Home » Founding Brothers, Preface: The Generation

Founding Brothers, Preface: The Generation

Some people thought that American independence was Manifest Destiny, ‘”‘Tom Paine, for example, claimed that it was simply a matter of common sense that an island could not rule a continent.'”‘ But for the most part, triumph of the American revolution was improbable, and therefore it is a remarkable event in history. No one expected that Britain, the strongest country in the world would be defeated by the colonies, and that America”‘”s Republic, a government uncommon in those monarchial days, would survive, yet it did.

It is only now in retrospect that the American Revolution seems inevitable. To the participants it seemed to be a long-shot. They were not expecting victory, always fearing execution for treason. Rightly so, too, since the British could have easily won the war if they had fought more forcefully in its earliest stages.

Once the Americans won, it was widely predicted that if America did survive, it would become a very strong nation due to its abundance of natural resources, space, and isolation. The short-term question, though, was whether or not it would survive. One of the biggest problems in its beginnings was in organizing a national government. The national government was what the Americans had escaped from. They knew though, that without a unifying entity, the country would not be able to live up to its full predicted potential.

The founding brothers wanted America to live to its potential so the minority who wanted a unified nation organized the Constitutional Convention in 1787 with the purpose of drafting a national scale constitution. The Constitutional Convention is often criticized for its secrecy, extra-legality, and the fact that its members were of the elitehardly a good representation of the masses. Others, though, call it ‘”‘the miracle of Philadelphia'”‘ for the fact that it accomplished the seemingly impossible goal of creating a union of states.

A few compromises were made during this convention: interest of small v. large states, federal v. state jurisdiction, and sectional slavery. Nevertheless, still a ‘”‘work-in-progress'”‘ in 1789, the US had several things going for it. It was youthful, expansive, and the first President, George Washington, was unanimously chosen. The next decade would be the most important in the country”‘”s history.

There are two ways to view events in this stage of history. The ‘”‘pure-Republicanism'”‘ interpretation, or ‘”‘the Jeffersonian interpretation'”‘. The Republicanism view on history claims the revolution to be a liberation movement from everything British, and dislike the take-over of the Federalists (moneymen) in 1790 of which Hamilton was the Chief Culprit

The alternative interpretation views Washington, Adams, and Hamilton as the heirs to the revolutionary legacy and Jefferson as the chief culprit. This view is more collectivistic rather than individualistic.

The book will look at this time in history through several stories that show us the times. The stories will be of political leaders that include (in alphabetical order of course) Abigail and John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.

There will be four common themes throughout these stories: 1) The achievements of the revolution were collective, only succeeding because of the balance of personalities involved. 2) All the politicians knew one another. The politics were vis–vis and those involved could not avoid the personal interactions and the emotion 3) They took the most threatening issue off the agenda: slavery. Who knows, America may not have succeeded without it taken out. 4) The politicians knew that their actions were writing history and that they would be looked up to and read about in the future. They therefore kept to their best behaviors, and in a way were performing for those who live after them to look back on them. They were actors in a (to them) future soap-opera.

The novel will be chronological with one exception. The first story about the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton is first for its fascinating story, and the fact that it is the only exception to the rest of the revolution (‘”‘the exception that proves the rule). It is the only time when violence and death were the resorts, instead of arguments

And so the story begins, ‘”‘It is a hot summer morning in 1804′”‘

Chapter One: The Duel

Short version: On the morning of July 11, 1804 Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were rowed across the Hudson River in separate boats to a spot near Weehawken, New Jersey. Using the customs of the code duello, they exchanged pistols and shot at each other. Hamilton was hit in the side and died the next day. Burr was unhurt but his reputation suffered enough to make him wish he were.

The following will be a more comprehensive version of, ‘”‘the interview at Weehawken'”‘, as it was called.

Colonel Aaron Burr, the vice president of the United States in 1804, left home on Wednesday July 11, 1804 for an ‘”‘appointment with destiny'”‘. He and William Van Ness, his devoted supporter sailed, toward the New Jersey Palisades.

Just north of Richmond Hill, in present-day Wall Street, (General) Hamilton was boarding a small boat with two oarsmen, his physician, Dr. David Hosack, and a devotee Nathaniel Pendleton.

The two men are opposites. One born poor became rich, the other born an aristocrat. Many things about the two are contrasting. It is noted that Hamilton had always striven to being the best and proving himself worthy. The day before, he shows his attitudes towards the duel by writing in his diary that he will throw away his first fire, and maybe his second to give Burr a chance to rethink the duel.

The duel was called an interview at the time because duels were illegal. They used elusive language to make sure no one could get in trouble legally. So the duel is known by many as ‘”‘The Interview at Weehawken'”‘. Hamilton secretly did not follow by the rules of the already illegal duel. His gun was equipped with a hair-trigger to allow for easier firing, fortunately Burr never found out.

