The Weiner Component V.2 #20 – The Origins of American Government & its two Major Political Parties

A cotton gin on display at the Eli Whitney Museum.

A cotton gin on display at the Eli Whitney Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To understand the government and the two major political parties in the United States we need to examine assorted economic happenings.  These entities changed the course of history in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.  The first was the invention of the Cotton Gin, from the 1780s on, another was the American Revolution, a third was a rebellion by small yeoman farmers in inland Massachusetts, and the fourth was the Constitution of the United States.  What occurs here is a cause and effect relationship that brings about major historical changes.

************************************

Eli Whitney was an American inventor who developed the Cotton Gin.  The word gin is short for engine.  The problem with cotton is that it is filled with seeds.  It takes a person working diligently for an hour to clean one pound of cotton.  A single cotton gin could clean 55 pounds daily.  Whitney received a pattern for his gin in 1807.  Like the grist and sawmills he expected to charge farmers for cleaning their cotton by getting 2/5 of the cotton cleaned.  The mechanical simplicity of the device and the primitive state of the pattern law made infringement inevitable.  Local carpenters could easily make duplicates of the gins.  Ultimately lawsuits consumed the profits and the cotton gin company went bankrupt in 1797.  Whitney, however, gained national, if not international fame for his invention.

 

Cotton had been very labor intensive and expensive.  The new inexpensive cotton changed the economics of the world by bringing about the Industrial Revolution in England in the early 19th Century and it also made slavery profitable in the new United States.

 

Prior to the 1790s slave labor was a slowly dying institution.  Slaves were employed in the growing of tobacco, rice, and indigo.  None of these crops were particularly profitable.  With the invention of the cotton gin cotton became the chief source of wealth in the American South; it became king cotton or the chief export of the new United States.  In the Southern settlements from South Carolina to Texas cotton became the dominant economic force and slavery became the key institution of Southern society.  This would persist until the end of the Civil War.

 

With the early Industrial Revolution from the late 18th Century, both England and New England became dependent upon this crop.  Their factories buzzed spinning thread and weaving cloth.  In the American South enormous fortunes were produced and the large cotton growers lived regally.  They tended to utilize the large English purchasers as suppliers of all the goods they wanted, ordering furniture, grand pianos or whatever they decided they wanted or needed.  This in time resulted in their spending more than their current crops allowed.  Eventually the large plantation owners owed their future crops to these people.  To the English manufacturers this was good business because it tied these planters and their crops to them.  The combined debt must have been in the millions.

 

With the formation of a new central government in 1788, caused by the Revolutionary War the Southern cotton barons refused to honor their debts to the English manufacturers.  In essence cotton as an export was still “king” and could always be sold in England or New England.  Some of the English manufacturers sued in the New United States.  Not one ever won his case.  The large cotton growers wiped out millions in debts virtually overnight without spending a penny.

**********************************

The American Revolution was fought from 1765 to 1783.  By the end of the Battle of Yorktown it became obvious to the British that it was far less expensive to trade with the American colonies than to gain trading advantages from them by ruling them.  Consequently the colonies gained their independence.

 

The government that the new independent state established was codified under the Articles of Confederation.  This document rested sovereignty with each of the 12 newly independent states with a central elected body have representatives from all 12 states.  The final decision on any measure passed by this Continental Congress had then to be approved by each of the 12 states.  Any state or states that so wished could disregard any measure passed by the Continental Congress.  In essence what existed were 12 independent nation states that had agreed to more or less cooperate with one another.

******************************

In the period during 1786 and 1787 the Revolutionary veteran, Daniel Shay, led 4,000 rebels, called Shayites, in an uprising against economic and civil rights injustices.  Basically the inland area of the state largely consisted of subsistence agriculture.  Mostly where roads existed they were unpaved, becoming muddy and impossible to use during rain, making it impossible for the farmers to bring their crops to the coastal areas where they could be shipped throughout the tidewater areas of the colonies or overseas.  Consequently most, if not all, of the farmers had stills.  A lot of grain made a small amount of whiskey, which was always in demand and could be easily transported.

