When I heard a week ago that President Trump went to Walter Reed Hospital. I instantly thought “Oh no! Please do not die! The last thing this country needs is even more chaos!” As much as I dislike Trump, I don’t want anything bad to happen to him, to Melania, or to any of the other administration members who have COVID 19. I just want him voted out of office so that this crazy man doesn’t have control of my life or the life of this nation.
I’ve been reading about other moments in this nations history when this country has been in the grips of hyper-partisanship. What did leaders do to try to bring our nation together?
In the 1790s, the Federalists and the Republicans were in deep conflicts about the nature of the new democratic republic that they were trying to create. Should the nation have a strong federal government to that promotes the mercantile and manufacturing interests to develop a strong economy, as Federalists like Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and John Jay believed? Or should the new nation emphasis strong state and local control and the promotion of an agricultural economy that coincided with Southern plantation interests, as Republicans like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe believed? These ideological conflicts destroyed many friendships, as Federalists and Republicans had deep disagreements on the relationship that the U.S. should have with England and France, on how much control the federal government should have in the economy, and on social issues like slavery.
Thomas Jefferson felt this conflict personally, as the 1790s saw a rift in his close friendship with Federalists John and Abigail Adams due to their ideological differences. When Jefferson won the 1800 Presidential elections, he wanted to heal the divisions of the ideological war between the Federalists and the Republicans.
I know that people today view Jefferson with more skepticism than they did in the past. People see a deep contradiction between Jefferson’s eloquent words of freedom and equality and the fact that Jefferson owned slaves.
I personally have mixed feelings about Jefferson. I see Jefferson in much the same way I see the United States, as this complex mix of very good and very bad. On the one hand, I deeply admire Jefferson’s eloquent words in the Declaration of Independence, his strong support for the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, his fight for the separation of Church and State, his attempts to end primogeniture and promote public education, his attempts in the 1770s and 1780s to abolish slavery and end the slave trade.
On the other hand, I deeply dislike Jefferson’s racist views on the inferiority of African Americans, his allowing his slave overseers to whip slave boys as young as 8 years old to get them to be more productive in a nail factory in Monticello, his public statements against miscegenation and interracial relationships while privately having a relationship with one of his slaves. He was a great spokesman for our democratic values while at the same time having deplorable and contradictory views on race. I have a love/hate view of Jefferson that I’ve never been able to resolve.
In his first Inaugural Address, Jefferson said:
“During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good.
All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.
And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions…
…every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.
If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world’s best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not.
I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest Government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.
Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own Federal and Republican principles, our attachment to union and representative government.”