The story skips over the most dramatic part, because of its disputability, to which it will return later.

Hamilton is hit with one of two shots fired. The wound is fatal and both Dr. Hosack and Hamilton know it. Hamilton does not die immediately so he is brought back over the river to a friend, James Bayard”‘”s house, where he soon died. Burr is escorted off the scene by Van Ness to protect him legally, though he wants to aid Hamilton.

The funeral in two days is a very big event in the city. The people and media came to a consensus that Burr murdered Hamilton in cold blood. They portray him as an awful criminal and completely destroy his political career.

The four or five seconds that were skipped are still highly debated. The Hamiltonian story is that Burr fired first, Hamilton who was hit instinctively flinched and fired into the air. Burr”‘”s story is more believable, since it was agreed upon by both sides that there was about a four second interval between shots, so the shot caused by flinching doesn”‘”t fit.

The Burr story is as followsHamilton fired first at Burr, intentionally missing, after about four/five seconds Burr reacted, firing and hitting Hamilton, who immediately fell to the ground. The book concludes that what really happened in that four/five second interval will never be known. The Hamiltonian version, though, which almost certainly was wrong, would dominate the history books at the time.

But why had Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel? On June 18, 1804 there a verbal exchange between Hamilton and Burr, which was started by the latter party. Burr called attention to an article published in the Albany Register that reminded people of how Hamilton insulted Burr a few years earlier. It is not known what Hamilton said about Burr, though.

Therefore Hamilton could have denied it, but instead he went on the offensive. Burr responded by asking for a general apology from Hamilton on all his past slander. Hamilton responded, because of Pendleton”‘”s suggestion, that he does not remember slandering him. Burr now did not accept this explanation, saying that a full apology was now necessary. Hamilton tried to exit this issue honorably, but Burr continued to ask for a full apology. It then became inevitable that a duel would occur. Both men amended their wills, made their last dealsall just in case. Hamilton was meditative and regretful before the event.

After Hamilton died he was treated as a martyr for the Federalists, while Burr became a despised villain.

After the interview, people started to despise duels (much more than before) and those who disagreed with the duel used the Burr v. Hamilton one as another reason not to allow them. They quickly lost their prestige and status as an activity that aristocrats partook in and instead became regarded as something done by insecure men. This aftermath helped the Burr Hamilton duel become more memorable as the duel that stopped duels.

Hamilton and Burr had a history of political disputes before that time and these help put the resulting duel in context. Hamilton had at one point called Burr the Catiline of America. Catiline was a “‘”malevolent destroyer of a Republican government”‘”, called so because of a person named Catiline in Rome who had such a mischievous quality.

Burr truly was in a sense a Catiline since he supported, or rather did not repudiate, a plot to make Massachusetts and New York secede from the unionsomething that fortunately never occurred. Burr was a man who would be open to both sides, then show his loyalty to the one that would give the most spoils. Another example of this quality was when he was vice president for the Republicans under Jefferson, realized he would not be chosen to be vice president a second time, because of lack of loyalty, and decided to switch parties and run for governor of New York under their (Federalist) name. Burr did not make decisions based on character and morals, but rather based on what he would receive out of the decisions.

By the summer of 1804 both Hamilton and Burr dropped off the face of history. Burr because he had alienated Jefferson and the Republican party, and Hamilton because he was dead. Meanwhile, the Federalist party was losing steam, even in its own state.

Chapter 2: The Dinner

Jefferson”‘”s account is as follows: One daymid-June of 1790 he found Alexander Hamilton outside of Washington”‘”s office. Both were members of Washington”‘”s cabinetJefferson was secretary of state and Hamilton was secretary of treasury. Hamilton was somber and haggard, a mood unlike his personality. The reason for this mood was because his financial plan for recovery of public credit was trapped in congressional gridlock. Congressman James Madison managed to block its approval based on the key point of assumption. Assumption is when state debts are assumed by the federal government. Hamilton thought that if his plan would not pass, he would resign. Jefferson decided to help.

He invited the main players (Madison and Hamilton) to a dinner party at his house. After opening the subject to the two, they chatted and came to a compromise. Madison decided that when it is brought up for debate again, he will not vote for it, nor withdraw his opposition, yet he would not lead the opposition either. They both decided that in order to pacify the southern states, that the permanent residence of the national capital would be on the Patomac River.

On July 9th, the House passed the Residence Bill, which moved the capital to the Potomac. On July 26th, the House passed the Assumption Bill. Jefferson later realized that this deal was unjust and a mistake, only made because of his fear of the dismembering of the union.

