From 1792 to 1794, John Taylor of Caroline, a senator from Virginia, was engaged in a heated party struggle between Jeffersonian Republicans and Hamiltonian Federalists over the implementation of the latter’s new economic program. Taylor, despite being largely unknown by non-specialists today, has been called by Gordon S. Wood “the conscience of the Republican party” in the 1790s. And Lance Banning has branded him “the Republican party’s most influential pamphleteer.” These statements alone, coming from distinguished historians, provide a justification for an analysis of Taylor’s political discourse.Rather than attempting to reconstruct the political thought of Taylor, as the most recent work on him has done with some futility, I have asked what Taylor saw himself as doing in his opposition to Hamilton’s government.
Taylor seems to have patterned his own opposition after that of Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke’s opposition of the first half of the eighteenth century against the innovations of Sir Robert Walpole in England. Indeed, the parallels between Hamilton’s and Walpole’s efforts towards funding a national debt, establishing a national bank and utilizing a standing army generated a similar parallel of opposition by those who feared a centralized government perceived to care more about monetary acquisitiveness than the national good. Using a 1794 pamphlet written by Taylor which lists nine points, or grievances, against policies advocated by Hamilton, I have analyzed each point to show how it relates to classical republicanism and how it compares to Bolingbroke’s opposition in England decades earlier. I am not suggesting that Bolingbroke was the only, or even the largest, influence on Taylor’s political thought. Rather, I am suggesting that Taylor’s awareness of history compelled him to pattern his own opposition after that of Bolingbroke, in an effort to prevent the seeds of corruption from becoming embedded in the new republic.
I am not the first to have noticed a comparison between Bolingbroke and Taylor. Indeed, in 1978 Lance Banning referred to Taylor as “an American Bolingbroke,” and considered his writings against Hamilton to be “the most extensive and systematic of all the Republican attacks on Federalism,” adding more that “they reveal more obviously than any others the Republicans’ debt to English opposition thought.” J.G.A. Pocock, probably the most important expositor of the classical republican theory, wrote in a shorter analysis of Taylor that he “was a Republican and wrote anti-Hamiltonian polemic in which the ghosts of Swift and Bolingbroke stalk on every page.” While other historians have made mention of the importance of English opposition writers on Taylor, no thorough analysis has yet been done to compare him with Bolingbroke.
Taylor, like many of his contemporaries, viewed republican liberty as dangerously fragile. In 1794, he warned that “Liberty, tho’ inestimable, is the most difficult to preserve.” He was echoing a strain of classical republicanism that had passed from Classical Greece and Rome to Machiavelli’s Florentine Italy. From the Italian peninsula, this ideology reached the England of James Harrington during the reign of Oliver Cromwell, and it continued to be employed by Englishmen from the English Revolution of 1688-89 to the 1763 Treaty of Paris. Following the Seven Years’ War, it was then picked up by Revolutionary Americans in their rebellion against England (though it did not disappear from England either), and then again in the Republican opposition to Hamilton’s government. As an ideology, it has a storied history which has allowed it to acclimate to new circumstances while retaining its basic components. Lance Banning has outlined the basic tenets of classical republicanism as a “vigilant commitment to the public life: continuing participation in a politics that trusted only limited responsibilities to national officials and demanded, even so, that these officials be continuously watched for any signs of an appearance of a separate set of interests,” explaining further that “liberty was incompatible with standing armies, overgrown executives, and swollen public debts.” Thus, the essential element of classical republicanism is its determination through participatory watchfulness to patriotically preserve the republic by preventing corruption and avarice from infiltrating the government. As a new republic began its trend toward death at the moment of its conception, the duty of the classical republican was to delay the decay of the government for as long as possible, by helping it retain its foundational virtues. J.G.A. Pocock has explained that in such a system “the aim of politics is to escape from time; that time is the dimension of imperfection and that change must necessarily be degenerative.” To avoid the decay of the republic, the citizens must work together in patriotic unity. Any good citizen confronting a decision between the common good of the state and their own self-interest must choose the former. Pocock explains further “that the highest form of active life was that of the citizen who, having entered the political process in pursuit of his particular good, now found himself joining with others to direct the actions of all in pursuit of the good of all; the attainment of his private good was not lost but must take a lower priority.”
