…with all their preeminence in science, the one is a den of robbers, and the other of pirates. And if science produces no better fruits than tyranny, murder, rapine and destitution of national morality, I would rather wish our country to be ignorant, honest and estimable, as our neighboring savages are.”
—Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, January 21, 1812
From its outset, America’s celebrated experiment in democracy was never a sure thing. At the turn of the 18th century, partisan political fighting convinced many that the union was destined to fail. In a letter to Alexander Hamilton, George Washington anguished over the prospect.
“Having premised these things, I would fain hope that liberal allowances will be made for the political opinions of one another; and instead of those wounding suspicions, and irritating charges with which some of our Gazettes are so strongly impregnated, & cannot fail if persevered in, of pushing matters to extremity, & thereby tare the [federal] Machine asunder, that there might be mutual forbearances and temporising yieldings on all sides. Without these I do not see how the Reins of Government are to be managed, or how the Union of the States can be much longer preserved.
Of course, the nation endured and was made stronger by its early challenges. The Louisiana Purchase—despite its dubious constitutional grounding—secured the United States from potential conflict with France. The Barbary Wars tested Jefferson’s pledge of “no foreign entanglements.” And, during the 1812 – 1814 war, the United States proved itself a formidable opponent to Old England. If the cornerstone of the republic was laid during the revolutionary era, it was during the early 19th century that, brick by brick, the house of state was constructed to endure.
Securing the Republic is the first of four programatic themes in the new standards-based video series Growth of a Nation. It spans the period 1800–1814 and chronicles the formation of political parties, domestic and foreign affairs during the Jefferson presidency, and the War of 1812, including its causes and aftermath.
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