Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, in the first half of the eighteenth century, and John Taylor of Caroline in the 1790s, both feared that once power had been secured by an unpatriotic faction it might employ a standing army to effect the destruction of the republic. Additionally, Taylor was among those who felt that the state militias had served well before, during, and after the American Revolution, and did not need to be supplanted by a professional army. Taylor wrote, in his fifth complaint against Hamilton’s government, that:
Instead of fighting the Indians by a Land-Office, and by sudden incursions of mounted riflemen, which have successfully progressed for two hundred years; an occasion for the gradual introduction, of that which sundry laws carefully denominate “the military establishment,” has been greedily seized. A standing army, though subsisted upon the 5,000,000, is an ally to the 5,000.
To Taylor, it appeared that a standing army was merely the vehicle whereby the stockjobbers and their political allies would be able to enforce policies designed for their own selfish aggrandizement. He warned further that a “junto” sought to “raise fleets and armies to defend itself against the nation, and make the nation defray the expence of these centinels over the nation.” Thus, Taylor was less concerned that the “military establishment” might be used to engage in unnecessary wars with foreign nations as he was that it might be employed to subjugate its own citizenry, who would be humiliatingly forced, through taxes, to pay the very armies “enslaving” them. Taylor explained further that a professional military, “raised by order of the landlord, but paid by the tenant, [is] only bodies of bailiffs” designed to ensure that the people are obedient to “a junto having thus usurped the sword and the purse.”
In England, a standing army had been avoided for several centuries until the English Civil War necessitated the rise of Cromwell’s New Model Army. From thence onwards, British monarchs, beginning with Charles II, sought to enhance their position through a strong military. Jeremy Black has explained that during William III’s reign “public attitudes were hostile to a standing army and this hostility was expressed in Parliament.” Bolingbroke himself wrote in 1734 that “it is certain then, that if ever such men as call themselves friends to the government, but are real enemies of the constitution, prevail, they will make it a capital point of their wicked policy to keep up a standing army.” He went even further in his accusations in his Remarks on the History of England, closely paralleling Taylor, when he said that “our army is not designed, according to these doctors of slavery, against the enemies of the nation, but against the nation.” Eliga H. Gould has noted that “the Tory and Patriot Whig opponents of Sir Robert Walpole,” were highly disillusioned by “a large standing army, a highly centralized system of excise taxation, and an ever-increasing public debt.” Significantly, he added that, for this opposition, “the army was by far the most dangerous.”
Instead, it was patriotic citizens willing to take up arms who were preferred by both Bolingbroke and Taylor. In 1814, Taylor explained that whereas “the banner of usurpation and tyranny is usually hoisted by a legal [standing] army . . . An armed nation only can keep up an army, and also maintain its liberty.” Referring to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Bolingbroke nostalgically wrote that “whenever she wanted troops, her subjects flocked to her standard; and her reign affords most illustrious proofs, that all the ends of security, and of glory too, may be answered in this island, without the charge and danger of . . . a standing army.” J.G.A. Pocock has explained that for classical republicans, like Bolingbroke and Taylor, power came to citizens by “the possession of land . . . [being] a republic of freeholders owning their own land and weapons.”
It was a key tenant of classical virtue to always be ready to defend one’s homeland, which was clearly observed by both Bolingbroke and Taylor. A misbalance of power began when a faction of individuals sought to centralize themselves, but such a consolidation of power could only happen fully when the people either acquiesced or were mobilized by a standing army. Pocock has ably described the respective fears of these writers: “Roman virtue had been undermined when the warrior farmer had been replaced by the client soldier, the professional legionary, and the praetorian; in contemporary Europe—and in the American East—the last strongholds of Gothic virtue were falling before the same combination of credit and professionalisation.”
Taylor’s explanation that the citizen militias had successfully repelled Native Americans for the previous two centuries was a response to Hamilton’s American Legion that had been created in 1792 to quell violence on the frontier between settlers and natives. William Nester has explained that efforts to use militias with “poor organization” and “poor generalship” prior to 1792 had resulted in “chaos at march, camp, and tragically, battle.” This was a reason, or perhaps an excuse, for Hamilton and Washington to erect a standing army. John Ferling has explained that Washington had lobbied for the creation of a standing army during the American Revolution, and always “had little good to say of militiamen during the Revolutionary War, and in his postwar reflections on America’s victory, he never acknowledged its important contributions.” Many Republicans, however, apparently felt that the militias had served well enough to avoid resorting to the need for a standing army, and Taylor is notable among them. Fearing the effect that a monied faction with the aid of a standing army would have on the Westward spread of agrarian republicanism, Taylor was led to his sixth and seventh grievances, which must be considered together to make the most sense:
1. The erection of new states out of the ceded territory, in faithful compliance with the solemn compacts long since entered into with the ceding states, would have generated republicanism; but an expensive and unsuccessful war, may cultivate the public mind into a willingness to treat away this territory to the Indians. New states would be recruits for the 5,000,000. Hence the antipathy of the 5,000 against them.
2. The system of restraining the growth of republicanism, hath disregarded even the veto of the constitution. Treaties have been made with the Creeks and Cherokees, which have dismembered a state, and annulled the rights of citizens to landed property.