Traditionally, the classical republican model involved a mixed government, which divided power into three political orders: Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy, which then needed to be well-balanced for the government to persist. Aristotle first identified the need to balance these variations of government through moderation, as excess monarchy would become a tyranny, excess aristocracy would become an oligarchy, and excess democracy would become mob-rule. Corruption or avaricious interests in any of these branches might lead to the Aristotelian excess, thus misbalancing the structural orders and threatening the stability of the whole. As the Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero explained, a mixed government “has stability; for although those three original forms easily degenerate into their corrupt versions . . . such things rarely happen in a political structure which represents a combination and a judicious mixture—unless, that is, the politicians are deeply corrupt.”
Although the mixed system persisted within its Florentine and English adaptations, it was rejected by most Americans following the Revolutionary War, as many Americans eschewed such a class system. Lance Banning has explained, however, “that rejection of the concept of a balance of social orders did not entail an end of other traditional concerns.” Indeed, Pocock has explained that the concept of “Balance,” effectively “presupposed the independence of each of the three constituent parts.” Thus, despite the disappearance of a traditional monarchy and aristocracy in the new United States, a balance of political power still existed that needed to remain cloaked in public virtue. Taylor believed that rather than a traditional system of mixed government, the new government had uniquely “dispersed” political power among the nation’s freeholders, represented by state legislatures with short election cycles, who could most effectively transform the national will into reality. For this reason, Taylor feared that Hamilton and his allies sought “to controul the will of the people, by counterbalancing it with the weight of wealth.”
In his 1794 pamphlet A Definition of Parties, the first grievance made by Taylor against Hamilton concerned the prospect of funding the national debt, which had been put into effect following the “Compromise of 1790,” where Hamilton succeeded in gaining acceptance for his “First Report on Public Credit.” This action by Hamilton sought to create new debt by paying off former debts and issuing certain federal securities as a way to establish credit. John Ferling has explained the system well, writing that “investors would purchase these securities—hence they would become creditors who were making a loan to the United States—and the revenue raised from their sale would go toward retiring the old debt.” It is here that Banning has explained how Hamilton looked for these investors because he was designing “a program deliberately calculated to serve the interests of monied men in order to enlist their support for the new government.” Taylor often equates the interests of these speculating investors as “stockjobbers” and a “paper junto,” consisting of only about 5,000 individuals out of what he estimates to be an American population of around 5,000,000.It is in this context that Taylor listed his first grievance:
The funding system deprived the 5,000,000, without value received of 17ʃ. [shillings] in the pound, upon the whole amount of the national debt—bestowed it upon the 5,000, and doubled the loss upon the 5,000,000, by the remedy of a perpetual tax.
By allowing a minority to become the creditors of the majority, Taylor feared a misbalance of political power, opportunities for corruption, and a threat of tyranny from a minority of stockjobbers. The security holders, not even needing to possess their own land, would become creditors and the general populace would be their debtors. This essential issue has been described well by John M. Murrin, who wrote that “Nearly all of this gain went to speculators rather than ex-soldiers or planters, as entrepreneurs from New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore raced through the Southern backcountry to buy every available security before the local inhabitants . . . could learn how valuable they were.” Taylor explained that “Government, though designed to produce national happiness, will be converted by a paper junto simply into a scheme of finance,” and that “Instead of dispensing public welfare, it will become a credit shop only, to dispense unequal wealth. Patriotism will consist in finding out a new subject for taxation.” He then concluded that that such a system “is simply a case of landlord and tenant, wherein the former, to his right of receiving rent, has subjoined by usurpation the powers of regulating the domestic economy of the tenant . . . by the rule of his own discretion.”