 

Along the economically developed or older coastal areas of Massachusetts Bay there existed a market economy which was driven by the activities of wholesale merchants dealing with Europe, the West Indies, and elsewhere on the North American coast.  The state government was dominated by this merchant group.

 

After the end of the Revolutionary War the European businesses, for good reason, refused to continue to extend lines of credit to these merchants and insisted that they pay in hard currency, gold.  There was a shortage of such currency.  Also the state government, run by the business class, needed money.  Following a period of taxes not being paid where it could be avoided, the state of Massachusetts passed a whiskey tax on the small inland farmers to be paid in gold coins which were in short supply.

 

The rural farmers were unable to meet the demands made upon them by the merchants or the civil authorities and many began to lose their land and other possessions.  This led to strong resistance against the collectors and the courts where the collectors obtained judgements authorizing property seizures.

 

A great many of these depressed individuals felt that they should be able to cancel the debts the same way that the Southern planters had.  This led to open warfare between the two groups, temporarily shutting down the courts, sporadic fighting, and the governor refusing to enforce actions against the small farmers and being replaced by one who would enforce the law.  In 1787 Daniel Shay, leading 4,000 rebels, attempted to take the federal armory in Springfield, which was stoutly defended by state troops raised as a private army.

 

Eventually in 1787 4,000 people signed confessions admitting participation in the rebellion in return for amnesty.  Most of those indicted were eventually pardoned.  In subsequent years the state legislature cut taxes and placed a moratorium on debts.  In 1787 John Hancock replaced the militant governor.

 

As a note of irony it should be noted that at that time the only people allowed to vote were male property owners.  All the small farmers were property owners.  There were more of them than there were merchants.

*********************************

As a result of this and of other effects, many upper class individuals felt that there was a need for a stronger central government that could protect property rights throughout the states.  The most important effect was the call for a Constitutional Convention which would reform the Articles of Confederation, presumably strengthening the central government.  In addition Shay’s Rebellion brought George Washington out of retirement at Mount Vernon to chair the Constitutional Convention and to eventually become President for the first two four year terms.  It also brought two distinct political groups into existence: the Federalists who wanted a stronger central government and the Anti-Federalists who didn’t want this.  It was the merchant, businessmen class against the agrarians and laborers.

 

The people at the Constitutional Convention tended to represent the wealthy and educated classes.  They agreed to hold the meetings in secret and soon discovered that amending the Articles of Confederation could not produce a government with central control of all the states.  Consequently they produced from May 25 to September 17, 1787 a totally new document of government.

 

France has been through more than a dozen Constitutions since 1789; the U.S. has only had one, which still exists and functions.  The reason for this is that the U.S. had two sets of states: One free and one slave.  The elite of upper classes in both ends of the country agreed upon the necessity of a stronger central government.  They did not agree on numerous other issues.  They needed a document of unity but they did not agree upon a host of other issues.  In order to create their document of government they had to compromise upon innumerable issues.  Interpreting these issues, according to the needs of the times, has kept the Supreme Court busy since the inception of the nation.

 

The one issue that the Court could not deal with was the issue of where the basic power lay, with the Federal Government or the States.  That issue was resolved by the Civil War.

 

Although there were different political groups in the United States at that time the issue of political parties was never considered by the Founding Fathers.  Once the new government came into existence so did political parties.  The first one was the Federalist Party, representing coastal business and the educated classes.  They were able to dominate the first three elections, two for George Washington and one for John Adams.  The Federalists were opposed by the Anti-Federalists, who represented the small yeoman farmers like Daniel Shay.

 

The leader of the Federalist Party at that time was not the President but was Alexander Hamilton.  The first dramatic election was that of 1800 when John Adams ran against Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson had organized the Anti-Federalists groups and anyone else who was dissatisfied with the Federalists into, what he called, the Republican Party.  As a put-down the Federalists called the new political group the Democratic-Republican Party.  Eventually the word “Republican” was dropped and this became the Democratic Party, which we still have today.  They represented the interests of the small, or as Jefferson preferred to call them, “Yeomen farmers.”  In fact the purchase of the Louisiana Territory by the Jefferson administration in 1803 would provide land for yeoman farmers for at least the next 100 years, according to Jefferson.

