Date posted: December 29th 2016
Book Title: Washington - A Life (Part 3) (continued)
The hub of the wheel
Alright... so he is president now, awesome! You may be thinking he is going to do a bunch of amazing (and seemingly impossible) things—just like he did during the war. And you are right...but we have to keep in mind that he is no longer that daredevil general anymore—he was getting old. He was now using glasses most of the time, and would speak in a breathy, almost hollow voice (very softly). Some people even noticed he was going deaf—probably from all the cannon blasts during the war. And now, with a sedentary job, his health really started showing the signs of old age.
Nonetheless his brain was still there, and functioning very well indeed. Just like during the war, he surrounded himself with younger, more energetic, and more educated guys to account for his age and lack of formal education. He put Hamilton as the Secretary of Treasury, Jefferson as the Secretary of State, and Madison (although a member of congress) kept very close to.
Washington was always demanding information, letters would flow in and out of his office constantly. He wanted to know it all and had his hands everywhere. Like clockwork he separated everything in manageable chunks of time and was as punctual as it gets. Jefferson used to call him the “hub of the wheel,” at which all the departments of state connected as brilliant spokes and turned as one...A well lubricated government apparatus.
The next four years were extremely precarious and important—not to mention complicated. Having a new nation—a governmental experiment of this caliber—entails a lot of complex issues that no leader had ever faced before. One of the first things in Washington’s priority‑list was to keep the people united. And being the only one who could do so, he decided to travel around the northern states—to have everyone see the new President. Since he was technically a Southerner, the trip made the Northerners feel appreciated, but the appreciation went both ways. Washington was exposed to the industrial North, and as it happens to anyone who travels the world, he started changing his views. He began to realize the importance of a fast moving industry, and an adapting economy.
Washington relied on Hamilton’s ideas (the Secretary of Treasury) to make improvements on economic matters. Washington also knew that no nation can make it on their own, and he relied on Jefferson (the Secretary of State) to advise him on international matters. Two tasks for two brilliant men. However, I’m not sure if it was because of the tasks—or if Hamilton was simply far more driven than Jefferson—but for every accomplishment Jefferson did, Hamilton would get five or six things done. Perhaps it’s easier to develop an internal institution than to form relationships with other countries. Nonetheless, Hamilton was flying high above Jefferson!
Even when congress (as well as Jefferson himself) put all kinds of obstacles in Hamilton’s way, he seemed to be always a step ahead of everyone. This accelerated activity of Hamilton started rubbing some people the wrong way, especially Jefferson and Madison. They slowly started rejecting most of his ideas, claiming that he was steering the country back into monarchy. And with this, the politics (and the nation itself) started polarizing.
On the one hand, Hamilton represented the fast‑pace, industrial, and progressive North. Where decisions were made executively—even when people disagreed. On the other hand, Jefferson and Madison represented the agricultural South. Characterized by more careful measures, always trying to satisfy the people as much as possible, and leaning more towards a congressional government—as far away from monarchical tendencies as possible.
Washington was left in the middle of this crossfire, trying to balance these two forces of nature that were Hamilton and Jefferson. It was a tug of war that Hamilton would end up winning.
At the beginning Washington was not as outspoken about his support for Hamilton, but he definitely leaned more towards Hamilton’s ideas. Perhaps because of their long history, and their (sort‑of) hate for congress—back in the war days when they desperately needed food and clothes, but congress would not give them anything.
Hamilton “the gazelle”
It turns out Hamilton was just as much of a stuntman during his time as Secretary of Treasury as he was back in the war. And although I must say that Jefferson and Madison’s concerns about his “monarchical” tendencies were legitimate (for that time), I don’t think anybody could have done a better job at restoring the economy than Hamilton. Besides, Hamilton’s measures were well justified and extremely efficient. He was given a clean slate, a blank canvas to explore ways to incentivize the economy, and what he did was a masterpiece.
Hamilton’s first move was to distribute the debt equally among all states, something the South didn’t like very much because they had a lower debt than the North. Madison was very vocal about this, but Washington saw this as a way to unite the nation, so he approved it. Hamilton then raised the taxes, and developed an IOU system1 to pay those who serve during the war (since a lot of them still hadn’t gotten paid). This was very popular of course, but it made some people start trading these IOUs depending on how the economy evolved—essentially Wall Street speculation, which is not a good thing for such an unstable economy. Jefferson and Madison grabbed onto that temporary instability to criticize and condemn Hamilton, but it later bounced back and the economy improved significantly. Seeing this, the House of Representatives soon asked for more—and more they got.
Hamilton came up with a Whiskey tax, going dangerously close to the kind of things that started the Revolution in the first place. But again, it worked!
Then he created a Central Bank, which made Jefferson and Madison flip their shit! A Central Bank sounded to them like a King bathing in a giant pot of the people’s gold. But Hamilton would always entangle all his plans in a way that made it impossible to undo them. All Jefferson and Madison could do was complain to Washington, but he paid little attention to their temper tantrums. The Central Bank gave birth to the Federal Government, and in a way, it set the tone of the American economy for centuries to come. Did I mention Hamilton was a bad‑ass?
