WHY 'LIBERTARIANISM' ISNOT 'CONSERVATISM'
Thursday, February 23, 2012
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
[EDITOR's NOTE: This Commentary is the fifth in an ongoing series of Commentaries under the above heading: previous installments in this series were posted on this website on 13 February 2012; 15 February 2012; 18 February 2012 and 20 February 2012]
As the rancorous debate over the implementation of Jay's Treaty (particularly that surrounding the U.S. House of Representatives eventually providing the necessary funding for such implementation)- although not that debate's political ramifications- abated as Spring turned into Summer in 1796, Americans had already come to learn that there was yet another new form of governance for the still-young (First) French Republic- its fourth in less than the amount of time during which four American two-year Congresses had succeeded one another, and generally peaceably so, under the Constitution of the United States of America- this one to be known as 'the Directory'.
Maximilien Robespierre's execution in late July 1794 did not immediately end the Reign of Terror (despite his being the last of its more notable victims): indeed, many of those serving on the Committee of Public Safety with Robespierre and who were intimately involved in the coup d'etat that so suddenly brought him down had no real interest in ending it (Robespierre's death was more the result of his political enemies being rather sick and tired of his attempts to establish an idealistic "republic of virtue" [his appearance as something of a quasi-Pontifex Maximus (in the ancient Roman- pagan- sense of the term) during his 'Festival of the Supreme Being' was, as I've said, just about the last straw: those who did not see him as dangerous now saw him as mad-- and vice versa]: it was- in many ways- merely a case of the time becoming ripe in which to knock the "goody two shoes", one who had more than enough "skeletons in his own closet", off of his ever-heightening pedestal; in other ways, the Thermidorean Reaction was the very peak of an extreme of the French Revolution's motto 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity'-- simply put: Robespierre was, more and more, appearing as if he himself believed he was "more equal than others" [to here borrow George Orwell's formulation in his Animal Farm] and this was no longer acceptable!)
But the populace of a nation still at war- seemingly still fighting for its very survival (as well as that of its Revolution)- with outsiders was now itself sick and tired of the bloodletting within: as I noted in Part One of this series, the historical consensus about the French Revolution has long been that the National Assembly (again, as described in the 1910 [11th] Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica) could not have acted without the support of popular opinion while most of what the Assembly did was anticipated by actual revolt. Whatever one might want to say- in this same regard- about the more radical Legislative Assembly and the later, more dictatorial (as well as more extreme), Committee of Public Safety: once the Convention had turned on Robespierre, the major radical leaders and/or propagandists who had come to power some three years before- Danton and Marat as well- were, by then, all dead and popular opinion was now demanding that the pendulum swing back, away from the weirder aspects of what the French Republic had become.
A more moderate force- actually calling themselves the 'Thermidoreans"- came to control the Convention as the latter half of the Year 1794 wore on: soon, the waning power of both the Paris commune and the Jacobin clubs was finally, as well as firmly, disrupted (Robespierre's absence demonstrated just how much his own rhetoric had propped these up in any event). By December 1794, the surviving Girondists (those who had managed to escape with their lives throughout the period of the 'Terror') were allowed back into the Convention and the political makeup of that body now lurched towards the right of Center, isolating the remnants of the Left (that is: the Montagnards, no longer looming so large) therein.
Despite this turn of events, however, there were still grave problems: the 'Terror' and the ongoing War of the First Coalition had already left the finances of the country in tatters. Food riots broke out in Paris at the beginning of April 1795 and there was yet one more attempt of that city's mob to march on the Convention which was successfully repulsed. The people of the streets were no longer tolerated in the popular mind and there was now something, in response, called 'the White Terror' (though not as extensive of the 'classic' Terror of Robespierre's era: we now, by the way, also get the modern notion of 'White' to the Right and 'Red' to the Left in common political description). A final spasm of Leftist violence in late May 1795 was again suppressed by forces loyal to the Convention and, with this, the Montagnards finally met their doom as a force in French politics.