 

Initially only males voted who were property owners.  With the availability of cheap or free land the Federalists, after the Election of 1800, were never again able to mount a successful Presidential election.  They went out of existence after the War of 1812, when they backed the wrong side, England.  From 1814 on there was only one major political party in the U.S., the Democratic Party.

 

Other groups across the United States formed small political groups.  The other major party that would come into existence in 1835 was the Whig Party, which more or less carried on the values of the old Federalist Party, they represented largely the growing businesses across the ever growing nation which was blossoming with the new Industrial Revolution.  In addition they were also strongly anti-slavery.  In 1860 the Whig Party and a number of fringe groups coalesced into, what was to become, the Republican Party in the Election of 1860.

 

Lincoln was originally a Whig, He won the Presidential Election of 1860 with less than 40% of the popular vote because the Democratic Party had split into two parts, the South voted for one candidate and the North and West voted for another.  With the exception of Virginia where he received less than 2% of the popular vote Lincoln was not even on the ballot on any of the other Southern states.  In essence there were two elections in 1860: one in the South and a different election in the North and West.

 

Here we have the origins of the two major political parties in the United States.  Today, with a so-called Republican President and universal suffrage, the two political parties are at a point where they can barely communicate with one another.

 

Here we can see the origins of our government and our political system.

**********************************

It should also be noted that when United States history is taught as a survey in the schools everything is taught as a group of events which generally are simplified and not related to one another.  Cause and effect relationships are ignored or not understood.  This article generally deals with, on a general basis, cause and effect.  The invention of the cotton gin and the Industrial Revolution, switching from manmade to machine made products, brought about the changes which resulted in the growth of slavery, the Civil War and the country as it is now,

 

If the discovery of the cotton gin had been delayed for another twenty years or so, slavery might have died out on its own and there would have been no Civil War.  If Shay’s Rebellion had not occurred the government might have gone on under the Articles of Confederation and the United States could have eventually developed a Parliamentary System similar to the present day government of Great Britain.  There certainly would have been no immediate need for a Constitution.  There are certainly a lot of “Ifs” available.  Of course we’ll never know the answer to a lot of these questions because they never happened.

The Weiner Component V.2 #20 – The Origins of the American Government & Its Two Major Political Parties

 

To understand the government and the two major political parties in the United States we need to examine assorted economic happenings.  These entities changed the course of history in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.  The first was the invention of the Cotton Gin, from the 1780s on, another was the American Revolution, a third was a rebellion by small yeoman farmers in inland Massachusetts, and the fourth was the Constitution of the United States.  What occurs here is a cause and effect relationship that brings about major historical changes.

************************************

Eli Whitney was an American inventor who developed the Cotton Gin.  The word gin is short for engine.  The problem with cotton is that it is filled with seeds.  It takes a person working diligently for an hour to clean one pound of cotton.  A single cotton gin could clean 55 pounds daily.  Whitney received a pattern for his gin in 1807.  Like the grist and sawmills he expected to charge farmers for cleaning their cotton by getting 2/5 of the cotton cleaned.  The mechanical simplicity of the device and the primitive state of the pattern law made infringement inevitable.  Local carpenters could easily make duplicates of the gins.  Ultimately lawsuits consumed the profits and the cotton gin company went bankrupt in 1797.  Whitney, however, gained national, if not international fame for his invention.

 

Cotton had been very labor intensive and expensive.  The new inexpensive cotton changed the economics of the world by bringing about the Industrial Revolution in England in the early 19th Century and it also made slavery profitable in the new United States.

 

Prior to the 1790s slave labor was a slowly dying institution.  Slaves were employed in the growing of tobacco, rice, and indigo.  None of these crops were particularly profitable.  With the invention of the cotton gin cotton became the chief source of wealth in the American South; it became king cotton or the chief export of the new United States.  In the Southern settlements from South Carolina to Texas cotton became the dominant economic force and slavery became the key institution of Southern society.  This would persist until the end of the Civil War.

