The Journal of William Maclay, United States Senator from Pennsylvania, 1789-1791

The Journal of William Maclay, United States Senator from Pennsylvania, 1789-1791

The Journal of William Maclay, United States Senator from Pennsylvania, 1789-1791

The Journal of William Maclay, United States Senator from Pennsylvania, 1789-1791

Excerpt

This Journal by William Maclay, who may be called with some justice the original Jeffersonian Democrat, is one of the most precious human documents for the study of American manners, morals, and intelligence, political and general. Covering the years 1789-91, it deals with the period which witnessed the inauguration of the federal government under the Constitution. Through the burning glare of its spot light stalk, amble, or drift all the distinguished personalities of the age, from George Washington to Fisher Ames. It opens the doors of private homes, reporting table talk and gossip, describing the "intellectual climate" of the time. In one burst of illumination after another, it shoots fire-flares into the workshop behind the splendid façade of Alexander Hamilton's public structure, showing us the great fathers of the republic in their shirt sleeves, planning, caucusing, cutting, fitting, compromising, and deciding. Glowing through its pages are the emotions that called into life the popular party led to victory by Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Besides all this, the Journal has a special value for politics, because the Senate of the United States at the time sat behind closed doors, keeping from the eyes and ears of the commonalty the sights and sounds that accompanied Hamilton's great economic measures on their way through that exalted legislative body, enriching thousands of private citizens while establishing national credit and firmly fixing the American republic upon a secure foundation.

It must be conceded, of course, that William Maclay was not a cold, judicial witness to the scenes he describes. A Scotchman from the interior of Pennsylvania, a lawyer with a classical training, who lived on a farm near Harrisburg, then almost a frontier town, Maclay was a bit awkward in the presence of grand Virginia gentlemen and plutocratic merchants from Boston or Philadelphia. Elected to the United States Senate by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1789, he entered that small, compact . . .

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