The Age of Federalism Essay - Critical Essays

The Age of Federalism

For more than a decade the founding fathers had to wrestle both with the problems of establishing the new government under the Constitution and with shaping policies, domestic and abroad, that would impact the future. The period was beset by frequent crises—near war with Great Britain and then with France, disputes with Spain, the Whiskey Rebellion, Indian wars, turmoil over the Alien and Sedition Acts, and insurgent protest against the federal land tax. The authors provide comprehensive treatment of the government’s responses to events and also to the development of oppositional politics. The ideas and personalities of Washington, Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, and lesser participants are fathomed, with the aid of biographical sketches.

The authors find a continuity in the ideologies of the nation’s founders, going back to the early Revolutionary War era and the period of formation of the Constitution. While the leading figures all subscribed to republicanism, they differed as to the degree of trust that should be placed in democracy; the Hamiltonian solution being one that promoted expansion of national powers and a mercantilist program, whereas Jefferson and Madison favored strict construction of the Constitution and encouragement of agrarianism over industry.

Elitism prevailed during the Federalist administrations, and the men in power failed to discern or appreciate that American destiny included the existence of political parties. Out of tune with the march of democracy, the Federalists brought about their own fall, as accomplished in the election of 1800.

Insights into the roles of key figures and fresh interpretations, though occasionally based on too selective use of sources, enliven the narrative. This is the first definitive study of the Federalist era, and as such provides a valuable reference for those who seek a full understanding of the efforts necessary to establish the government of the new Republic and set its course.

Sources for Further Study

The Atlantic. CCLXXII, December, 1993, p.134.

Booklist. LXXXIX, July, 1993, p.1940.

Chicago Tribune. October 3, 1993, XIV, p.1.

Choice. XXXI, February, 1994, p.987.

The Christian Science Monitor. September 13, 1993, p.13.

Colonial Homes. XX, February, 1994, p.34.

Library Journal. CXVIII, October 1, 1993, p.109.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 26, 1993, p.2.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, November 7, 1993, p.15.

The New Yorker. LXIX, December 6, 1993, p.144.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, June 14, 1993, p.54.