Reformist minded and very far from the Hartford Wits, to be sure, but the Jeffersonians were still fundamentally the agents of a different sort of American elite. While these white male mechanics and yeoman farmers made for a more democratic ruling elite than the great colonial landholders and office-mongers, they remained relatively content with driving slaves, dominating women and children, and using the power of government to support their own interests—local and relatively liberal as they may have been.
“The Design of Anarchy: ‘The Anarchiad,’ 1786-1787” by J. K. Van Dover, Early American Literature 24, No. 3 (1989): 237-247.
Banning, Lance. The Jeffersonian Persuasion: Evolution of a Party Ideology. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1978.
Parrington, Vernon Louis. Main Currents in American Thought: An Interpretation of American Literature from the Beginnings to 1920, Vols. 1-3. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. 1958 (Original Printing: 1927).
Anthony Comegna: Beginning in the early 1760s, groups like the Sons of Liberty conspired together to produce an organized and formalized resistance movement, challenging British rule in the colonies. Many of them in their ilk with vested interests in property claims and stability, joined the Continental Congress in [00:00:30] a temporary coalition with common, rebellious and leveling people across the colonies. This first patriot coalition helped win the war, but the second, far more aristocratical, conservative, centralizing, power-friendly coalition was already busy about its work.
Welcome to Liberty Chronicles, a project of libertarianism.org. I’m Anthony Comegna.
[00:01:00] Through the late 1770s and 1780s, the old class of colonial political elites and a small set of voters replaced their colonial charters with state constitutions. These were liberal little [00:01:30] governments indeed, at least for the antislavery ones mainly in New England, but make no mistake about it, common people everywhere still had virtually the same rulers, but those rulers were now totally unshackled from abroad. It’s a lot like if you’re living with your landlord, and he’s also the mayor. All that remained was conquering the domestic spirit of revolution, so unfortunate during the late disturbance. Old world notions of deference, gentility and natural aristocracy took on a new significance once there was [00:02:00] a new ruling elite. They didn’t die out after the revolution, they were still important, after all, if you expected to rule over a good portion of several million people.
Battles for this kinds of hegemony and culture and politics in the 1780s and ’90s, resulted really in the great myth that something changed with Jefferson’s revolution of 1800. In fact, political elites just accommodated themselves to the idea of democracy, just as the populace had accommodated itself to a new set of old [00:02:30] rulers and rules. The old divisions didn’t disappear, but for many people, they were less important than the more immediately identifiable fruits of independence, but independence for whom and toward what end?
The Hartford Wits were set of intellectuals and literati based out of Connecticut, and they were busy spearheading the development of what they considered a respectable American culture. The Wits thought that Europe was not to be derided, that we should respect our European heritage even [00:03:00] copy it, improve on it as much as we can. They’ve been criticized by historians just like they were by contemporaries then, for being derivative, unoriginal, contemptuous of common people and the wave of democracy surrounding the United States. They were on the losing side of history, we might say. Yet, we libertarians may find their critique of democracy strangely familiar. We have much the same kinds of chidings and deridings for the great mob.
In the Anarchiad, the Hartford [00:03:30] Wits present their newspaper audience with a fictional set of ancient texts disguised as American Antiquities. The text described titanic battles between the forces of the practically satanic old anarch and Hesper, daughter of the evening and nymph of the West. Anarch’s attempts at global chaos are situated squarely within the American political and physical geography of the 1780s. The supposedly ancient texts are really very thinly veiled commentaries [00:04:00] on the stupidity of common people and the need for a powerful central state.
Speaker 2: Anarchiad, a New England poem, by David Humphreys, Joel Barlow, John Trumbull and Lemuel Hopkins, 1786 to 1787.
In visions fair the scenes of fate unroll, and Massachusetts opens on my soul; There Chaos, Anarch old, asserts his sway, and mobs in myriads blacken all the way. [00:04:30] See Day’s stern port—behold the martial frame Of Shays’ and Shattuck’s mob-compelling name: See the bold Hampshirites on Springfield pour, The fierce Tauntonians crowd the alewife shore. O’er Concord fields the bands of discord spread, And Wor’ster trembles at their thundering tread: See from proud Egremont the woodchuck train, Sweep their dark files, and shade with rags the plain. Lo, THE COURT FALLS; the affrighted [00:05:00] judges run, Clerks, Lawyers, Sheriffs, every mother’s son. The stocks, the gallows lose the expected prize, see the jails open, and the thieves arise. Thy constitution, Chaos, is restored; Law sinks before thy uncreating word; thy hand unbars the unfathomed gulf of fate, and deep in darkness ‘whelms the new-born state.
Anthony Comegna: Fearful for the future, worrisome for the economy, the Wits were concerned, especially [00:05:30] with places like Rhode Island, seemingly rogue states unbeholden to any superior power, who would print money at will and ruin their sister economies and neighboring states so that they could more easily pay off their own debts. The Anarchiad dwells especially on the issue of paper money, so important during these rocus times.
