HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
RULE OF PLANTATION AND FRONTIER
COMMERCE had progressed with seven-league strides under Hamilton's regime. Aided by the upheaval in Europe, American foreign trade grew from $43,000,000 in 1791 to $204,000,000 in 1801.1 Nevertheless, the merchants were driven from power. There were many reasons for this, not all of them directly due to the clash of immediate industrial interests.
The Federalists seem to have become drunk with power. They took the unpopular side in the French Revolution, and sought to suppress all expressions of sympathy with the Revolutionists. The better to do this they passed the "Alien and Sedition Laws," vesting extraordinary powers in the President for the punishment of those who criticized the government, and giving him the power summarily to deport foreigners. There was much opposition to this growing centralization of autocratic power. This brought support to other divisions of the budding capitalist class rather than to the merchants.
The principal industrial divisions of the population struggling for the control
of government were the small farmers, the frontiersmen, the manufacturers, the
merchants, and the Southern plantation owners. It will be at once noted that
these overlap in the actual processes
1 William C. Webster, "General History of Commerce," p. 352.
of industry. This was still more true of their political interests.
Consequently any exact analysis of the play of industrial forces as reflected in political events is almost impossible.
Agriculture in the sense of small, diversified farming was still by far the most common industry. It was much more "diversified" than is advised to-day by even the most enthusiastic opponents of "one-crop" farming. The compilers of the census of 1810 tell us that they have excluded many "doubtful articles" from the manufacturing schedules, which
... from their very nature were nearly allied to agriculture, including cotton pressing, flour and meal, grain and sawmills, barrels for packing, malt, pot and pearl ashes, maple and cane sugar, molasses, rosin, pitch, slates, bricks, tiles, saltpeter, indigo, red and yellow ochre, hemp and hemp mills, fisheries, wine, ground plaster, etc., all together estimated at $25,850,795, making the aggregate value of manufactures of every description in the United States in 1810 equal to $198,613,484.
Here we are at the very birth of the family of modern industries from the great mother industry of agriculture. The whole process of industrial evolution consists of a gradual separation of the production of more and more "doubtful articles" from farming.
Many children of agriculture were just preparing to leave the farm at this time and to take up their abode in factories. The making of cloth was just passing from the "household" stage, where production is in the family and for the family, to the "domestic" stage, where, while production still goes on in the home, the product seeks an outside market.
This domestic stage, of so much importance in European industrial history, was to be but a short tarrying place for American industry on its road to the factory. The two stages were overlapping at this time. The great bulk of manufacturing was still in the household stage. An important portion had reached the point of domestic production for market. Then we learn that "fifteen cotton mills were erected in New England before the year 1808, working at that time almost 8000 spindles, and producing about 300,000 pounds of yarn a year. Returns had been received of 87 mills erected at the end of the year 1808, 62 of which were in operation, and worked 31,000 spindles."1
By 1812 a woolen mill in Middletown, Connecticut, was being run by one of Oliver Evans' engines, invented, designed, constructed, and operated in the United States.2 The relative importance of the different stages of industrial production of cloth is shown by the report of the census of 1810 that 21,211,262 yards of linen, 16,581,299 of cotton, and 9,528,266 of woolen goods were made in families, out of a total production of about 75,000,000 yards. Note that at this period linen leads, with cotton and woolen following. Soon cotton will press to the front and linen be found dragging far in the rear.
The manufacturing interests were still individualistic, or merged with
agriculture. The tariff had aided them, but they were not sufficiently numerous,
coherent, nor energetic to become a political factor.3
1. Leander Bishop, "History of American Manufactures," Vol. II, p. 160.
2. Niles' Register, Feb. 1, 1812, p. 406.
3. Edwin Stanwood, "American Tariff Controversies in the Nineteenth Century," p. 123: "One cannot be surprised that while the foreign trade was growing rapidly and while agriculture was flourishing under the double stimulus of a rapidly increasing and of a profitable foreign vent . . . little attention should be paid to the introduction of manufactures. There was ample employment for all disposable capital in the traffic which gave such large returns; there was no surplus labor to be drawn into new industrial enterprises. Occupation could be found for every man with a mechanical turn in building ships, in building and furnishing the new dwellings and shops required by population and trade, in blacksmithing, shoemaking and other trades connected with the shelter, food and clothing of the people." See also succeeding pages to p. 127.
