Public Opinion and Politics

Force of Public Opinion

dec1The comic-opera quality of this debate should not obscure the participants’ serious concern about setting government policy. The members of the first Congress could not take the survival of republican form of government for granted. All of them, of course, wanted to secure the Revolution. The recently ratified Constitution transferred sovereignty from the states to the people, a bold and unprecedented decision that many Americans would generate chronic instability.

 Translating constitutional abstractions into practical legislation would under the most favorable conditions would have been difficult. But these were especially trying times. On what seemed like the other side of the world Great Britain and France, rivals in a century of war, put nearly unbearable pressures on the leaders of the new republic and in the process, made a foreign policy a bitterly divisive issue.


Here is the comic-opera quality of debate mentioned in the first paragraph: While presiding over the first meeting of the US Senate in 1789, Vice President John Adams called the senators’ attention to a pressing procedural question.

How would they address George Washington, the newly elected president? Adams insisted that Washington deserved an impressive title, a designation lending dignity and weight to his office.

Adams warned the senators that if the called Washington simply “president of the United States,” the “common people of foreign countries, sailors, and soldiers would despise him to all eternity.” Furthermore Adams recommended, “His Highness, the president of the United States, and Protector of their Liberties.”

Adams’s initiative caught many persons, including Washington, completely by surprise, when in fact these younger statesmen had just fought a war to erase the divine right of Kings as well as many of Great Britain’s governmental policies. Most if not all senators regarded the entire debate as ridiculous. James Madison, a member of the House of Representatives, announced that pretentious European titles were ill suited to the “genius of the people” and “the nature of our government.”

Although no one welcomed them, political parties gradually took shape during this period. Neither the Jeffersonian nor the Federalists – as the two major groups were called – doubted that the United States would one day become a great commercial power.

 irs-rebate-checks-more-problems - Copy - CopyThey differed however, on how best to manage the transition from an agrarian household economy to an international system of trade and industry. The Federalists encouraged rapid integration of the United States into the world economy, but however enthusiastic they were about capitalism, they did not trust the people or local government to do the job effectively. The Federalists favored a modern economy, required strong national institutions that would be desired by a social elite who understood the financial challenge and who would work in the best interests of the people.


About J.Paul

Academia, Constitution, Musicianship, all around Caucasian male, straight, and professes Jesus Christ as the Lord of my life. Guitars -- Classical, Acoustic, A/E, Strat, a real bassist at heart, Les Paul Standard bass.
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