Taylor feared this system of government because it had already occurred in Great Britain decades earlier. In Taylor’s 1814 magnum opus, he described how a “funding system” had been “invented in England to prop a revolution by corruption; extensively used to sacrifice the nation to German [Hanoverian] interests; and it has continued to feed avarice, and silently to revolutionize the revolution.” After explaining that the same system had been “introduced to America, after the nation had been defended, to enrich a few individuals,” he went directly after Robert Walpole, declaiming that “Sir Robert Walpole destroyed the power of the landed interest, and compelled it to contribute to the formation of a monied interest.” Jeremy Black has noted that despite the overarching successes of Walpole’s financial system, “his role as a minister concerned with money helped to encourage criticism of him on the grounds both of supposed personal corruption and of the use of corrupt practices in order to entice others to provide support.” The opposition to Walpole was best exemplified in the writings of the classical republican polemicist Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, who tellingly proclaimed:
To govern a society of freemen by a constitution founded on the eternal rules of right reason, and directed to promote the happiness of the whole, and of every individual, is the noblest prerogative which can belong to humanity; and if many may be said, without profaneness, to imitate God in any case, this is the case: but sure I am he imitates the devil, who is so far from promoting the happiness of others, that he makes his own happiness consist in the misery of others; who governs by no rule but that of his passions, whatever appearances he is forced sometimes to put on, who endeavours to corrupt the innocent and to enslave the free, whose business is to seduce or betray, whose pleasure is to damn, and whose triumph is to torment. Odious and execrable as this character is, it is the character of every prince who makes use of his power to subvert, or even to weaken that constitution, which ought to be the rule of his government.
Thus, an integral element of classical republicanism is what David Armitage has identified in Bolingbroke’s philosophy as a “Stoic philosophy of service to the commonwealth.” For men like Bolingbroke, the philosophy of the Roman Stoics, including such influential writers as Cicero and Seneca, had an important impact on both the spirit of patriotism and the disdain for individuals who placed their own self-interest in wealth before the common good of the state. The production of a class of individuals with a perceived higher devotion to the procurement of money than to the common welfare of the nation was evident during both Bolingbroke’s and Taylor’s efforts to promote a government based on virtue. It was for this reason that Taylor was so concerned about the influence of stockjobbers in the federal government. Taylor worriedly asked, “And if the interest of the nation is not the same with the interest of its creditors, shall the latter interest possess the power of legislation?” Concerned similarly about power residing in the hands of government officials susceptible to corruption, Bolingbroke responded in his own day, “The friends of liberty . . . cannot be too careful to preserve their constitution in vigour, nor too fearful lest their representatives should be so influenced as to neglect their privileges, misapply their powers, and depart from their integrity.”
The other component of Hamilton’s “First Report on Public Credit” concerned the federal assumption of state debts that had been earned during the recent Revolutionary War. In his report, Hamilton explained that “an assumption of the debts of the particular states by the union, and a like provision for them, as for those of the union, will be a measure of sound policy and substantial justice.” Such a “sound policy,” however pragmatic and useful it may have been, had dangerous ramifications for a classical republican. Taylor explained his concerns about federal assumption in the second key grievance of his pamphlet A Definition of Parties:
The assumptions of state debts, by still farther concentrating a paper credit, increased its influential power. The 5,000,000 constitute the subject upon which only this power can act; of course its operation must tend to their injury, and to the benefit of the 5,000.
Gordon S. Wood has shown that James Monroe, a lifelong friend of Taylor and sharer of similar political principles, continued to oppose assumption even after Jefferson and Madison had relinquished, protesting that allowing federal assumption would transfer political power away from the states to the national government. Taylor felt the same, and for him this created a dangerous misbalance of political power. Lance Banning has explained that Hamilton’s funding and assumption programs were designed to “create a counterbalance to the state attachments that had always seemed the greatest danger to the union,” in addition to binding “the economic interests of a vital segment of America’s elite to the success of national institutions.” For Taylor, the handling of the people’s money should be represented as democratically as possible, which could only be properly done through the state legislature.
