Thursday, December 29, 2005

Politics as Usual in Early American History

I have been continuing to listen to the 26-CD long, unabridged biography of John Adams when driving in my car. I am at about CD number 21 now and I must admit I have enjoyed it much more than I ever expected. There has been so much interesting detail and tidbits of American history I never knew.

In the early days, the man with the second most votes in the Electoral College was elected Vice President. John Adams served two terms as Vice President under George Washington. He would later find out that Alexander Hamilton worked diligently to get Electors to withhold votes from Adams. After Washington served two terms, Adams was elected the second President despite much effort on the part of Hamilton and Madison to get Thomas Jefferson elected. By this times, sharp party lines had developed and as a result, the Vice President Thomas Jefferson held many different views than President Adams and he frequently conspired with Alexander Hamilton to undermine John Adams’ policies

Philadelphia was the early capital and it often hit by Yellow Fever epidemics in the summer months. On several occasions, most high officials left the city to escape the disease. Much government business was done by mail, which traveled slowly in those days.

Relations turned sour with France after the French Revolution. We had stopped supporting an army and navy, and France used its sea power to exclude us from trade from the French West Indies. France was at war with England and would intercept US shipping with England as well. Most of the North, including John Adams reacted with horror to the mass executions during the French Revolution and distrusted the new French government. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and much of the South had more distrust of England and looked at the French revolutionary cause as similar to our own and wanted to align ourselves with France. They blamed the problems with France on John Adams’ insulting the French years earlier when Adams served in Paris with Benjamin Franklin and later as one of the negotiators of the Treaty of Paris.

John Adams made the mistake of asking George Washington’s cabinet to stay on rather than choosing his own. (No precedent had yet been set as to cabinet level officials stepping down and the newly elected President picking his own cabinet.) In fact, most of his cabinet officials were really loyal to Alexander Hamilton.

Alexander Hamilton is presented in the biography as constantly trying to maneuver behind the scenes to control events. He was also found out to be in an adulterous relationship with another man’s wife.

Relations with France got worse when the new government refused to accept an American delegation sent by Adams to seek peace. As a result, Adams proposed to Congress to begin building an American Navy again and begin building an American Army just in case peace could not be negotiated. John Adams nominated George Washington, the former President, to come back to be the highest ranking general in the new army. Adams also nominated other influential men including Alexander Hamilton and his own son-in-law (who had rank of Colonel during the Revolution) also as generals. Washington would only accept his new commission if he could name his own generals under him. Alexander Hamilton was up to his usual behind-the-scenes maneuvers again, and Washington appointed Hamilton as second in command.

So... the plot continues to thicken. After going through high school and receiving a “rose colored glasses” view of history, it is interesting to see get this rather unvarnished version of events.

No comments: