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What's Up Magazine

Feudin' Fussing and Fighting

May 01, 2018 12:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo
Americans have been fighting over our government from the very beginning of our nation. Our founding leaders minced no words in battling over the ideas and opinions to lead the new America. A whole newspaper industry grew up on the battles between men like Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Yet, despite the acrimony between powerful men that drove our nation and established our two-party system, compromise occurred and transition from one leader style to another was peaceful.

From the beginning, the great issues of the day were debated in the newspapers and in numerous essays, a format that began before 1776 with letters in the Maryland Gazette between “First Citizen” and “Antillon.” Annapolitans Charles Carroll, eventual signer of the Declaration of Independence, represented the viewpoint for independence and Daniel Dulaney, a loyalist and popular lawyer in the words of Antillon, declared against a war. The newspaper debate was lengthy and substantive and food for conversation in the pubs of the land. Building on debates between the patriots and loyalists, in January 1776, Thomas Paine published his pamphlet “Common Sense.” This, too, was read aloud in the pubs. Paine’s message riveted the population to declare for independence.

In January 1784, the signing of the Treaty of Paris in the Annapolis State House declared America a new nation. Three years later, leaders of the 13 colonies were hard at work to establish a new governance framework, rules to live by. Alexander Hamilton, a self-made man from an impoverished family worked hard for ratification of the Constitution of the U.S. The Federalist, a series of 120 essays first published in newspapers, set forth the rationale for changing the Articles of Confederation. Hamilton wrote most of them in support of a strong federal government.

Thomas Jefferson, always fearful of a resurgence of a monarchy, took exception to the ideas of the Federalists for expanding the scope of the Federal government. A central bank and subsidies for manufacturing and national defense may have been right for the manufacturing economy of the northern states, but Jefferson was a southerner and believed in an agrarian republic (evidence of the north/south divide that would linger on for centuries). Newspapers covered the debates between the Federalists and a new opposition party led by Jefferson. This battle of governance, which began before the election of Adams in 1796, culminated in the election of 1800, when Jefferson defeated John Adams to become the third President. Ironically, Jefferson ended the 1800 election in a tie of electoral votes with Aaron Burr. The House of Representatives, Federalist in inclination, favored Burr but would eventually break the tie on the support of Hamilton for Jefferson, a man he genuinely disliked and disagreed with.

The Nation as feared did not fall apart. Jefferson did not attempt to dismantle the government of the Federalists, but he moved the nation to a more inclusive democracy. It is his words we remember: “We find these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The actions that have shaped our nation have been alive with debate not just among the elite, but 200 years ago with everyman in the social news gathering places of the day, the local pubs. It was Jefferson that extolled the value of the press, placing its value to good government higher than government itself.

Notable in the years that have shaped this nation is the element of debate and discussion that eventually ruled the day in settling the great issues of the times. Conversation generates ideas. Ancient Greek philosophers extolled dialogue as the road to finding truth.

Yet, substantive discussion and debate seems to be lost in the fast-paced society of today. To avoid controversy, we limit our conversations to an hour of general niceties. Even committee meetings are proud to limit discussion to achieve a set time schedule. Twitter, Facebook, and three-phrase repetitive slogans infuse our brain power; journalists and academics are denigrated and controversial issues continue on without resolve or by authoritarian decree, absent dialogue. The political debates of our early leaders were not polite but they were sincere in advocating a viewpoint based on interpretations of a variety of documents, of law, and history.

How do we get back to legitimacy in broad participatory discussion on the issues that divide us? Or do we just abdicate our brain power to the dictatorial pronouncements of a few? Let’s talk? 

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