In another 1794 pamphlet, Taylor described this preference for the state legislature handling the money of the people instead: “The State legislatures are the people themselves in a state of refinement, possessing superior information, and exhibiting the national suffrage in the fairest and safest mode.” The “fairest” and the “safest” modes of policy are integral to classical republicanism. Laws must not favor particular individuals, as that would entail corruption, and the general populace must remain ever vigilant to avoid being duped by avaricious interests. Regarding fairness, Taylor wrote “Congress can impose taxes for the common defence and general welfare, of the United States, but not for the benefit of individuals or their own private emolument.” And regarding safety, he warned that “National watchfulness is the only preservative of liberty,” explaining that in a fragile republic as young as the United States, being “watchful at all times” is integral to “rooting an administration in the sound principles of political morality.”
Thus, Hamilton’s “sound policy” opposed Taylor’s “sound principles” in a way reminiscent of Bolingbroke’s struggle against Walpole’s government. Although Walpole’s England did not have state debts to assume, as did Hamilton’s America, the process of the centralization of the monetary economy and the fears it engendered are striking. Though the financial revolution had been underway for some years in England before the rise of Walpole, Isaac Kramnick has explained that Walpole “understood and welcomed the financial innovations so opposed by Bolingbroke and others,” explaining further that Walpole’s “public performance and private dealings served to enhance the prestige and power of the men of money and to give official sanction to their path to social and political power.” In opposition, Bolingbroke warned that if his “Country” party was to be useful it needed to “be authorized by the voice of the people . . . formed on principles of common interest,” and most importantly, “it cannot be united and maintained on the particular prejudices, any more than it . . . [is] directed to the particular interests of any set of men whatsoever.” Being so, Bolingbroke explained, it was no longer a party but “it is the nation.” Taylor wrote in similar terms that a “paper-legislative influence,” or the gaining of wealth through Hamilton’s credit system, was “adverse to the first principle of republican government,” explaining more that “distributive justice, is more likely to result from grounding the power of legislation, really—not nominally—in the body of the people; than from depositing it in the hands of an individual, or of an inconsiderable junto.”
A policy more specifically implemented by both Walpole and Hamilton was the use of a sinking fund that could function towards paying off the large debts that had been accumulated in England during the back-to-back Nine Years’ War (1688-97) and War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), and in the United States during the American Revolution, though it could also be used as a type of “piggy bank” for a future expense, such as an outbreak of war. In a congressional debate over the funding of the national debt, William Loughton Smith of South Carolina defended Hamilton’s implementation of the sinking fund, explaining that “if our present debt cannot be paid off at once, all that can be done is to provide such funds for its gradual extinction.” In reply, James Jackson, a representative from Georgia more opposed to Hamilton’s program, explained that he “believed sinking funds were generally considered as a kind of standby or subsidiary fund, always at hand to be mortgaged when money was proposed to be raised on any exigency of the state,” and therefore not a useful mode for diminishing the national debt.In his third grievance against Hamilton’s program, Taylor explained his apprehensions about this policy:
The sinking fund, fed by the instrumentality of losing loans, increased, that which it promised to diminish. A treasure gotten at the expense of the 5,000,000, has been kept on hand, and occasionally carried into the market, to enhance the price of stocks. Thus, the 5,000,000 are legislated into a broker for the 5,000.
Like the federal funding and assumption of debt, Taylor feared that a sinking fund was an opportunity for monied interests to subvert the common good of the nation. In a 1793 article for the National Gazette, written under the penname “Franklin,” Taylor explained that Hamilton “uses this fund for the purpose of enhancing the price of certificates at the public expence, out of favoritism to speculators, whilst the people are deluded with an idea, that it was designed to sink the debt.” Drew R. McCoy has explained that such antagonism towards Hamilton’s programs were largely due to its clear patterning of itself after Britain, directly after a revolution had been fought to separate themselves from that nation. He writes that “Many of Hamilton’s opponents came to fear nothing less than a conspiracy to corrupt American society and smash the republican experiment by imitating British forms, manners, and institutions.”
In England, Jeremy Black has explained that the existence of a national debt engendered misgivings among those in the early eighteenth century, who feared both “the drain of annual interest payments . . . [and] also the possibility of national bankruptcy.” This led to Walpole’s creation of a sinking fund in 1717, which, as Black continues, “increased confidence and in turn made it easier to conduct the government’s financial affairs at a reasonable rate of interest.” The sinking fund was opposed by Bolingbroke and his allies, however, because it failed to actually reduce the debt significantly, and it was loosely controlled, which allowed large sums, including the taxes of the people, to be withdrawn from it for perceivably undemocratic uses. Indeed, Issac Kramnick has explained how “in 1733 Walpole raided the Fund, despite the purpose of its establishment, and used part of it for the year’s expense,” which thereafter “became a regular feature of the government’s financial policy.”
In 1734, Bolingbroke queried “What will happen, when we have mortgaged and funded all we have to mortgage and to fund; when we have mortgaged to new creditors that sinking fund which was mortgaged to other creditors not yet paid off; when we have mortgaged all the product of our land, and even our land itself?” Bolingbroke believed he knew the answer to his own question, explaining further that “the people will suffer themselves to be treated . . . as the poor Indians are, in favour of the Spaniards; to be parcelled out in lots, as it were; and to be assigned, like these Indians to the Spanish planters, to toil and starve for the proprietors of the several funds.” Both Taylor and Bolingbroke conceived of the sinking fund in similar terms of creditor versus debtor relations, which would effectually reduce the debtor to a state of subjugation.
These first three grievances of Taylor’s coalesce well into his fourth, more all-encompassing, critique of Hamilton’s economic policy. This concerned the erection of a national bank, which Hamilton had deemed as essential in putting the sinking fund and assumption of state debts to use. If “each part of his program was integral to the whole,” as Lance Banning has noted, the national bank was the sine qua non of that whole. Taylor was understandably opposed to the creation of the national bank, as Jonathan Gienapp has recently explained that “Southerners and westerners were not foolish to worry that such an institution, to be established in Philadelphia, might favor eastern mercantile interests and entrench their economic and political power.” Taylor explained his opposition to the bank, saying:
The law metamorphosing funded paper into bank stock, added to its fruitfulness; the labour of the 5,000,000 furnishes the nourishment, upon which the 5,000 are foiled through the agency of this institution.
Paper money, or the system of credit devised by Hamilton, is one of the important aspects of the bank that Taylor particularly despised, and is representative of his antipathy for and conception of political economy. Drew McCoy has explained that contemporaries of Taylor “generally considered political economy under the broader rubric of moral philosophy,” and, McCoy continues, classical republicans “assumed that a healthy republican government demanded an economic and social order that would encourage the shaping of a virtuous citizenry.” For Taylor then, money could not simply be created out of thin air and be called valuable; it needed to stem from land tilled by patriotic citizens. He explained in A Definition of Parties that “Land is the unde derivatur of all products for man’s use . . . its true interest, is the interest of the whole social and natural life,” and perhaps most critically “it cannot be at enmity with the public good.”
By contrast, a paper system, which by extension refers to any type of invisible credit, was explained by Taylor to be dangerous because it could artificially inflate itself for the private interest of its controller, whereas “Land is permanent . . . and cannot be incorporated by law, or by an exclusive interest, into a political junto—paper credit may.” For this reason, Taylor explained to his readers that “Virginia, under the paper system of representation, ought to hold 22,000,000 dollars—she holds 1,000,000, and this 1,000,000 is in the hands of 1,000 people,” before warningly asking “will the great majority of the people in any state sell their birth-right for a mess of paper, into which they are themselves cooked; but of which they can never taste?” Not only was paper an artificial construct susceptible to corruption, but that corruption could be used to initiate a misbalance of power. In An Enquiry, Taylor exposed this prospect, writing that “A few dwarfs are suddenly metamorphosed into giants, by a paper necromancy, and the rest of the community whom it makes more dwarfish, both really and comparatively, are inchanted by syren notes, into an insensibility of their danger.”