But there were also- at the same time- bright spots for France on the horizon: The Peaces of Basel agreed to through the Spring of 1795 first knocked Prussia (and, with it, a host of its allied smaller German states) out of the First Coalition and then, later, did the same as regarded Spain-- Austria and Holland remained the only major continental powers still in the war against France (along with, of course, Britain). On 22 August 1795, yet another Constitution for the French Republic was promulgated, one reflecting the changed reality in but a little over a year since Robespierre had died:
there was to be a new executive agency- the Directory, consisting of five members- with a legislature of more than one chamber (for the first time since the Third Estate had effectively seceded from the tripartite States-General more than six years before): a 'Council of Elders' [also known as 'the Ancients'] and a 'Council of Five Hundred' [which happened to be twice the number of 'Ancients']. It being seen as a mistake that the National Assembly had forbidden any of its members to serve in the Legislative Assembly of 1791 (which, in the minds of those now in control of the Convention, had only served to radicalize that newer body at the expense of moderation [thus, virtually paving the way for the Reign of Terror itself]), both of the new legislative chambers were to have at least two-thirds of its membership made up of persons already in the Convention.
This last provision did not sit at all well with many to both the Left and the (neo-monarchist) Right- both of which were, more or less, "Messieurs 'Outside Looking In' " and who, of course, so badly wanted "in"- who reacted violently (although this time, it was the Right that was more the instigator of disturbances in the streets and provinces); the Convention placed forces loyal to itself under the command of- yes- one Napoleon Bonaparte, the hero of Toulon a little over a year and a half earlier: on 5 October 1795 came 'the Day of the Sections', Napoleon's "whiff of grapeshot" and the prevalence of the Convention over all its internal enemies.
On 26 October 1795, the Convention itself dissolved (of its own accord) and- come 1 November 1795- the Directory became masters of France (although its financial crisis continued unabated).
Back in the United States of America- despite such things as the Whisky Rebellion and the political battles over Jay's Treaty- there was (unlike the situation in contemporaneous France) no little stability and, therefore, the key political question of moment as mid-1796 approached was whether or not George Washington would be willing to seek a third four-year term as President of the United States: if not, two factions-become-Parties, the "cosmopolitan" (where not also 'nationalist') Federalists and the "localist" (nascent 'State's-Rights') Jeffersonians were ready and willing to do battle- at least figuratively!- against one another for succession to Washington's High Office. The problem was that this was not something those who had drafted the Constitution of the United States in 'General Convention' less than a decade earlier had, as things turned out, all that well prepared for!
I myself summarized the very problem in an essay I once wrote for this website subtitled an historical analysis of the Electoral College, where I wrote that
[o]nce the [Constitutional] Convention [of 1787 in Philadelphia] had decided on a single executive..., its delegates pretty much knew (or at least came to know soon enough) who that executive was likely to be at first: the president of that very body- the hero of the American Revolution, George Washington. The problem was to have a system in place - once the General was no longer serving as President- to choose Washington's successors, none of whom- no matter how honorable they might be, no matter how respected in a given State or region of the country- would have (or so the Framers thought) the national prominence of the General who had only so recently guided the Continental Army through a series of harsh military campaigns. The plan here was for the [Presidential] Electors collectively to put forth a number of candidates for President from different parts of the country: if one of them could command a majority of the Electors, so much the better- he would clearly be the consensus choice of the Nation and should be elected President. Of course, for the Framers, the issue was now what if- as they considered to be the more likely happening- no one commanded a majority of this "Electoral Vote"? What if- as (or so those in the Convention thought) was most probable- the President were NOT elected outright??...