The book explains the symbolism and importance of these events by starting with Madison. Madison was one of the main players in creating the Constitutional Convention. He argued for a fortified national government and was very important in the debate. He therefore got the title of ‘”‘Father of the Constitution'”‘. He then wrote The Federalist Papers which enjoyed instant success. It insisted that a republican government is most effective and stable over a large landmass and diverse population. Madison also helped usher the Bill of Rights through the First Congress.

Madison did not look the part of such a great leader. He was five feet six, less than 140 pounds, diminutive, colorless, sickly, and paralyzingly shy. He was a great debater, though, because of his gentle, reserved character. Madison did not need to get credit for his many accomplishments, but instead was happy to stay under someone”‘”s shadow.

Hamilton and Madison”‘”s fiscal goals were very similar. Hamilton calculated the US”‘” total debt as $77.1 million, $25 million of which was state debt. Madison began to be terrified of the way Hamilton proposed to reach the goal of the recovery of public credit.

Hamilton suggested that the government should reimburse securities it owned to citizens/those who fought in the civil war at their full price. When speculators heard of this, they bought the securities from the fighters in the revolution at a fraction of their cost, hoping to make a good profit. Madison saw this and was outraged that the money would not go to the rightful owners and that they would be cheated.

Madison suggested to make a composition between the principle owners and the end owners, but was defeated in the House. Soon after, assumption came to the agenda. Madison argued that it would be unfair to the southern states who had already done their duty to pay all their debts back. Why should they now pay for the debts of other states? Madison also did not want the federal government to gain much more power. He thought assumption was a covert way for the federal government to gain control. People were reminded of the British taxes and began to feel afraid.

Hamilton was very different from Madison. He was very energetic, ‘”‘imposing his own personality on events in an ostentatious, out-of-my-way style'”‘. He thought that economics needed to be well overseen, and he used England, with its national bank, powerful finance ministers as a model. The others wanted the economy to run its coarse.

Hamilton thought money needed to be concentrated in the hands of the select few. Hamilton liked merchants and investors, while Madison thought that investing was worthless, while owning land was worthwhile.

Thomas Jefferson”‘”s mind was on other things even though he hosted the dinner. He did not make his views on federal power known. Thomas Jefferson”‘”s earlier political career as wartime governor of Virginia ended disastrously when British troops burned down the capital while Jefferson galloped away. He did not want to come back to politics after this, so he went to Paris for escape. In 1789 he was persuaded to take the position of Secretary of State under George Washingtona man that you can”‘”t turn down. Jefferson was a notoriously ineffective debater, simply because arguments offended his harmonious self.

Jefferson knew that the US would not be taken seriously in the eyes of other nations if its debt were not paid off, and therefore he was very willing to hold such a meeting.

The moving of the state capital was a very important question in Congress. The Constitution provided Congress with the power to identify the seat of government. There was much debate over this issue since every state had reasons for holding the seat in their home turf. Madison had been campaigning for the seat to be in Potomac, Virginia because it is his home state. Madison countered Susquehanna, Pennsylvania”‘”s point of that state being the geographic center by saying the demographic center is equally as important. Madison and Jefferson were among the only people to agree and it seemed imminent that the capital would not move to the Potomac (its current day location).

Jefferson”‘”s meeting was not the only secret meeting/political dinner that occurred during that time. A few others were held to create political alliances on the same issues, but the dinner at Jefferson”‘”s reached the final chapter in negotiations. At Jefferson”‘”s dinner Madison promised to gather at least three more votes for assumption, they manipulated numbers to make assumptions look better for Virginians, who had worked hard to pay off their debt, and Hamilton promised to help seal the location of the capital as Potomac.

Once the location of the capital was changed to the Potomac, people in Philadelphia were flustered. Why did that location change from being least likely to be chosen, to the one chosen? Most Congressmen agreed thoughthis change was only a political maneuver to get assumption passed. In reality, the capital would stay in Philadelphia, they thought.

Jefferson and Madison knew the question must not come in front of Congress again, so in order to solve the numerous upcoming difficulties (such as getting capital, an architect, etc), they proposed in August 1790 that the decisions should be made executive so that Washington would have authority.

In January 1791 Washington made the decision that the hundred-square-miles stretching east from Georgetown to the mouth of the Potomac would be the capital. This disappointed Pennsylvanians since it wasn”‘”t as close to their border as originally promised. Washington named the central street Pennsylvania Avenue as a good gesture to their state. The decade-long process was completely controlled by Washington.

The Compromise of 1790 is therefore famous for averting a political crisis. Securing the revolution has proven to be much more daunting than winning one. The end result of the dinner agreement shows the great divide between two sections of the government.

In the end the capital was built on the Potomac and called Washington D.C (District of Columbia). For Hamilton, the compromise meant the institutionalization of fiscal reforms and was symbolic of a resumption of Jefferson and Madison”‘”s political partnership after five years of separation.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Leave a Comment