An Attempt to Answer My Foster Sister's Community College History ProfessorMar 5, 2011 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line More thoughts on the dignity promised every American which I wrote about in my Top 10 List of 1980s films.
The sentence which puts the question "With the ideology of the Founding Fathers in mind" is mistaken in at least one important particular. What set the American Revolution apart from other revolutions to which itis most often compared is that there was no single monolithic ideology that dominated the thinking of the Founding generation. This is why the concept of a loyal opposition was able to emerge in this country (although in the 1790s, such missteps as the Alien and Sedition Acts almost destroyed it, which would mst likely have led to a premature outbreak of the American Civil War).
By the latter part of the administration of President George Washington, the various political strains in the United States had coalesced into two main ideologies, personified by two radically different American politicians. President Washington himself seems to have been among the last members of the political elite to recognize this development and quite belatedly side with Alexander Hamilton, his Secretary of the Treasury, whose ideology was the first to find expression in a practical program, and who therefore was able in the short term to isolate and marginalize his political opponents, led by Thomas Jefferson. Probably the best books written about these individuals in the past twenty years are Hamilton, by Ron Chernow, and American Sphinx, by Joseph J. Ellis.
As is recognized by most contemporary scholars, Hamilton favored a strategy of empowering the central government to promote the purpose of economic modernization and competitiveness, while Jefferson's strategy was to minimize the responsibilities and powers of the central government to promote the purpose of individual self-reliance and self-realization. It may not have occurred even to Hamilton, the more able and effective of the two politicians, that individual self-reliance and self-realization are directly proportional to the modernity and competitiveness of the economy i which the individual lives. Indeed, this was not definitively proven to most human beings until the collapse of the Soviet empire in the period 1989-1991; and it would have probably been considered more or less irrelevant by Hamilton, Jefferson, and their closest associates, but from a contemporary (2011) perspective, it is highly interesting and relevant.
It does not end the discussion, however, to merely state that Hamilton's strategy made possible the fulfillment of Jefferson's purpose. Hamilton's strategy has achieved what might be considered hegemonic status largely as a result of the Civil War, the subsequent total national mobilizations for World Wars I and II, and to some extent the response of the Franklin Roosevelt administration to the Great Depression generally considered to have commenced in October 1929. For the first seventy years or so of Constitutional government in the United States, it was very much an open question which strategy would eventually prevail in American politics and government. In a sense, the Confederacy is properly understood as the last attempt to set up a national government on Jeffersonian principles. Jefferson, after all, was absent not only from the Constitutional Convention itself, but from the country as a whole during the all-important debate on ratifying the Constitution. We cannot be certain at this remove that Jefferson, had he been in the United States at the time, would not have sided with fellow Virginian Patrick Henry and others in opposition to the Constitution, which most likely would have resulted in the sidelining of Jefferson's political career in subsequent decades, although there is an outside chance, given Jefferson's prestige as the author of the Declaration of Independence, that Jefferson would have been able to prevent or delay the ratification of the Constitution, at least by Virginia.
Yet more needs to be said about the relationship between the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson's subsequent career, and the Confederacy. Jefferson is properly identified with the latter because he permitted the paragraph blasting African slavery and blaming the British crown for foisting it upon America, to be stripped from the former. Jefferson's gradual abandonment of his initial belief that all men were created equal regardless of color, race or creed is the most tragic part of his legacy. Recognizing this, the Hamiltonian victors of the American Civil War were gradually able, following the conclusion of the Indian Wars and particularly after the shame of Japanese internment and the horror of the Nazi Holocaust during World War II, to turn the strong central government for which they had fought into an ally of oppressed minorities of all descriptions througout the United States.
While I earlier observed that Hamilton was the more able politician, however, Jefferson was the more noble dreamer. It was he, in the Declaration of Independence, who properly captured the dignity which the Revolution, and later the Constitution, promised to every American, and which, throughout the late twentieth century, was more fully realized here than in any other country on earth. For all his flaws, if ideology is ultimately about purpose rather than strategy, it is he who has contributed the most among the Founders to the lasting ideology of America. To the extent the central government can no longer play the positive role, in an era of terrorism and global competition, that it did under the generations of Hamiltonians who inherited it following the American Civil War, even his strategy may bear a second look. But as long as the central government can indeed function as an ally and protector of oppressed people both here and abroad, Hamilton's strategy should continue to guide it and define its role in American life.
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