What was here being embodied in the Constitution as the new "Electoral College" was a nominating body, pure and simple: though that body could only function as the sum of its parts. It would never meet together in one place- thus there could never be collusion between Electors in one State and those in another. Each Elector would choose two men: more than likely, an Elector's first vote would be for a leading citizen of his own State but he could not cast his second vote for someone from his own State- so he would have to vote for, say, someone prominent in his region of the country. The system was the ultimate "machine that would go of itself" in the minds of the Framers: it would- with no way for the Electors to know how their second vote would affect the presidential election- spit out, in cases where no candidate could command a majority of the Electoral Vote (which the Framers thought would be rather often), five candidates with regional consensus from which the House of Representatives could make the final choice; however, since- presumably- each of the five would be as good a candidate for President as any of the others, the person with the highest number of Electoral Votes who was not chosen President by either the Electoral College or the House would be Vice-President, a capable man ready to have the powers of the Presidency "devolve upon" him in an emergency. This is clearly how the Framers expected this system would someday work--- that is, once Washington was no longer occupying an office they were, in effect, creating for him: they simply could not conceive that lesser men than George Washington could win the Presidency solely through the vote of the Electoral College itself!
I further opined upon this same issue in another essay I wrote for this website subtitled an historical analysis of the Presidential Nominating Process, in which I noted that
[t]he Framers of the new United States Constitution of 1787... would have preferred to have had nothing to do with... faction[s] and, as a result, the issue of political parties was not even considered in the course of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. In part this was certainly due to a revulsion against the growing influence of faction and party on state and local politics on the part of at least some of the Framers, but more likely it can be largely attributed to the fact that these men- while brought to the forefront of politics in their own States as, in many cases, active members of factions/parties back home- honestly believed they were creating, in the "more perfect Union" of States their Constitution would soon govern, a hitherto unknown type of political entity which could somehow, in its novelty, prevent this virus of faction from spreading into the new Federal system they were creating by way of the artificial procedures of national election of the Chief Executive they had purposely built into their document. Nevertheless, it still seems rather surprising that men who, for the most part, were well-versed in the political wars of their respective Revolutionary War era States apparently did not take into account even the possibility that their new bicameral Congress might very well develop factions if not full-fledged political parties.
In the original Constitutional framework, the Electoral College itself was to be the presidential nominating body- the equivalent of today's National Conventions. Each Elector was to choose two men for President without having any idea as to how his individual ballot would affect the ultimate cumulative vote of the Electors as a whole. With the proviso that no more than one of the Elector's two choices could be from the same State as the Elector himself, the assumption was that the Elector's first choice would, most likely, be some "favorite son" from the Elector's own home state while his second choice would be forced to be some other notable from perhaps the same region but, by constitutional edict, from a different state. Clearly, the Framers considered it more than likely that the second choices of various Electors would ultimately determine the five "nominees" for the office from whom the House of Representatives, voting by State not as individuals, would pick the next President (for it is doubtful any of them entertained the notion that- except in the case of George Washington- the Electoral College would ever produce a majority of the electoral vote for any of the Electors' choices for President); it is equally as clear that the Framers also believed that they had come up with a system that would keep faction/party from becoming a factor in the election of a President. They, of course, were very wrong.
The Electoral College system they devised was ingenious, but only in its theory. It was flawed in practice, however, because it denied the fact that human nature would inherently bring the same kinds of factions and parties into National politics that had already permeated State politics. When, in addition, one takes into account that the office of President was devised for one man, George Washington, who was the consensus choice to be the Nation's first Chief Executive and that the whole "Electoral College nominating/House of Representatives electing Presidents" idea was really and solely designed to provide for the election of Presidents only once Washington had left office, it is evident that the original purpose of the Electoral College was never realized.
The most "ingenious" feature of all was (given the communications and transportation technology of the era [no telegraph or telephone: certainly no Internet!-- no railroads, no automobiles: of course no airplanes!]) having the Presidential Electors required to meet separately "in their respective States", as well as on the same day "throughout the United States" (per Article II, Section 1, clauses 3 and 4 of the U.S. Constitution): there would, thus, be no way for the Electors to collude and, most importantly (as noted in my quotations from myself above), no way for an individual Elector to really know how his "cast for someone out of State" vote would fit into the overall Presidential Election picture.