In the closing year of Washington's administration an epoch-making invention had appeared that wrought a revolution throughout a broad section of the country. This was the cotton gin of Eli Whitney. This invention was the last link that made possible the factory system in the cloth industry. It furnished the cheap cotton that laid the foundation of the factory system of England and the world. It increased the production of cotton in the United States one hundred fold in the seven years following its appearance.
By making profitable the cultivation of the shortfibered upland cotton plant it released chattel slavery and the plantation system from the confines of the tide-water region, and sent them on their career of conquest along the foothills of the Alleghenies to Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. It wiped out, almost in a day, the glimmering sentiment for abolition which a constantly falling price of slaves had aroused in the breasts of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and other Virginia tobacco growers. It created a new industrial, and therefore a new political, power, - the slave-owning cotton planter, who was soon to grasp at national domination, to secure it after a short division of power with allied forces, and then to rule su
preme for more than a generation and to be overthrown only when the wage-buying capitalist should wrest the scepter of power by four years of terrible civil war. This new and vigorous industrial interest, pulsing with power, present and potential, contributed strongly to the overthrow of Hamiltonian Federalism and the installation of Jeffersonian individualism, although, as we shall see, the contrast was not so sharp as is sometimes thought.
It was not the old planters of the seaboard that placed Jefferson in the presidential chair. On the contrary, these were more generally Federalist in their sympathies. They were united by many ties of the past, if not of the present, with the New England merchants.1
But the new upland cotton raisers were making common cause with the back country
farmers amid whom they were living. With these were allied the great body of
frontiersmen who had been pouring through Cumberland Gap, down the Ohio, and out
along the Genesee River in New York. These men were always separatist,
individualistic, and Jefferson's philosophy appealed to them. Besides they had
learned of the opposition of isolated New England to Western expansion and the
Western country, and this antagonism had not lost anything in the telling as it
traveled to the West, and it was most cordially returned with ample interest.
Jay's treaty with England in 1794 had not provided for the navigation of the
Mississippi and had almost raised a rebellion in the West as a consequence. The
Southern cotton planters were also apt to remember that John Jay had known so
little of that industry that he had
1. Basset, "The Federalist System," pp. 45, 46.
permitted the inclusion of an article forbidding the export of cotton in American ships, because he did not know that cotton was an American crop.
These new forces, the back country farmers, the frontiersmen, and the new race of upland cotton planters, together with the household manufacturers, made up the elements that overthrew the Federal forces.
Owing to the confusion of interests, the presidential election was extremely close, so close that no one received a majority of the electoral votes. The election, therefore, went to the House of Representatives, where Thomas Jefferson was chosen as President, with Aaron Burr as Vice President. This result was not accomplished without some political intrigue on the part of Hamilton and Aaron Burr, in which a new force was introduced into American politics by the latter. This was the famous Tammany Society of New York which had been founded as a social and philanthropic society in 1789.1
Before the Federalists lost control, they took one more long step in the
perfection of the program of centralization and removal of the government from
democratic control. They had formulated the constitution in secret, secured its
adoption by deceit and gerrymandering, extended its provisions by shrewd
legislation, and made it clearly an instrument of class government. The next step
was to remove the final power of control from the people and vest it in the
courts. The first move toward the accomplishment of this was a series of laws
passed during the very last days of Federal rule, increasing the
1. M. Ostrogorski, "Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties," Vol. II, pp. 150-153.
number of courts far beyond the needs of the country at the time. Every place thus created was at once filled with a stanch Federalist. Tradition says that the work of signing the commissions of these judges was stopped only when a messenger from Jefferson stayed the hand of the secretary at midnight, March 3d. Having thus erected a supreme power beyond the reach of the people, they placed at the head of the judiciary a man who was to carry this usurpation of power to the uttermost limits and to fix it there for a century to come. This man was John Marshall, who occupied the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for thirty-four years, receiving his appointment in 1801. During this time he constantly extended and strengthened the power of his office until it reached proportions undreamed of even by those who founded this government, with the possible exception of Hamilton.1
Lest it may be thought that I exaggerate the extent of the revolutionary usurpation of power by Marshall and its influence on subsequent history, I will quote from an authoritative legal work at this point. Joseph P. Cotton, in his "Constitutional Decisions of John Marshall," says : -
In 1801 one of these `midnight judges,' Marbury, applied for a mandamus to require the issue of his commission, and in 1803 Marshall delivered his opinion on that application. This opinion is the beginning of American constitutional law. In it Marshall announced
1 The Federalist, No. LX=, "Extent of the Authority of the Judiciary," by Hamilton, contains a passage that may possibly be understood to imply the existence of such power, but this is doubtful, and it is certain that no one claimed it openly at the time of the adoption of the constitution.
