Checking the Democratic Tendencies


Alexander Hamilton’s drive for a powerful central government superior to the States which created it was launched in 1785, with final success achieved in the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.  Once the agent of
the federation clothed itself with command of the military and waged war upon sovereign States that resisted its will, Hamilton’s vision was achieved.

Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute


Checking the Democratic Tendencies:

“Not only in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, but in practically all the States the conservative property owners were genuinely frightened by the growing power of the agrarian and unpropertied classes. The new State
constitutions, while by no means radical documents, had added much to the power of the masses, and the Revolution itself had unsettled traditional habits of deference to those in authority.

Extremists reasoned that if it had been right and proper to revolt against England because of one type of tyranny, it was now equally right and proper to revolt against local governments or practices that seemed equally tyrannical. If debts owing to British merchants could be legislated out of existence, why not also debts owing to American merchants?  Acts of violence, such as boycotts, tea-parties, and terrorizing of tax-collectors, had characterized the outbreak of the Revolution; Shay’s Rebellion indicated that more of the same thing, this
time directed against the upper classes in America, might be in store.

Confronted by this menacing situation, conservative men of property began to cast about for some means of checking the democratic tendencies that were so painfully in evidence. What seemed to be needed was a
government strong enough to maintain order at home and if possible also to protect American rights abroad. Clearly the State governments could not be trusted to do these things; their authority was limited, and in
some cases the lower classes already had control.

As for the central government, its impotence under the Articles of Confederation was abundantly demonstrated.  It was without an effective executive…it could not regulate commerce; it had no taxing power; and it was at best a mere creation of the States utterly incapable of acting directly upon individuals. Clearly a stronger central government was needed, and toward that end the properties classes began to direct their efforts.  Such men as Alexander Hamilton, Peletiah Webster, and Governor Bowdoin openly proclaimed their belief in the necessity of a closer and more powerful union.

In the spring of 1785 a joint commission composed of delegates from Virginia and Maryland…[and the Virginia legislature] promptly issued a call for [convention] to meet at Annapolis the first Monday in September, 1786. Nine States named representatives to attend the Annapolis Convention, but from only five, Virginia, Delaware,
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, did the delegates chosen actually attend. It adopted a report from the able pen of Alexander Hamilton which pointed out some of the conspicuous defects in the Articles of Confederation and called upon the States to send delegates to a new convention through which a remedy for these defects should be sought. The date set for the new convention was the second Monday in May, 1787, and the place of meeting suggested was Philadelphia. Hamilton represented the extreme conservative opinion of the country and sincerely hoped for a strong central government that would represent the propertied classes, but he dare not in this document openly advocate the overthrow of the [Articles of] Confederation.”

(The Federal Union, A History of the United States to 1865, John D. Hicks, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948, pp. 193-194)