The fatal flaw in the Framers' otherwise "machine that would go of itself" that they intended the so-called 'Electoral College' (technically, an incorrect term [and one never applied by the Framers of the Constitution themselves] because there were- and, in fact, still are- in reality multiple "electoral colleges") to be was that they did not seem to appreciate that Elector-candidates in each State (and the presidential candidate[s] they would, should they be "appointed" a Presidential Elector, vote for as such) could be agreed upon by groups of men representing a political faction or even a larger Party well ahead of time (while the postal system of the time was crude- having to rely on "post riders" on horseback making their way around the then-Seaboard based country via the system of "post roads" left over from British colonial rule as well as newer ones carved across the landscape since- it was, nonetheless, rather efficient for its time [thus, this could fairly easily be done by mail]: in addition, Congress would be back in its 'short' session no later than the first Monday in December of a Presidential Election year; the Electors, meanwhile, would be casting their votes on the first Wednesday in December: although members of Congress were ineligible to serve as Presidential Electors, many Congressmen and Senators- before making their way to the National Capital- could "seal the deal" with Electors [of their own Party] already chosen).
It is quite apparent that the Framers of the Constitution believed the Presidential Electors would ever be "free agents"; what actually has happened- throughout American History- is that the Electors have been rarely so (and largely because of the rather rapid rise of the Two-Party System so soon after the Federal Government itself was first instituted)!
Meanwhile, as was the case with so much related to George Washington's Presidency, there was no precedent yet as to how a sitting American Chief Executive should voluntarily leave office by not seeking re-election.
Conservative mythos long held to the notion- a notion that dominated American historiography until fairly recently, in fact- that Washington purposely declined to serve a third term because he himself felt that two terms (eight years total) in the Nation's Highest Office was the most that was at all appropriate for any President: this myth had such sway that any President subsequently seen as overtly looking for a third term risked being soundly denigrated, even by those who might otherwise have supported his candidacy (for who could have the temerity or arrogance, egoism or abject chutzpah, to believe he or she should serve in the Presidency of the United States longer than George Washington?!)
For instance, Theodore Roosevelt- having served almost two terms as President (for he had succeeded to the office when President William McKinley was assassinated but six months into his own second term) before he gave way to the man he had groomed to succeed him in 1908, William Howard Taft- was mocked for his challenging the now-incumbent Taft for the Republican presidential nomination in 1912 in a famous political cartoon in which he is seen as complaining, to a waiter bringing a cup of coffee to Taft, "When I said I wouldn't take a third cup a little while ago, I only meant I wouldn't take it on top of the other two!" and the complaint of T.R.'s distant cousin (as well as nephew-in-law) Franklin Delano Roosevelt being but a "THIRD TERMite"- presumably undermining the very foundation of constitutional government simply by seeking a third term in 1940- is well known. Indeed, FDR's becoming the first (and only) President of the United States to so break Washington's "precedent" so angered Republicans that they successfully (once their Party had control of both houses of Congress and many a Statehouse after World War II) pushed through the 22nd Amendment to the Federal Constitution restricting a President to but two terms (and a decade, at most, of service in the White House, should a President happen to succeed- as Vice President- to less than half a predecessor's four-year term in office)...
of course, what was (and is) so conveniently forgotten is that FDR was actually elected to two more terms (though he, of course, died before completing the last to which he was so elected) beyond his first two (thus, his so serving beyond two terms was the national consensus of the time)!
Although the 22d Amendment itself has, since its ratification, well mooted the issue (as a President- regardless of Party or ideology- cannot help but so emulate George Washington, for he or she is now constitutionally required to do so), at least shadows of this conservative mythos regarding Washington's intentions for his successors still survive to this very day.