the right of the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of the acts of the national legislature and the executive, the coordinate branches of the government. Such a power had been spoken of in certain opinions, and, indeed, acted upon in unimportant cases in the state courts, but never in the Federal courts. Common as this conception of our courts now is, it is hard to comprehend the amazing quality of it then. No court in England had such power ; there was no express warrant for it in the words of the Constitution ; the existence of it was denied by every other branch of the government and by the dominant majority of the country. Moreover, no such power had been clearly anticipated by the framers of the Constitution, nor was it a necessary implication from the scheme of government they had established. If that doctrine were to be law, the Supreme Court was indeed a final power in a democracy, beyond the reach of public opinion.
This completed the process of usurpation of power and destruction of democratic control which was begun with the first arrangements for a constitutional convention. With this power to declare laws unconstitutional in its possession the Supreme Court possessed an absolute veto on all legislation and was itself out of the reach of the voters.
Jefferson, the representative of Southern plantation, and frontier farmer interests, has always been hailed as the prophet of democracy. But his democracy, in accordance with the interests he represented, was that of individualism, of philosophic anarchy, rather than of associated effort under common management. The cotton plantation owner, whose working class of chattel slaves was
forever debarred from political activity, could easily champion this democracy. He would enfranchise the Northern wageworkers whom he hoped, and rightly, as subsequent events showed, might become his allies against the Northern merchants and manufacturers. The pioneer was always democratic in this individualistic sense. Class distinctions had not yet arisen on the frontier. Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, which were admitted to the Union during this period, were the first states to embody universal suffrage in their constitutions.
This alliance between planter and frontiersman is the key to the political policy of much of this period. This alliance was easier at this time than at any later period. Western emigration was largely from the Southern states. The great stream of peoples was flowing from Virginia and the Carolinas through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky and Tennessee. The South saw in this movement an extension of its power into the future as well as geographically.
Much of the work of Jefferson was connected with the West. He had been active in formulating the Ordinance of 1787 for the government of the Northwest Territory during the dying days of the Confederation, and his interest in the Western movement had always been close. He devised the system of land survey by townships, ranges, and sections, that has done so much to make American real estate more thoroughly a commodity than the land of any other country. He bought Louisiana, sent Lewis and Clark, and Pike to explore the Far West, and began the famous Cumberland Road as a part of an extensive system of internal improvements. During this period Congress was always willing to appropriate money
for the settlement of Indian claims, or for the defense of the frontier in Indian wars.
To all these measures the New England commercial interests were hostile. To a certain extent this was a result of sectional isolation as well as material interests. New England had developed a most intense sectional life, with its own customs, prejudices, dialects, religion, and local patriotism, and because of the intensive character of these ideas and institutions, was to impress them deeply upon large sections of the country.
Such isolation and concentration of thought and interests and policy were bound to become separatist when they were antagonized. When the Federalists under Adams passed the Alien and Sedition Laws, Kentucky and Virginia passed resolutions hinting at secession. Now the South and West were in control, with Virginia dominant, and it was the turn of New England, with Massachusetts at the head, to become "treasonable." For several years this section was openly to advocate and secretly to plot secession until another turn in industrial development should give New England interests the ruling hand, when the doctrine of secession would once more take up its abode in the South.1
It was the purchase of Louisiana that particularly aggravated the New England
states. This was an application of their own philosophy in regard to the
constitution. There was no provision in that instrument for
1. McMaster, "History of the People of the United States," Vol. III, pp. 42-48; Wilson, "A History of the American People," Vol. III, p. 184; Hildreth, "History of the United States," Vol. V, p. 584; Von Holst, "Constitutional History of the United States," Vol. I, pp. 185-186.
the purchase of new territory, and no Federalist had ever given as "liberal construction" to a constitutional question as did Jefferson when he purchased Louisiana, and provided for its government directly from the national capital without the consent of the inhabitants, and with little more than a notification to Congress.