Speaker 2: The readers of newspapers through the several states in which the two first numbers of American Antiquities have been published will doubtless [00:06:00] remember that the subject of paper money was more than once mentioned. That subject formed so beautiful an episode in the Anarchiad that it would be unpardonable not to make extracts from it. All the episodes ought to have some reference to the promotion of the principal action, as the under plots and irregular drama should conspire to the development of the main plot. Such is the superlative advantages of this very political digression, for it will scarcely be denied in any part of the United [00:06:30] States that paper money, in an unfunded and depreciating condition is happily calculated to introduce the long, expected scenes of misrule, dishonesty and perdition. On this point, the citizens of the union must be considered as competent judges because they are inhabitants of the only country under heaven where paper under that predicament is, by compulsory laws, made of equal value with gold and silver.
It is to be remarked that the following speech is addressed [00:07:00] by the old Anarch to a council of war, consisting of his compeers, his general officers, and counselors of state.
Hail! Favorite State, whose nursing fathers prove their fairest claim to my paternal love! Called from the deck with popular votes elate, the mighty Jacktar guides the helm of state; nursed on the waves, in blustering tempests bred, his heart of marble, and his brain of lead, My foes subdued while knavery wins the day, He rules the senate with inglorious sway; [00:07:30] Proud, for one year, my orders to perform, Sails in the whirlwind, and enjoys the storm.
Anthony Comegna: For our final portion from the Anarchiad, old Anarch himself rises to address his forces. The great amassed powers of mobacracy, ready to flood the new country, drive out federalist like the Hartford Wits, and claim what they thought always was theirs by right of power and conquest.
Speaker 2: [00:08:00] Hail! Realm of rogues, renowned for fraud and guile, All hail! Ye knaveries of yon little isle. There prowls the rascal, clothed with legal power, to snare the orphan, and the poor devour. The crafty knave his creditor besets, and advertising paper pays his debts. Bankrupts their creditors with rage pursue, No stop, no mercy from the debtor crew. Armed with new tests, the licensed villain bold, presents his bills, and robs them of [00:08:30] their gold. Their ears, though rogues and counterfeiters lose, no legal robber fears the gallows noose. Look through the State, the unhallowed ground appears, a pen of dragons, and a cave for bears. A nest of vipers, mixed with adders foul; The screeching night-bird, and the greater owl: For now, unrighteous, a deluge wide, pours round the land an overwhelming tide; and dark injustice, wrapped in paper sheets, rolls a dread torrent through the wasted [00:09:00] streets;
While net of law the unwary fry draw in, to damning deeds, and scarce they know they sin. New paper struck, new tests, new tenders made, insult mankind, and help the thriving trade. Each weekly print new lists of cheats proclaims, proud to enroll their knaveries and their names; The wiser race, the snares of law to shun, like lot from Sodom, from Rhode Island run.
Bow low, ye heavens, and all ye lads, draw near, the voice prophetic [00:09:30] of great Anarch hear! From Eastern climes, by light and order driven, to me, by fate, this Western world was given; My standard reared, the realm imperial rules, the last asylum for my knaves and fools. Here shall my best and brightest empire rise, wild riot reign, and discord greet the skies. Awake, my chosen sons, in folly brave, Stab Independence! Dance o’er Freedom’s grave! Sing choral songs, while conquering mobs advance, and [00:10:00] blot the debts to Holland, Spain, and France— Till ruin come, with fire, and sword, and blood, and men shall ask where your republic stood. Thrice happy race! How blest are discord’s heirs! Blest while they know what anarchy is theirs;
Blest while they feel to them alone tis is given. To know no sovereign, neither law nor Heaven. From all mankind by traits peculiar known, By frauds and lies distinguished for mine own, Wonder of worlds! Like whom, to mortal eyes, [00:10:30] none e’er have risen, and none e’er shall rise!
Lo, the poor Briton, who, corrupted, sold, Sees God in courts, or hears him chink in gold: Whose soul, proud empire oft has taught to stray Far as the Western world, and gates of day; Though plagued with debts, with rage of conquest cursed, in rags and tender-acts he puts no trust; But in the public weal his own forgets, finds heaven for him who pays the nation’s debts; A heaven like London, his fond fancy makes, [00:11:00] Of nectared porter and ambrosial steaks.
Not so, Columbia, shall thy sons be known To prize the public weal above their own; In faith and justice least, as last in birth, Their race shall grow, a by-word through the earth. Long skill’d to act the hypocritic part, Grace on the brow, and knav’ry at the heart. Perform their frauds with sanctimonious air, Despise good works, and balance sins by pray’r—Forswear the public debt, the public [00:11:30] cause; Cheat heaven with forms, and earth with tender- laws. And leave the empire, at its latest groan, To work salvation out by faith alone.Behold he reign of anarchy begun and half the business of confusion done. From hells dark caverns discord sounds alarms, Blows her loud trump, and calls my Shays to arms.
O’er half the land the desperate riot runs, And maddening mobs assume their rusty guns. From councils feeble, bolder faction grows, [00:12:00] The daring corsairs, and the savage foes; O’er Western wilds, the tawny bands allied, Insult the States of weakness and of pride; Once friendly realms, unpaid each generous loan, Wait to divide and share them for their own.
Now sinks the public mind; a death-like sleep O’er all the torpid limbs begins to creep; By dull degrees decays the vital heat, The blood forgets to flow, the pulse to beat; The powers of life, in mimic [00:12:30] death withdrawn, Closed the fixed eyes with one expiring yawn; Exposed in state, to wait the funeral hour, Lie the pale relics of departed power; While conscience, harrowing up their souls, with dread, Their ghost of empire stalks without a head.
Anthony Comegna: Yet the 1780’s was no time of democracy at all. And the federalist won their battle for supremacy in the emerging central order. They got to build the new state, they [00:13:00] got to staff its offices, they set much of its policy for the first decade of its existence. They established a national bank, they put in tariffs and excises. They made war against the Indians on the frontier and expanded the country. They built the new court system, they incorporated new states, but really, in the 1790’s foreign policy ruled all. America was built on trade, after all. And trade could either be a weapon, wielded for idealistic purposes, or it could be a quick route to power, prestige and national [00:13:30] prosperity.
The french revolution shocked everyone in 1789 and deeply divided the American population with their own new constitution. The revolution exacerbated all other tensions existing in the domestic sphere. It was a treat of global revolution and instability for some, and for others, it was a harbinger that the old regime would always be trying to return.
The French were now identified with the Universal Egalitarian rights of men. The British [00:14:00] were identified with the corrupt and calcified aristocracy of the old world. There was a new sort of class theory developing here. It wasn’t based on religious principles, or possession of wealth, or your existence as a master or a slave. This new Jeffersonian version of class theory lumped all exploiters of government power and privilege in the group Mushroom Aristocrats, who surreptitiously and secretly sponged the life force of other living things. [00:14:30] Adding it to their own.
And then there were all the honest, working people, republicans, yeomans, plebeians. The Jeffersonians call the Hamiltonians monarchists centralizers enslavers of the common people. Hamiltonians responded and slandered them as Jacobeans, anarchists, shays rebels in statesmen clothing.
Jefferson became the standard bearer for all anti-federalist and a new style, Republicans. Washington and Hamilton certainly [00:15:00] led the federalists, but the mantle passed to Vice President John Adams by 1796. Adams narrowly won the election with 71 electoral votes to Jefferson’s 68, and it’s the only time we’ve had a president and vice president from different parties.
Here was a developing partisanship, forced into the highest levels of government. Federalists took advantage of a third term to push foreign policy and antagonize their political opponents at the same time. [00:15:30] In 1798, congress passed Alien In Sedition Acts, including the naturalization act, which raised the period of naturalization from 5 to 14 years. The two Alien Acts empowered the president to deport dangerous non-citizens and resident aliens from hostile nations. The sedition act criminalized criticism of certain government officials. Now, given that a significant number of republicans were recent immigrants, they were subject to deportation. People like Albert Gallaton, a Swiss citizen and key Jeffersonian, [00:16:00] were also subject to deportation.
The sedition act criminalized criticism of the president and the congress, but not the vice president, Thomas Jefferson. The Republicans smelled the same old Federal rat as before. But the old rules of the 1780’s, state sovereignty, and popular rebellion if you don’t like it, seemed long gone to many. The anti-Federalist task then, was to recover state sovereignty from the Federalist, Leviathan, and channel [00:16:30] popular energy for reform into a political victory.
The first part of this program were the so-called principles of ‘98 enshrined in the Kentucky and Virginia resolves. Jefferson wrote the Kentucky resolutions, and Madison wrote for Virginia. They argued that the ninth and tenth amendments explicitly resolve to the states the right to interpret the constitution and remedy all breaches of the compact. It was one of the so-called reserved rights. The states could therefore, declare [00:17:00] that any acts that violated the constitution in their view, were null and void within those states. Any actions of congress considered null and void wild not be enforced within that state. State legislatures therefore would interpose themselves between over reaching federal government, and the rights of the average citizen.
Then the second part of the program, the so-called Revolution of 1800. But who’s revolution was this, really? [00:17:30] Certainly, it was not a revolution for the slaves, nor women who didn’t vote, nor Native Americans steadily being pushed further West, nor was it much of a revolution in the lives of children that constantly derided perpetual minority that most people are probably scoffing about right now. Nor was it even a revolution for the majority of white males, most of whom still either could not or did not vote. The popular vote in 1800 did not exceed 70,000 is a country of 5. [00:18:00] 3 million.
For all the populace rhetoric, the slanders of Jacobinism, for all their incipient class rhetoric and analytical edge, the Jeffersonian Republicans were still a small wedge of society. And by entering the field of politics, they became members of the political class. Reformist minded and very far from the Hartford Wits to be sure, but the Jeffersonians [00:18:30] were still fundamentally the agents of a different sort of American Elite. While these white male mechanics and yeoman farmers made for a far more democratic ruling elite, than the great colonial landholders and office mongers, they remained relatively content with driving slaves, dominating women and children, and using the power of government to support their own interests. Local and relatively liberal, as they may have been.