In truth, there is no credible historical evidence that Washington "stopped at two" for any other reason than that he simply no longer wished to so serve: there is little doubt that the political brickbats thrown in his direction during much of his second term well took their toll on a man who, up till then, had been held in highest regard by most Americans, regardless of their respective political passions-- thus, in his own way, Washington (no less than Robespierre across the sea, although [obviously] without the same result!) was also pushed off his pedestal by the vagaries of the shifting political winds (though, unlike Robespierre, it can be fairly said that Washington brought little of this upon himself); in addition, there is much we don't really know about the overall state of his health, both physically and mentally, by the end of his Presidency (this being something that men of his own time didn't necessarily confide to their own journals, let alone friends and other confidants): by the time he would leave office [4 March 1797], Washington was already 65 [in an era when- even for a man who, by all accounts, kept himself in pretty good shape (considering the times in which he lived)- 65 was today's (the early 21st Century's) "80 years plus"]-- therefore, perhaps feeling his "time was soon at hand", he just wanted to get back to Mount Vernon- and his beloved Martha- before he finally "shuffled off this mortal coil"! As things turned out: Washington died less than three years after leaving office.
More than likely, it was a combination of the two (a recognition that his "shelf life" as a national figure was, indeed, at an end and his wanting to get back home while he still could) containing little, if any, direct regard for posterity's political sensibilities that created the artificial pre-22d Amendment "two term limit" for future Presidents left behind by George Washington.
However, once he had decided, definitively, not to seek a third term, Washington faced an obvious dilemma: when- and, more to the point, how- to say, in essence, what a later President, Calvin Coolidge, so tersely declared [in 1928] with the simple phrase "I do not choose to run". Coolidge, of course, benefitted from serving in the Presidency at a time when electioneering- a political Party in general, a campaign in particular, delivering messages on a candidate's behalf via broadcast as well as broadside: the presidential candidate himself (even an incumbent President!) speaking on his own behalf- was no longer all that much sneered at--- but Washington still lived in an era the political motto of which was "the Office seeks the man, and not the man the Office"...
how best, then, to avoid the Office, perhaps, still seeking the man who already holds it?
Those who now might well wish to succeed President Washington (or, at least, who already had the "following" to be in best position to do so) had the same dilemma in reverse: if, indeed, the Office does seek the man who best not be seen as so overtly seeking it, how does one then go about gaining the confidence of faction, Party and- ultimately- Presidential Electors (however they might be chosen: by popular vote, by the State legislature or by a combination of the two [keep in mind, gentle reader, that- in 1796, for instance- of the total of 276 Electoral Votes (there were 138 Electors, each casting two votes for President that were functionally equal to each other), 146 (a slight majority) were directly based on popular vote alone; 118 were to be cast by Electors chosen by State legislatures and the remaining 12 (New Hampshire's) were by popular vote as well (although the General Court- that State's legislature- would fill any slots for which Elector-candidates did not gain a majority of the vote)])? There was no precedent for this either!
In this regard, Thomas Jefferson was in the best position overall: he was, clearly, the champion of the "localists"- most of whom identified with him personally (hence the name 'Jeffersonians' for their Party). Jefferson had been out of the Administration for most of Washington's second term: he was clearly the champion of closer American relations with the still-young French Republic, of those thereby adamantly opposed to Jay's Treaty as well as what they saw as the "excessive" response to the Whisky Rebellion. There was but no question as to whom the Jeffersonians wanted to be the next President of the United States!
