferson Hamilton's priority for generating wealth was an appeal to greed and a corruption of revolutionary values.

Hamilton was on a Congressional win streak without any organized opposition.  Those hoping to preserve the current order would naturally rally round Thomas Jefferson, champion of individual rights.  These were people one irate Virginia planter described as neighbors who "conceived himself, in every respect, my equal."  

Here was the egalitarian spirit Jefferson needed to harvest as votes against Hamilton's Federal agenda for financial empire.  Prior to the 1792 election Jefferson, along with his friend James Madison, toured the backcountry in an effort at grass roots organization under a banner Madison suggested calling the Republican party.  This was not the party of Lincoln.  Jefferson was a Democrat before the word had a polite meaning.

Thomas Jefferson's political foil would turn out to be his good friend John Adams, Washington's vice president and heir to the presidency in 1796 because of the continued Federalist dominance of the Electoral College.  Adams would make a worthy adversary for Jefferson.  His fearless nature was evident as early as 1770 when he successfully defended the British Troops accused of murder in the Boston Massacre.  Adams made lifelong friendships despite the fact he "regarded an argument as the ideal form of conversation."  

The presidential contest of 1800 pitting John Adams against Thomas Jefferson was a raw, bare knuckled partisan brawl.  With Washington retired from the scene the Founding Fathers freed their passions attacking the other's vision of what it was the Revolution meant.  Twenty-five years earlier these revolutionaries were willing to die for what they believed.  Here now, though, was the first real test as to whether the clash of convictions could be resolved in a peaceful, democratic fashion.  It would take faith in rule governed foremost by the law of the new and, as yet, untested Constitution.


©  Tom Taylor

Sunday, September 6, 2020

good morning jacob


p a r t y    p o i n t    o f    v i e w

Hugh Brackenridge graduates from Princeton, son of a humble Scot farmer.  About the time Lord Cornwallis surrenders to Washington's troops at Yorktown, Brackenridge heads west, over the mountains and into the wilds around Pittsburgh, seeking opportunity.  He makes money, starts a newspaper, wins election for a seat in the state legislature by promising his backers he would make buying land easier for the small farmer.  Once in Philadelphia, the state capitol, Brackenridge falls in with wealthy financier Robert Morris and his powerful friend, the attorney James Wilson.  He is easily seduced by their flattery.  How cosmopolitan he is, they marvel.  He's definitely not like the usual Huns and Vandals they normally deal with coming out of those hills.

Brackenridge votes against the farmers back home, favoring instead the interests of a large bank.  He is quoted in the newspaper as calling voters back home "fools" for not realizing only educated people could understand these matters.  Brackenridge loses the next election and moves on with his life, deciding politics is not his calling.

William Findley defeated Brackenridge for office in 1788, the year the new Constitution was ratified.  Until now the politicians fashioning this new nation were the top tier, society's notables like Washington, Hamilton and Franklin, people knowing great success.  William Findley was different.  He spoke for the man guiding a plow - rough, individualistic people.  Voters.  

Make no bones about it William Findley speaks for you.  We're talking the price of grain, not classic Greek principles.  Cut out land speculators and powerful banks, enabling regular people to be land owners.  While we're at it make education free to all.  Outlaw slavery.  These are the interests Findley supports, promised in advance.

Until now Founding Father politicos preferred the lawgiver image being that of Solomon rendering his wisdom.  But here we have Findley openly exchanging promises for votes.  Once Washington retired to private life the widespread posturing of lawmakers as personally disinterested citizens was quickly exposed as hypocrisy, now obsolete.  Like-minded individuals organized into groups identified as parties.  Strength in numbers.  Democracy in action.  Possibly mob rule.

Federalist John Adams sat out the campaign for president in 1796 on the front porch of his home in Quincy, Massachusetts.  His opponent, Republican Thomas Jefferson, did much the same by hanging around Monticello, his home in Virginia.  It was considered unseemly to want a job bad enough to fight for it.  Let your supporters do the politicking on your behalf.  You graciously accept the burden of office if victorious.

Both candidates believed in the representative form of democracy - a republic with built-in checks dispersing the concentration of power.  However Adams saw government as a force for good while Jefferson believed energetic government the source of tyranny.  The leading Federalists - Washington, Hamilton and Adams all pushed one nation, indivisible rule.  Jefferson advocated a democracy that is best kept local, close to home - states' rights.  Around these divergent views coalesced the interests making up the beginnings of two great political parties.

An admirer of Thomas Jefferson, William Findley of Pennsylvania became a Republican.  Federalist opponents defamed these Republicans by calling them democrats - demagogues inciting mob rule.  Findley proudly accepted the label Democrat.  For him it meant man of the people - someone fighting for their interests with conviction, passion.  This is what you do when you ply your trade in representative democracy.  Your challenge is to draw together divergent interests under your lone banner.  No small talent - especially when your reach extends over large populations with their own centers of power.  

Is total transparency a good idea when bringing competing interests together?  The Constitution of 1787 was fashioned in a shroud of complete secrecy.  

Transparency comes with the popularity of something on the order of World Peace.  Politicians looking for compromise on difficult issues don't want a controversy focused on every thought considered.  Common good calls for satisfactory resolution of the problem under legal means.  All else is a corruption of the process involving human nature.  Since all our enterprise is human this fact needs keeping always in mind.


©  Tom Taylor