The Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania, 1790-1801: A Study in National Stimulus and Local Response

By Harry Marlin Tinkcom | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
CONCLUSION

FROM 1776 to 1790 the people of Pennsylvania lived under one of the most liberal and democratic of all State constitutions. Subjected to attack from the moment of inception, this body of organic law survived without change until the latter year, when it was superseded by a more conservative but by no means drastically reactionary document. At the time of change, the State was almost evenly divided between conservative and liberal groups, and the new constitution, a compromise effort, went into effect without incident or turmoil. Designed to harmonize with the United States Constitution, it thus deferred to the new national government whose strong influence had already materially and peculiarly conditioned political behavior in Pennsylvania.

While the Constitution of 1776 existed, it was the focal point of controversy which split the State into two factions, most appropriately called Constitutionalist and Anti-Constitutionalist. With its demise, the loosely organized groups battling around it lost a vital cohesive impellant. The new circumstances called for realignment and reappraisal, and into this realignment each group carried ideological and psychological principles and fears. Generally speaking, the old liberal Constitutional faction entered the new period with an aversion to selfarrogated special privilege, aristocratic and monarchic tendencies and the influence of great wealth. Their conservative opponents, on the other hand, feared an excessive democracy which they thought would result in anarchy and revolution. That the apprehensions of both were often unfounded in fact was unimportant from the propaganda standpoint, that detracted not at all from their effectiveness when disseminated by the lurid press. When the United States government was established, many Pennsylvania liberals regarded it with uneasy foreboding, but to their opponents it offered hope for a sober and dignified future.

It was indeed a fortunate and happy day for Pennsylvania Federalists when Philadelphia became the national capital in 1790. The first three administrations were decidedly conservative, and to the city on the Delaware came great and influential figures who were a constant source of comfort to the local Federalist forces. Also, it seems

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