For their part, the "cosmopolitan" Federalists were somewhat divided: their most logical candidate to succeed Washington was, obviously, Vice President John Adams but Adams could not "make a move" towards the office of President until Washington had already, and most clearly, stepped aside (in this sense, he was very much in the same position another, later, Vice President- Hubert Humphrey- would find himself in until President Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the 1968 Democratic Party nomination race); in addition, Adams did not have the universal acclaim amongst Federalists that Jefferson had amongst the "localist" 'Opposition' (although Federalists could- and, indeed, would- certainly "play on this", claiming that the campaign on behalf of Jefferson was itself most dangerous to constitutional governance as it evinced much of what we today would call 'the cult of Personality' [the proverbial "pot calling the kettle black", however, considering that the 'conservative' Federalists were not about to shy away from hitching their own "wagon" to President Washington's however fading "star" (and please don't forget, dear reader, that the fullest apotheosis of George Washington- the very reason Americans [and visitors to our country] today can regularly see his image on dollar bills and quarter-dollar coins, the very reason there even is that tall obelisk known as the Washington Monument in a National Capital bearing his own name- would take place only after the first President's death near the end of 1799: during the political "season" of 1796, however, Washington's star was fading- though it still retained no little "magnitude"!)
Alexander Hamilton, key leader of the Federalists' attempt to well undermine Jefferson's presidential ambitions (for there is no doubt that Jefferson actually had such ambitions but, even had he not, the Federalists were not going to give Jefferson any credit in this regard in any event!), himself thought rather little of the Vice President. Hamilton certainly preferred Adams to Jefferson as the second President of the United States but he also considered Jefferson to be more of an intellectual "heavyweight" than Adams (that is: more the equal to Hamilton himself) and he was not going to be all that "bent out of shape" if some other Federalist than Adams might win the High Office. so long as Jefferson did not win.
There was also the issue of each Elector having two votes for President: both of the emerging national Parties figured (rightly) that the Election of 1796/7 was going to be a rather close one (the political divide associated with the ratification and subsequent implementation of Jay's Treaty easily showed them this)-- if a Party scattered too many of its Electors' "second votes" not for the Party's preferred candidate, their own presidential candidate- yes- would more easily win outright in the Electoral College (by gaining the votes of a majority of the total number of Electors) but the other presidential candidate would then- by virtue of being the person with the highest number of Electoral Votes not elected President- more likely be elected Vice President.
Both Parties also faced an annoying anomaly in relation to the Electoral College directly caused by Party now beginning to overwhelm the Framers' otherwise carefully crafted system of Presidential Electors: if the Electors of a Party cast the same number of votes for each of two "Party-approved presidential candidates" for the Presidency, there would be a tie (even if both candidates had a majority of the Electors) which would- no less than failing of a majority- throw the election into the (outgoing) House of Representatives (which worried the Federalists more, as the House of the Fourth Congress was controlled by the Jeffersonians, even with the House choosing a President by States and not as individual Congressmen).
The question was how best to "game the system" in order to make sure the "right guy" was 'first past the post' without allowing the "wrong guy" to even 'place'. This situation was not all that unlike the battle for the presidential nomination of a modern American Major Party in an old-fashioned multi-ballot National Convention of the early mid-20th Century, in which each of two leading presidential contenders could count on the support of a large bloc of Convention delegates (although still well short of the majority needed to outright win the nomination) and think that a fair scattering of delegates (as yet not firmly in the contenders' column) might still vote for that contender, all without knowing just where those last few delegates needed to actually sew up the nomination would be coming from (assuming they even came over to the ranks of the given contender's supporters to begin with)!
Part of all this strategizing involved attempting to "eat into" the section of the country in which the opposition's "main man" seemed strongest (thereby attempting to pry votes away from the other Party [especially in those States in which the voters actually had a say in the "appointing" of their respective State's Electors])- this would, in effect, be the "job" of the second candidate of each Party. In the case of the Federalists- assuming John Adams was to be that Party's presidential candidate- # 2 was to be Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina (on the theory that he might be able to dampen electoral success for the Jeffersonians in their stronghold that was the South); as for the Jeffersonians, they settled on Aaron Burr of New York as their "second" (on a similar theory that Burr might be able to bring some Jeffersonian Electors "home" in at least parts of the Federalist stronghold of New England).