In England, a national bank had been established in the years following the Glorious Revolution. Kramnick has explained that after its conception the “most frequently cited source of resentment” soon thereafter “was the sudden growth of the national debt,” which according to many critics “portended imminent doom for the nation.” With the elevation of Sir Robert Walpole in the early eighteenth century, as has already been suggested, a rise in stockjobbing and the implementation of a sinking fund effected a centralization of power to a perceived junto of scheming men who threatened the balance of government. David Armitage has explained that “the greatest fiscal and institutional innovations after the Revolution, such as the Bank of England and the National Debt, and the benefits of investment in these institutions flowed most of all to the Whigs and the so-called ‘monied interest,’” which caused Bolingbroke and his followers to oppose the “suspicious new institutions.”
It is not surprising then that in 1734 Bolingbroke wrote of the “the establishment of public funds,” as a “great source of corruption, which was opened soon after the Revolution; which was unknown before it; and which hath spread since it was opened, like the box of Pandora, innumerable evils over this unhappy country.” And Taylor, writing in 1794, spoke almost identically, though more snidely, saying “the bank may certainly boast, that the evils she dispenses, like the contents of Pandora’s box, are pretty equally distributed.” For Bolingbroke, a centralization of political power in a banking institution threatened the mixed balance of political power, while for Taylor it threatened the balance of political power dispersed among the general populace. In either case, a misbalance of power would threaten both the national virtue and the common good.
In Part 2, it will be shown how Taylor’s opposition to Hamilton’s plans for the national debt spread into other areas of concern, including westward expansion, the national policy towards Native Americans, the planned creation of a standing army and the taxing of foreign tonnage. In each instance, the comparison to Bolingbroke’s opposition towards Walpole will be considered, showing that Taylor saw himself as fighting Bolingbroke’s same battle.
Garrett Ward Sheldon and C. William Hill, Jr., The Liberal Republicanism of John Taylor of Caroline (Teaneck, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2008). This work attempts to show that Taylor represents a coherent blend of Lockean liberalism and classical republicanism. Aspects of both strains are certainly evident, but I believe that republicanism clearly predominates, and most other historians agree. I have further issues with their use of historiography, which misrepresents J. G. A. Pocock and ignores several important works written by Lance Banning that would make their argument less potent.
J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 531; Pocock uses the term “civic humanism,” rather than “classical republicanism.” To be consistent, I have chosen to use the latter term throughout this article.
The best analysis of this transmittance is J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).
Lance Banning, “Some Second Thoughts on Virtue and the Course of Revolutionary Thinking,” in Founding Visions: The Ideas, Individuals, and Intersections that Created America, ed. Todd Estes (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2014), 94-5.
Lance Banning, “Jeffersonian Ideology Revisited: Liberal and Classical Ideas in the New American Republic,” in After the Constitution: Party Conflict in the New Republic, ed. Lance Banning (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1989), 294.
Taylor, An Enquiry, 41; Taylor frequently spelled words differently than we do today, and I have decided to keep his original spelling as it reveals more clearly the character of his language. Consequently, I have also decided to avoid the constant use of “[sic]” to blame these misspellings on him. If there appears a misspelling in a quotation from Taylor’s writings, the reader may safely assume that it is the language of Taylor’s time.
John M. Murrin, “The Great Inversion, or Court versus Country: A Comparison of the Revolution Settlements in England (1688-1721) and America (1776-1816),” in Rethinking America: From Empire to Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018),63.
Lance Banning, “Political Economy and the Creation of the Federal Republic,” in Founding Visions: The Ideas, Individuals, and Intersections that Created America(Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2014), 297.
“Franklin no. 5,” National Gazette, March 02, 1793, in Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025887/1793-03-02/ed-1/seq-3/.