 

With the early Industrial Revolution from the late 18th Century, both England and New England became dependent upon this crop.  Their factories buzzed spinning thread and weaving cloth.  In the American South enormous fortunes were produced and the large cotton growers lived regally.  They tended to utilize the large English purchasers as suppliers of all the goods they wanted, ordering furniture, grand pianos or whatever they decided they wanted or needed.  This in time resulted in their spending more than their current crops allowed.  Eventually the large plantation owners owed their future crops to these people.  To the English manufacturers this was good business because it tied these planters and their crops to them.  The combined debt must have been in the millions.

 

With the formation of a new central government in 1788, caused by the Revolutionary War the Southern cotton barons refused to honor their debts to the English manufacturers.  In essence cotton as an export was still “king” and could always be sold in England or New England.  Some of the English manufacturers sued in the New United States.  Not one ever won his case.  The large cotton growers wiped out millions in debts virtually overnight without spending a penny.

**********************************

The American Revolution was fought from 1765 to 1783.  By the end of the Battle of Yorktown it became obvious to the British that it was far less expensive to trade with the American colonies than to gain trading advantages from them by ruling them.  Consequently the colonies gained their independence.

 

The government that the new independent state established was codified under the Articles of Confederation.  This document rested sovereignty with each of the 12 newly independent states with a central elected body have representatives from all 12 states.  The final decision on any measure passed by this Continental Congress had then to be approved by each of the 12 states.  Any state or states that so wished could disregard any measure passed by the Continental Congress.  In essence what existed were 12 independent nation states that had agreed to more or less cooperate with one another.

******************************

In the period during 1786 and 1787 the Revolutionary veteran, Daniel Shay, led 4,000 rebels, called Shayites, in an uprising against economic and civil rights injustices.  Basically the inland area of the state largely consisted of subsistence agriculture.  Mostly where roads existed they were unpaved, becoming muddy and impossible to use during rain, making it impossible for the farmers to bring their crops to the coastal areas where they could be shipped throughout the tidewater areas of the colonies or overseas.  Consequently most, if not all, of the farmers had stills.  A lot of grain made a small amount of whiskey, which was always in demand and could be easily transported.

 

Along the economically developed or older coastal areas of Massachusetts Bay there existed a market economy which was driven by the activities of wholesale merchants dealing with Europe, the West Indies, and elsewhere on the North American coast.  The state government was dominated by this merchant group.

 

After the end of the Revolutionary War the European businesses, for good reason, refused to continue to extend lines of credit to these merchants and insisted that they pay in hard currency, gold.  There was a shortage of such currency.  Also the state government, run by the business class, needed money.  Following a period of taxes not being paid where it could be avoided, the state of Massachusetts passed a whiskey tax on the small inland farmers to be paid in gold coins which were in short supply.

 

The rural farmers were unable to meet the demands made upon them by the merchants or the civil authorities and many began to lose their land and other possessions.  This led to strong resistance against the collectors and the courts where the collectors obtained judgements authorizing property seizures.

 

A great many of these depressed individuals felt that they should be able to cancel the debts the same way that the Southern planters had.  This led to open warfare between the two groups, temporarily shutting down the courts, sporadic fighting, and the governor refusing to enforce actions against the small farmers and being replaced by one who would enforce the law.  In 1787 Daniel Shay, leading 4,000 rebels, attempted to take the federal armory in Springfield, which was stoutly defended by state troops raised as a private army.

 

Eventually in 1787 4,000 people signed confessions admitting participation in the rebellion in return for amnesty.  Most of those indicted were eventually pardoned.  In subsequent years the state legislature cut taxes and placed a moratorium on debts.  In 1787 John Hancock replaced the militant governor.

 

As a note of irony it should be noted that at that time the only people allowed to vote were male property owners.  All the small farmers were property owners.  There were more of them than there were merchants.

*********************************

As a result of this and of other effects, many upper class individuals felt that there was a need for a stronger central government that could protect property rights throughout the states.  The most important effect was the call for a Constitutional Convention which would reform the Articles of Confederation, presumably strengthening the central government.  In addition Shay’s Rebellion brought George Washington out of retirement at Mount Vernon to chair the Constitutional Convention and to eventually become President for the first two four year terms.  It also brought two distinct political groups into existence: the Federalists who wanted a stronger central government and the Anti-Federalists who didn’t want this.  It was the merchant, businessmen class against the agrarians and laborers.