However discontented New England might be, it could not be denied that her merchants were prosperous. The high tide of American commerce was reached in 1810 with a total tonnage of 1,424,783 tons. New England ships were in every harbor. The Oriental trade had become especially profitable. The road to India was at last running through America, though not exactly as Columbus had dreamed. With the beginnings of a factory system and the rise of a body of wageworkers there appear traces of organized labor and a struggle between employers and employees. The petitions to Congress for higher tariff and for relief and assistance for various industries all complain of the high wages which must be paid. Such a complaint indicates several things in addition to the political impotence of the wageworkers. It is a fairly sure sign that wages were rising, rather than that they were already high. McMaster concludes from his investigations that,1
The rates of wages were different in each of the three great belts along which population was streaming westward. The highest rates were paid in the New England belt, which stretched across the country from Massachusetts to Ohio. The lowest rates prevailed in the southern belt, which extended from the Carolinas to Louisiana.
1. "History of the People of the United States," Vol. III, pp. 509-515, is a good survey of labor conditions.
In each of these bands again wages were lowest on the Atlantic seaboard, and, increasing rapidly in a western direction, were greatest in the Mississippi Valley.
A contemporary authority furnishes an estimate of the wages paid at this time in the most northern belt, where they were supposed to be the highest. His figures are as follows:1
These wages were certainly not high enough to seem to require any action on the part of Congress to enable the employers to pay them. The figures for the last two years given above confirm the general impression that wages were rising at this time. Skilled workmen were beginning to organize unions, and here and there strikes took place.
Strikes and unions were still illegal. When the cordwainers (a branch of the shoemaking trade) went out on strike in Philadelphia in 1805, they were convicted of conspiracy and fined, after which they opened up a shop of their own and appealed to the public for patronage.
In New York the growth of a wageworking class was
1 Niles' Register, Vol. I, p. 99 (quoting from Blodget's "Economics"; McMaster, in Atlantic Monthly, Vol. LXXV, p. 22, says of 1800: "Soldiers in the army received three dollars a month. Farm hands in New England were given $4 a month and found their own clothes. Unskilled laborers toiled twelve hours per day for fifty cents. Workmen on turnpikes, then branching out in every direction, were housed in rude sheds, fed coarse food, and given $4 a month from November to May and $6 from May to November. When the road from Genesee River to Buffalo was under construction in 1812, though the region through which it went was frontier, men were hired in plenty for $12 per month in cash, and their board, lodging, and a daily allowance of whisky."
having another effect. Here it was laying the foundations for democracy. During the time of the Revolution, the adoption of the constitution, and the Hamiltonian regime, the property qualifications for office and even for the suffrage were so high that the wageworking class was ignored by the politicians. Nor were the members of this class sufficiently numerous to make any effective protest against this disfranchisement.
During the first decade of the nineteenth century, however, a spirit of rebellion against these restrictions began to be felt in New York. This first germ of a labor movement sought to widen the political powers as well as improve the industrial condition of its members. In New York some success was achieved in this direction, and at once there appeared that other phase of class rule under the form of democracy, the political machine. Up to this time candidates had been nominated either by informal gatherings of "prominent citizens" or by caucuses of members of the state legislatures or Congress.2 Now there were signs of so-called "popular" caucuses, and appeals began to be made to labor.
On the whole, this was a period of the beginning of things that are familiar features of the society of three quarters of a century later. It was to be a generation, however, before any of these forces were to become prominent, social features.
Jefferson went into office as the exponent of the idea
1. "Memorial History of New York," Vol. III, pp. 13-14; McMaster, "History of the People of the United States," Vol. III, Chap. XVII; Niles' Register, Vol. I, pp. 80-81, contains table of electoral qualifications in all states.
2. Ostrogorski, "Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties," Vol. II, p. 12.
that the constitution should be "strictly construed," that the central government should be closely limited in its powers, and, above all, should never be used to serve sectional or class interests. Yet never was the constitution stretched farther than by the purchase of Louisiana and its government direct from the White House. The powers which the Federal government exercised in the preliminary steps to the War of 1812, when an embargo was laid on all commerce and Federal officers were given the right of search and seizure, exceeded anything done by Hamilton. The fact that the possession of centralized power led Jefferson to use and extend that power in the interest of those to whom he owed his election, is noted by nearly all historians. Although he came into office talking of the "revolution" due to his election, yet,
The great mass of the men, who in 1800 voted for Adams, could in 1804 see no reason whatever for voting against Jefferson. Scarcely a Federal institution was missed. They saw the debt, the bank, the navy, still preserved ; they saw a broad construction of the constitution, a strong government exercising the rights of sovereignty, paying small regard to the rights of States, and growing more and more national day by day, and they gave it a hearty support, as a government administered on the principles for which, ever since the constitution was in force, they had contended.1
1 McMaster, loc. cit., Vol. III, p. 198.