The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 523 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.
policy of drift, whose distorted body was concealed by fair-seeming clothes, and whose ugly face was covered by a mask of good intentions.  Hamilton’s policy was one of energetic and intelligent assertion of the national good.  He knew that the only method whereby the good could prevail either in individual or social life was by persistently willing that it should prevail and by the adoption of intelligent means to that end.  His vision of the national good was limited; but he was absolutely right about the way in which it was to be achieved.

Hamilton was not afraid to exhibit in his own life moral and intellectual independence.  He was not afraid to incur unpopularity for pursuing what he believed to be a wise public policy, and the general disapprobation under which he suffered during the last years of his life, while it was chiefly due, as we have seen, to his distrust of the American democracy, was also partly due to his high conception of the duties of leadership.  Jefferson, on the other hand, afforded an equally impressive example of the statesman who assiduously and intentionally courted popular favor.  It was, of course, easy for him to court popular favor, because he understood the American people extremely well and really sympathized with them; but he never used the influence which he thereby obtained for the realization of any positive or formative purpose, which might be unpopular.  His policy, while in office, was one of fine phrases and temporary expedients, some of which necessarily incurred odium, but none of which were pursued by him or his followers with any persistence.  Whatever the people demanded, their leaders should perform, including, if necessary, a declaration of war against England.  It was to be a government of and by the people, not a government for the people by popular but responsible leaders; and the leaders to whom the people delegated their authority had in theory no right to pursue an unpopular policy.  The people were to guide their leaders, not their leaders the people; and any intellectual or moral independence and initiative on the part of the leaders in a democracy was to be condemned as undemocratic.  The representatives of a Sovereign people were in the same position as the courtiers of an absolute monarch.  It was their business to flatter and obey.

III

FEDERALISM AND REPUBLICANISM AS ALLIES

It is not surprising, consequently, that Jefferson, who had been a lion in opposition, was transformed by the assumption of power into a lamb.  Inasmuch as he had been denouncing every act of the Federalists since the consummation of the Union as dangerous to American liberties or as inimical to the public welfare, it was to be anticipated, when he and his party assumed office, that they would seek both to tear down the Federalist structure and rear in its place a temple of the true Republican faith.  Not only did nothing

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The Promise of American Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.