Chesapeake Politics, 1781-1800

By Norman K. Risjord | Go to book overview
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Mobilizing the Electorate: 1800

REPUBLICANS were on the defensive in Congress through the spring of 1798, but they had fought a brilliant rearguard action. By holding their ranks together they had modified a number of Federalist military proposals and subjected every measure to critical scrutiny. Federalists, by matching Republicans' discipline, forced through every one of the measures, but they had little cause for exultation. Despite popular indignation over the behavior of France, Congress had not been stampeded. Military preparedness measures, which should have slid through in the atmosphere of crisis, remained in doubt until the final roll call. The Sedition Act, which required general acquiescence if it were to be regarded as anything but partisan repression, passed by the narrowest of margins -- a "three-vote majority," sneered the Aurora. Though unable to halt the Federalists' drive, Republicans had compiled an impressive public record, one that could serve as a basis for election appeals. What they needed was a forum to initiate the public debate. Not surprisingly they turned to their home base, the Virginia assembly. Madison sensed this need when


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