And much of this (along with lining up Elector-candidates, as well as making sure they were well "instructed" as to how to vote [and, as importantly, not to vote!] should they become actual Electors) was being done- on the part of both sides- before George Washington himself formally made public (via his so-called 'Farewell Address' in mid-September 1796 [the actual contents of which will be dealt with in 'Part Six' of this series]) his intention to bring his service as President (as well as his active service to the United States of America itself) to a close once his current term of office came to an end on 4 March 1797. To be sure, however, Washington had already- over the previous few months at least (perhaps going back to the "near miss" regarding Jay's Treaty in the House at the end of the previous April- let several of his closer friends and confidants (some of whom, at least, had contacts in the Jeffersonian camp) know at least something of what he was thinking (he might well have used at least a few of these as something of a "sounding board" regarding the efficacy of his potentially serving a third term- especially as to whether or not this might well temper the political passions so engendered during his second): it was certainly well known, by the time his 'Farewell Address' was published, that- as for continuing in the Presidency beyond early 1797- Washington's heart was no longer really in doing so and there is little question that the respective leadership cadres of Federalists and Jeffersonians alike could already well anticipate Washington's withdrawal from further presidential consideration and had been acting accordingly.
The campaigning associated with this Election of 1796 was, indeed, quite vicious: although- then, as now as regards political campaigns and protests about the issues of the day- one can fairly wonder just how much supporters of each Party believed of their own rhetoric (neither Adams nor Jefferson personally campaigned for the Presidency, of course [after all, "the Office sought the man"!]; all the actual political lambasting of the other side was done by surrogates [while Adams and Jefferson personally remained on friendly terms: the famous breach between them was yet to come]). At the time, the stakes could certainly be seen to have seemed quite high to either side: Jeffersonians were clearly worried about a home-grown return to the "Tyranny" that had so recently been fought against in the War for American Independence itself through the vehicle of a President as an "elected king" surrounded by an at least quasi-aristocracy should Vice President Adams and his Federalists prevail; for their part- and in their own 'Burkean' minds- the Federalists saw, in former Secretary of State Jefferson, an American "Robespierre", a man having risen to- and now seeking to further consolidate- power through the strength of his own ability with words and phrases: thus, could an American version of the so recent French Reign of Terror be all that far behind should Jefferson be the one elected President of the United States to succeed George Washington?
But, perhaps, the biggest stake of all in that Presidential Election was the fact that George Washington himself- even a Washington at least somewhat tarnished by the political "wars" over Jay's Treaty- would no longer be the President. To here borrow from that which I myself once wrote- and which I have already quoted earlier in this piece- where I wrote that the Framers of the United States Constitution simply could not conceive that lesser men than George Washington could win the Presidency solely through the vote of the Electoral College itself: in the heated political atmosphere in the United States during the year 1796 (beginning with the battle in the House of Representatives over funding the implementation of Jay's Treaty), neither Party could conceive that, should a man- in their own minds- lesser than their own champion be elected President to immediately succeed Washington, the United States of America itself could even continue to survive (let alone thrive)! (We should here never forget that- although we today place both Adams and Jefferson amongst the "Big Six" 'Founding Fathers'- neither Adams nor Jefferson were at all considered "big men of History" by those who were, by then, politically opposed to either man).
Adams was called "an avowed Monarchist" by the Jeffersonians and painted as "a friend to establishing nobility", someone who was "the champion of rank, titles and hereditary distinctions" (there, however, was actually some truth to this last: the 'Society of the Cincinnati'- an organization of Continental Army officers formed but a few months after General George Washington had successfully squelched a potential military coup d'etat hatched at Newburgh, NY back in 1783 [as recounted in 'Part Three' of this series of Commentaries]- had already agreed to limit future membership [inherited upon the death of a member] to first-born sons of said officers; the 'Cincinnati' were rather active in support of the Federalists' cause [especially in New York, in which the effort was led by- of course- Alexander Hamilton]: in response, one-time Continental Army enlisted men [many with earlier ties to the Sons of Liberty of the Revolutionary Era] in New York and other [mainly seaport] cities formed, in essence, "chapters" of the 'Society of St. Tamanend' [Tamanend was the legendary chief of the Lenni Lenape (aka 'Delaware') Indians who, or so it is said, authorized William Penn's "Walking Purchase" of land in what is now eastern Pennsylvania: fun-loving colonists (of the kind who liked to quaff a little 'flip' or ale before a local political caucus got underway), even before the Revolution, had made Tamanend the "patron saint" of what would soon become the United States of America (and all it stood for-- that is: in the minds of these people)] in order to counter the pro-Federalist efforts of the 'Cincinnati' with Jeffersonian 'Republican' propaganda [this, by the way, was the very roots of the later 'Tammany Hall' machine in New York City: 'Tammany' being a "pet name" for the sachem 'St. Tamanend' himself]-- if 'Tammany' also mocked the high-falutin' pretensions of the 'Cincinnati', so much the better!).