 

The people at the Constitutional Convention tended to represent the wealthy and educated classes.  They agreed to hold the meetings in secret and soon discovered that amending the Articles of Confederation could not produce a government with central control of all the states.  Consequently they produced from May 25 to September 17, 1787 a totally new document of government.

 

France has been through more than a dozen Constitutions since 1789; the U.S. has only had one, which still exists and functions.  The reason for this is that the U.S. had two sets of states: One free and one slave.  The elite of upper classes in both ends of the country agreed upon the necessity of a stronger central government.  They did not agree on numerous other issues.  They needed a document of unity but they did not agree upon a host of other issues.  In order to create their document of government they had to compromise upon innumerable issues.  Interpreting these issues, according to the needs of the times, has kept the Supreme Court busy since the inception of the nation.

 

The one issue that the Court could not deal with was the issue of where the basic power lay, with the Federal Government or the States.  That issue was resolved by the Civil War.

 

Although there were different political groups in the United States at that time the issue of political parties was never considered by the Founding Fathers.  Once the new government came into existence so did political parties.  The first one was the Federalist Party, representing coastal business and the educated classes.  They were able to dominate the first three elections, two for George Washington and one for John Adams.  The Federalists were opposed by the Anti-Federalists, who represented the small yeoman farmers like Daniel Shay.

 

The leader of the Federalist Party at that time was not the President but was Alexander Hamilton.  The first dramatic election was that of 1800 when John Adams ran against Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson had organized the Anti-Federalists groups and anyone else who was dissatisfied with the Federalists into, what he called, the Republican Party.  As a put-down the Federalists called the new political group the Democratic-Republican Party.  Eventually the word “Republican” was dropped and this became the Democratic Party, which we still have today.  They represented the interests of the small, or as Jefferson preferred to call them, “Yeomen farmers.”  In fact the purchase of the Louisiana Territory by the Jefferson administration in 1803 would provide land for yeoman farmers for at least the next 100 years, according to Jefferson.

 

Initially only males voted who were property owners.  With the availability of cheap or free land the Federalists, after the Election of 1800, were never again able to mount a successful Presidential election.  They went out of existence after the War of 1812, when they backed the wrong side, England.  From 1814 on there was only one major political party in the U.S., the Democratic Party.

 

Other groups across the United States formed small political groups.  The other major party that would come into existence in 1835 was the Whig Party, which more or less carried on the values of the old Federalist Party, they represented largely the growing businesses across the ever growing nation which was blossoming with the new Industrial Revolution.  In addition they were also strongly anti-slavery.  In 1860 the Whig Party and a number of fringe groups coalesced into, what was to become, the Republican Party in the Election of 1860.

 

Lincoln was originally a Whig, He won the Presidential Election of 1860 with less than 40% of the popular vote because the Democratic Party had split into two parts, the South voted for one candidate and the North and West voted for another.  With the exception of Virginia where he received less than 2% of the popular vote Lincoln was not even on the ballot on any of the other Southern states.  In essence there were two elections in 1860: one in the South and a different election in the North and West.

 

Here we have the origins of the two major political parties in the United States.  Today, with a so-called Republican President and universal suffrage, the two political parties are at a point where they can barely communicate with one another.

 

Here we can see the origins of our government and our political system.

**********************************

It should also be noted that when United States history is taught as a survey in the schools everything is taught as a group of events which generally are simplified and not related to one another.  Cause and effect relationships are ignored or not understood.  This article generally deals with, on a general basis, cause and effect.  The invention of the cotton gin and the Industrial Revolution, switching from manmade to machine made products, brought about the changes which resulted in the growth of slavery, the Civil War and the country as it is now,

 

If the discovery of the cotton gin had been delayed for another twenty years or so, slavery might have died out on its own and there would have been no Civil War.  If Shay’s Rebellion had not occurred the government might have gone on under the Articles of Confederation and the United States could have eventually developed a Parliamentary System similar to the present day government of Great Britain.  There certainly would have been no immediate need for a Constitution.  There are certainly a lot of “Ifs” available.  Of course we’ll never know the answer to a lot of these questions because they never happened.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *