Hamilton And Jefferson - The Federalist Republic
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The Agrarian Republic. As Hamilton's schemes unfolded, Jefferson took an increasingly vigorous role in opposing them. Though responsible for ending opposition to Hamilton's proposals on the national debt, Jefferson afterward came to believe that he had been tricked by his colleague in the cabinet; and he did not mean to be tricked a second time. Jefferson, firmly committed to the ideal of an agrarian republic, could not view the extension of federal power with equanimity. "Cultivators of the earth," he believed, "are the most valuable citizens," and in them he founded his vision of the republic's future. They were, he believed, "the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interests, by the most lasting bonds." Between Hamilton, who looked to the affluent and influential man of means, and Jefferson, who looked to the sturdy, yeoman farmer, a clash was inescapable.
The two men had been bare acquaintances when Jefferson entered the State Department in March 1790. Both apparently expected that they would work together amicably, and Jefferson, as has been mentioned, helped to overcome the opposition to Hamilton's debt plans. At that time, if his private correspondence is an accurate guide, Jefferson viewed settlement of the controversy over funding as necessary to the preservation of the Union. His subsequent charge that "I was most ignorantly & innocently made [by Hamilton] to hold the candle" must be viewed against the background of his political estrangement from Hamilton. Relations between the two men steadily deteriorated when Hamilton began to intervene in the conduct of foreign affairs, an action which Jefferson hardly appreciated, and the break became open when Hamilton proposed establishment of the bank.
As the bank dispute raged, Jefferson's opposition to a strong central government became more emphatic. He stated that the "natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground," and feared that this was all too fully apparent in the career of Hamilton. In opposition to Hamilton's plans for federal participation in the development of national resources and power, Jefferson proposed a laissez-faire policy which would allow the private individual to pursue his own wellbeing. To proposals for the establishment of a federally inspired Agricultural Society and for a road-building program assisted by the federal government, he remained adamantly opposed. As a slaveholding planter, he subscribed to the notion that the farmer alone possessed the "substantial and genuine virtue . . . the focus in which [God] keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth." With the abundance of land at the disposal of Americans, Jefferson believed that for generations to come the nation could be kept a secure agrarian paradise. The serpents endangering paradise were the manufacturers, whom he considered "the panders of vice, and the instruments by which the liberties of a country are generally overturned."
The stylistic sophistication which characterized Hamilton's reports to Congress added to Jefferson's concern. "The accounts of the United States," he declared, "ought to be and may be made as simple as those of a common farmer, and capable of being understood by common farmers." The vision of a simple government ministering to the needs of simple folk, and characterized rather by its absence than its presence, filled Jefferson's mind. To Hamilton, one need hardly add, this vision was appalling.
The Feud. The debate between Hamilton and Jefferson soon extended itself into departmental business. Convinced that Hamilton intended a strong central government, Jefferson resolved to frustrate his plans by circumscribing his influence. Early in the spring of 1791, the death of Nicholas Eveleigh, Comptroller of the Treasury, gave Jefferson the opportunity to open his attack. Jefferson backed Tench Coxe for the post, in opposition to Hamilton, who pressed for the appointment of Oliver Wolcott. In the end, Washington chose Wolcott. A similar struggle ensued over the position of Postmaster General; Jefferson supported Tom Paine, while Hamilton backed Timothy Pickering. Again Hamilton won the day. The Secretary of State then advocated transfer of the Post Office from the Treasury to the State Department. He candidly confessed to Washington his fear "that the department of treasury possesses already such an influence as to swallow up the whole Executive powers."
To placate Jefferson, Washington relinquished the Mint (rather than the Post Office) to the State Department. Hamilton viewed this development with considerable dismay, feeling with some justice that the Mint, as a link in the nation's currency system, belonged logically in the Treasury. By August 1793, Jefferson was considering an attempt to divide the Treasury into a customs and internal tax office. But any such effort was doomed to failure by the solid Federalist majority in the Senate. Frustrated in his efforts to limit Hamilton's influence, Jefferson now shifted his attack to the floor of Congress and into the public journals.
With the cooperation of Madison, a hostile congressional committee, the forerunner of a formal opposition party, was selected to investigate Hamilton's management of funds. John Beckley, clerk of the House of Representatives, fed scurrilous rumors about Hamilton to Jefferson, whose good judgment had deserted him, and who now described Hamilton's career as "a tissue of machinations against the liberty of the country which . . . has heaped its honors on his head." To provide a more effective agency for these attacks, Madison and Jefferson arranged to have Philip Freneau, the radical poet of democracy, edit a newspaper called the National Gazette, which would carry the attack upon Hamilton to the public. Hamilton replied in kind with a series of letters published in the Gazette of the United States. Washington, mortified, protested against "the seeds of discontent, distrust, and irritations which are so plentifully sown."