Signed documents acknowledging a debt↩
They published their criticism under someone else’s name of course, but it was these two snakes who were poisoning the mind of the ghost writer.↩
Technically speaking stock trading is not gambling, but we all know that morally is the same shit. In a way, Jefferson and Madison had valuable arguments.↩
Remember him from the previous post? Washington’s protegé? He pretty much went back to France and sparked the Revolution over there.↩
A very hypocritical statement coming from a slaveowner—but we will talk about slavery when the time is right, let’s stick to the French Revolution for now.↩
I really want to read more about the French Revolution now, because it seems like an incredible turn of events. Besides, it has the amazing Lafayette as one of the main characters.↩
Again, I have to read more about this.↩
Which is why, in case you haven’t noticed, France doesn’t have a Royal family today. While the UK, Spain, and many other European countries do.↩
Republicans vs Federalists
When Jefferson and Madison started realizing that Washington was leaning more towards Hamilton, they knew they needed to stop this somehow. So they started a newspaper called The National Gazette—which ridiculed and condemned each and every one of Hamilton’s actions. This was a turning point for Jefferson and Madison. From here on, they became a pair of two‑faced dicks who advised and helped Washington with a smile (when he was watching), but talked shit behind his back and published it in the National Gazette2.
This newspaper was so controversial, and it gained so much following, that it essentially spawned the party of the Republicans (as they called themselves back then), based on Jeffersonian ideals. The birth of the Republican party was responded by its counterpart of Hamiltonian ideals, and they called themselves the Federalists. They also had a newspaper of their own but it wasn’t as quarrelsome as the National Gazette.
Just like that, the political chess game was on! But it was kind of an unfair chess game to be honest, the Federalists had an all‑powerful (yet silent) king in the back (Washington), not necessarily making every move but certainly not opposing to the radical ideas of his incisive right‑hand bishop (Hamilton). They also had a very versatile knight on their side, vice‑president Adams…The federalists were there to stay!
Hamilton knew he was in his prime. He was the right guy, in the right place, at the right time, to make a significant impact on this young country—so he kept pushing for more. His next move also stroke Washington the right way: the implementation of import duties in order to promote local farming and manufacturing. These duties calmed the American hunger for imported goods slightly. A hunger that Washington complained about since before the war.
One of Hamilton’s most controversial moves was to allow people to own stock from the Central Bank, this made the economy go upside down for a couple of months because of speculation, but at least money was flowing. And just like before, the economy restored later on.
I don’t know if it is my lack of knowledge on the history of economics (or economics in general) but this seems like the birth of a lot of ideas that are still viable today: taxes, import duties, national banks, stock. Again... did I mention Hamilton was a bad‑ass?
Jefferson and Madison were left on the sidelines, watching Hamilton “the gazelle” jump over every hurdle they threw his way, and all they could do was complain about it in their silly newspaper. They claimed the country was going in a downward spiral of gambling, allowing people to seek easy ways to earn money instead of working hard for it. And they may be have been right, but all these things are inevitable when you have a fast‑pace economy like the one Hamilton was envisioning3. The way I see it, Hamilton had a greater trust in people. He knew that if the economy was pushed and was let go on it’s own for a second (even at the cost of losing the ability to fully control it), the future benefits would be immense. He was trying to teach americans how to ride a bike so he took the training wheels off and gave them a push. Jefferson on the other hand didn’t trust people, he wanted those training wheels to stay on for as long as they could. But everyone knows you can’t make sharp turns or cool tricks with training wheels... Jefferson was the lame parent that worries too much and bubble‑wraps their kids, Hamilton was the cool uncle that lets the kids try crazy things every once in a while.
The Republicans went as low as trying to accuse Hamilton of illegal misconduct, but his actions were absolutely transparent, and they couldn’t find anything that would get him in trouble (legally). They did make a little scandal about him having an affair—which speaks a lot about to the two‑faced dick Jefferson, who decades later was found to have several kids with one of his slaves despite being a married man.
The French Revolution
There was yet another thing that Republicans and Federalists disagreed with, the French Revolution. Hamilton and Washington regarded the French Revolution as a mistake. Which is a little shocking isn’t it? Hamilton and Washington, the frontmen of the American Revolution and great friends of Lafayette4, didn’t like the direction the French Revolution was headed. They thought it was driven by the wrong causes, and that there was too much fanaticism and anger. Also feared it could lead to unnecessary bloodshed. And it did.
Jefferson on the other hand, was so in love with France that he didn’t care how many innocent people died, he just wanted to see the people liberated from monarchy. He went as far as saying that he rather see “half the earth desolated” as long as people were free5 ... Yeah, easy to say for a guy who was watching the American Revolution from a pedestal.
In the case of the French Revolution6, Lafayette was hoping for a fusion between the monarchy and the people. And yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron: a revolution where the monarchy and the people unite? What? Then who were they revolting against?
I’m not sure7, but we have to remember that we are talking about the Marquis de Lafayette... this title (Marquis) means he is from an aristocratic family, so a fusion between the nobility and the people was convenient for him. But he didn’t know what he was getting into.
As Washington said “liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth” and judging by the French Revolution, when watered with blood, is a plant of a ravaging appetite. Just to mention a couple of bloody circumstances: when an angry mob stormed the Bastille (a prison which was a symbol of the crown power), they put the prison governor’s head on a spike and left it there for days. They also decapitated the King and Queen publicly, and it was all a huge celebration8. Unfortunately Lafayette lost control of the revolution’s direction and ended up being considered a traitor to the Revolution (perhaps because of his heritage), which put Washington in an awkward position since he didn’t want no trouble with (the new) France, so he couldn’t advocate for the liberation of his dear friend. This was yet another reason for Washington to act distant towards the French Revolution.
Washington just didn’t want to get in that mess, and it was quite the mess. Jefferson, however, was watching it closely. But apparently with a filter for the color red—for all he saw were people being liberated from the crown and none of the blood and suffering. Jefferson praised the French Revolution as a continuation of the American Revolution. An awakening!... Perhaps…
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