Jefferson and the Ambiguities of Freedom 6

The problem did not diminish in time; it grew worse. Once, in the hope of at least containing slavery, Jefferson had favored limiting its geographical spread, and in fact he was largely responsible for pro¬hibiting it in the states of the Old Northwest. But later, fearing that the growing congressional power of northern industrial and finan¬cial forces would overwhelm the country and destroy the delicate compromises of the Constitution, he changed his mind and sup¬ported the expansion of the institution, which he continued to despise and condemn, into Missouri and eventually other states in the South.
Jefferson’s fear of northern economic power which propelled this strange reversal flowed from his undiminished commitment to the ideology of the Revolution in its original, pristine form. He had no need to calculate the precise political and social costs and benefits of Hamilton’s financial program. He understood the threatening impli¬cations immediately; they squared perfectly with his historical mem¬ory and his political beliefs and fears. He, like radical theorists in Britain, believed it had all happened before, early in the century, in Walpole’s buildup of the power of the British Treasury in collabora¬tion with Britain’s new, high-flying, ruthless banking and commercial interests. That alliance, he knew, had allowed Walpole to buy the votes he needed in the House of Commons, overthrow the famed separation of powers of the government, and usher in an age of lim¬itless greed and political squalor.
Jefferson explained this, and its relevance to Hamilton, in his auto¬biographical miscellany, the Anas. In it he recalled his return to the United States in 1789 to become secretary of state, and his shocked discovery of Hamilton’s plan for the federal government to assume the debts of the states. There was no mistaking Hamilton’s purpose, Jefferson wrote. Hamilton’s plan would pump money into the hands of profiteering state creditors in order to pile up “additional recruits” to the “phalanx of the Treasury.” And that was not the end of the plans of the “stock-jobbing herd.” Though Hamilton and his “votaries” had already become—as Walpole had been—“master of every vote in the legislature … the machine was not compleat… Some engine of influence more permanent must be contrived,” and that engine was the Bank of the United States.
Jefferson feared the bank and fought it from the start. Aside from its probable issuance of a flood of paper money that would lead to wild speculation and to the creation of a “moneyed aristocracy,” and aside from its encouraging long-term national indebtedness that would in time burden the living with the extravagance of the dead, he feared the bank’s political influence. He knew the historical antecedents. The bank’s stockholders, like those of the Bank of En¬gland, would forever be able to manufacture a legislative majority to suit them and so corrupt the Constitution and reshape it “on the model of England.” He had no choice but to fight this scheme— fight once again precisely the battle that had been fought and lost in England. The parallels were unmistakable. Hamilton, Jefferson con¬cluded, favored monarchy “bottomed on corruption,” and he made no bones about it. If you eliminated all the corruption in the British government, Hamilton said in a dinner conversation that Jefferson recalled verbatim, “it would become an impracticable government: as it stands at present, with all its supposed defects, it is the most perfect government which ever existed.” Hamilton truly believed, Jefferson wrote, “that corruption was essential to the government of a nation,” even though the whole history of eighteenth-century Britain, the whole history of Europe, revealed what consequences this kind of corruption could have.
The evils of Hamilton’s program and the devastating threat it posed to the nation’s freedom were clear to Jefferson from the moment he returned from France. But Hamilton’s immediate goal, however erroneously and dangerously pursued, was to stimulate American economic growth, and this was something that Jefferson himself increasingly supported. His republicanism had never been naively “classical” to the exclusion of vigorous economic develop¬ment or of what has been called possessive individualism, nor did his emphasis on civic virtue preclude the basic value of personal prop¬erty, its preservation and enhancement. Gradually he came to value—if not the full range of entrepreneurial efforts that Hamilton had earlier promoted, or his methods—policies strangely similar to those of the Federalists. He clung to his major premise, but faced realistically the rapid shifts of the economy, and made a series of adjustments.
Convinced always that “those who labour in the earth are the cho¬sen people of God … the most virtuous citizens and possess the most amor patriae,” and that the survival of freedom depends on them, he began as a radical agrarian, hoping to avoid the corruption of a debased working class and urban slums, and content for the nation to trade staples for the manufactures of others. That led him to a policy of free trade. But then he found that commercial reci¬procity was not forthcoming, and so he favored, first, commercial retaliation, then protectionism, and finally the encouragement of domestic manufactures. By 1816 he concurred in a protective tariff, and wrote that “we must now place the manufacturer by the side of the agriculturist.” If one did not, the results would be fatal:
He … who is now against domestic manufacture must be for reducing us either to dependence on [the economies of] foreign nation [s] or to be clothed in skins, and to live like wild beasts in dens and caverns. I am not one of these; experience has taught me that manufactures are now as necessary to our independence as to our comfort.

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