The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism, 1795-1800

The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism, 1795-1800

The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism, 1795-1800

The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism, 1795-1800

Excerpt

When the experiment in government fashioned by the Philadelphia convention of 1787 was presented to the people for ratification few, if any, of its framers were satisfied that it would survive. It was recognized that much would depend upon the wisdom of the men who were to administer this government of laws during its early years. Thus it was that George Washington, greatly against his will, was brought back into public life at the summit of national affairs. There was very little doubt that only Washington, a man whose prestige was as high during his lifetime as any figure in history, could fill the office of first President. His election was unanimous, and if ever the general will existed or was exercised by a political body it was in the choice of Washington to launch this experiment.

It is too often forgotten that there was no modern precedent to guide the first lawmakers, jurists, and administrators of the United States. Central government had to be set over and at times against the governments of thirteen separate and hitherto sovereign states; yet it was demanded that this government must be at the same time integrated with state governments in its functionings. Ancient precedent suggested to a generation steeped in classical history that popular government could not succeed when applied to a widespread geographic area. Opponents of the Federal Constitution were quick to point toward the Roman experience, the gradual withering away of popular institutions, and the degradation of republican virtues as new territories were added and new peoples brought under its dominion.

The geographic immensity of the United States staggered . . .

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