Jefferson, meanwhile, was the victim of all sorts of invective from the Federalists based on things ranging from his open support of France over Great Britain (by the way, both of these Great Powers took a great interest in the outcome of this Presidential Election [France the more so, however: as will be discussed in a future 'Part' of this series of Commentaries]) to his Deism. To Jefferson's supporters, however, he was "the firm Republican" (a proper name now more and more adopted by the Jeffersonians for their own Party in an attempt to thwart the charges, by Federalists, of their so advancing "democracy"- a word that, by then, already well conjured up images- on this side of the Atlantic- of the excesses that had accompanied the so far short life of the [First] French Republic), "the uniform advocate of equal rights among citizens",
But the biggest issue thrust upon Federalist and Jeffersonian 'Republican' alike revolved around the strange stratagems that would have to be employed, thanks to the mathematical realities engendered by the pre-12th Amendment Electoral College system, by a Party seeking to make sure their #1 guy won the Presidency while the other Party's # 1 guy failed to win even the Vice-Presidency without Electoral Votes for each Party's respective #2s gumming up the desired result. In the end, these political machinations failed:
for- once the Electors had cast their ballots in their respective States and a Joint Session of the 4th Congress, thereafter, had tabulated these Electoral Votes (70 being a majority of the 138 Electors, each casting two votes for President [thus, 276 Electoral Votes all together]) and Vice President Adams (the presiding officer at this Joint Session) announced the results- Adams himself had been elected President with 71 Electoral Votes but Jefferson had come in second (thus, had been elected Vice-President) with 68. (Meanwhile: Federalist Thomas Pinckney had ended up with 59 Electoral Votes [strangely enough, all 8 Jefferson Electors from South Carolina had voted for Pinckney (in an attempt to keep Adams from even being re-elected Vice President, it is thought) but several Adams Electors (particularly in New England) had voted for others in order to keep Pinckney from "accidentally" being elected President]; at the same time, 'Republican' Aaron Burr ended up with but 30 [for it is clear that many a Jefferson Elector preferred someone else as their # 2]).
There is a well-known story about a Presidential Elector from one of the States which allowed its Electors to be chosen by popular vote in this election who, although known to be a Federalist, cast one of his two votes for Jefferson and none of them for Adams: an angry voter subsequently wrote a letter to his local newspaper complaining that "I did not choose this Elector to think, but to act!" (and if anything illustrates the beginning of the end for Presidential Electors as those truly "free agents" the Framers, less than a decade before, had intended [the relatively recent phenomenon of so-called 'Faithless Electors' aside], this voter's comment alone well illustrates this; at the same time, though: one of Maryland's 10 Electors voted for both Adams and Jefferson!)
In any event, come 4 March 1797, John Adams would be sworn in as the second President of the United States, with Thomas Jefferson as Vice President... thus, the holder of the American Presidency and the person but "one heartbeat" away from same (for the first- and only [not, of course, counting a relative handful of generally short-lived pre-25th Amendment anomalies while there was a vacancy in the Vice Presidency]- time) would be representative of different (where not also diametrically opposed) political Parties!
Find the first portion of PART SIX of this series here