In 1809, Jefferson penned a phrase to Madison that has become synonymous with Jefferson’s agrarian republicanism. He wrote that “we should have such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation: & I am persuaded no constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours for extensive empire & self government.” The prospect of an expansive westward empire dotted with virtuous farmers committed to republican government was the ideal of both Taylor and Jefferson. As a key aspect of preserving a republic was to prolong its inevitable decay, and such degeneration was quickened by commercialization, maintaining a continuously expanding frontier could then produce a Turnerian environment that fostered the sustenance of republicanism. As Taylor explained, “The danger and difficulty, with which our frontiers are extended, invariably engenders an intrepid republican spirit.” Indeed, Lawrence Hatter has explained that “the abundance of western lands,” for Jefferson, and Taylor by extension, “meant that the geographical diffusion of power, wealth and population was possible, guarding against the rise of a corrupt metropole in the United States.”
For Taylor, the two objects standing in the way of this “empire of liberty” were Native Americans and a “paper junto,” which he says “can find an interest in restraining population . . . because by compressing them within the locality of their devices, they are more easily brought to the magical mint, and coined into money.” In 1790 and 1791, the federal government had concluded respective treaties with the Creek and Cherokee tribes, both of which had similar provisions abhorrent to Taylor. To use the Creeks as an example, Gordon S. Wood has explained that “in the treaty the Creeks ceded two-thirds of the land claimed by Georgia but received in return a federal guarantee of sovereign control of the rest.” To Taylor this appeared to be a blatant attempt at limiting the power of the states to pursue westward expansion, and by effect, grow republicanism. He complained that “in neither of these treaties, were the rights of private property—the sovereignty of particular states—or the prosperity of certain districts, consulted.” In addition, he feared the precedent that would be set by treating away land to Natives by a “paper influence,” explaining further that “nothing is wanting to consummate the system, but a relinquishment of the right of pre-emption to the Indians, beyond the Ohio. So that the Indians and British may mount guard over the growth of republicanism in that quarter.” It should be noted that the United States was currently engaged in violence with the Shawnees and other Northwest tribes of the Ohio River Valley when Taylor published this pamphlet, and that the United States was only months away from Gen. Anthony Wayne’s victory in the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which, as Hatter has recently explained, “weakened both Native autonomy and possession of the land.” Writing without hindsight though, Taylor feared that Hamilton’s government wanted to prevent any potential for the United States to expand into the west, because, as he intimated in his grievance, any new states created out of new western territories would be agriculturally centered, and therefore predominantly republican, which would dilute political power away from being centralized in the commercialized east.
In Bolingbroke’s England, with essentially no contiguous unsettled territory, an identical type of “empire of liberty” was impossible to replicate. David Armitage has explained how Bolingbroke, in his somewhat utopian 1738 work Idea of a Patriot King, argued “that Britain was naturally a maritime and hence a commercial nation whose interests would be best protected by the blue-water patriarchalism of a Patriot King.” And for this reason, Armitage continues, Bolingbroke thought “it was necessary to erect a constitution that could prevent . . . corruption by protecting popular liberty, while bearing in mind the compulsions of mercantilist political economy.” Bolingbroke himself asked, “What in truth can be so lovely, what so venerable, as . . . a king, in the temper of whose government, like that of Nerva, things so seldom allied as empire and liberty are intimately mixed, co-exist together inseparably, and constitute one real essence?” For Bolingbroke, an “empire of liberty” was also desired, it would simply have looked different than Taylor’s because of the separate economic interests of America and England. As Armitage has noted, Bolingbroke’s “source of greatness” for the British empire “would be commercial, not territorial.” Thus, both Taylor and Bolingbroke accepted the idea of an “empire of liberty” as an essential aspect of spreading their respective perceptions of national liberty for the general good of the populace, even if that meant, for Taylor at least, the general demise of Native Americans who stood in the way.
Despite Taylor’s preference for agriculture, however, it should be noted that he, along with fellow Republicans like Madison, did not absolutely detest commercialism, but recognized its importance. Indeed, Andrew Shankman has noted that although “the dominant voice of resistance to Hamilton was Virginian, and informed by classical republican values, from the beginning there were strongly pro-manufacturing elements in the Republican coalition.” 1794 Taylor referred to merchants as “a respectable class of citizens” though more dangerously susceptible to avarice and corruption than farmers. In his eighth grievance, less succinct than the others, Taylor complained:
Propositions for the encouragement of navigation, evidently tended to emancipate America from a dependence upon foreign nations—to save the losses resulting to the union, from the impression made by European wars, upon foreign tonnage—to secure a regular exportation of the bulky commodities of the south—and to establish an important encouragement for the shipping of the north. The system was founded in liberality, and eminently calculated to tighten the bands of fraternity, by the ligament of common interest. But apprehensions for the impost have suppressed every consideration of national good. Neither the interest of all the states—the particular interest of a part—or the preservation of the union, have stood against the circumvention of faction. Even this liberal proposition has been successfully caricatured into the vile semblance of party. And the good of the 5,000 hath in this instance also triumphed over that of the 5,000,000.
Drew R. McCoy has explained how Madison sought, immediately after ratification, to inaugurate “a policy that called for a distinction in tonnage and tariff duties favoring nations that had entered into commercial treaty with the United States over those that had not” Hamilton and his allies, however, had effectively stymied the passage of Madison’s bill, and instead established a system that relied on the granting of bounties to encourage manufacturing. Andrew Shankman has explained that “Hamilton’s policies encouraged consolidation, elite control of new investments, and subordination of small producers in the crafts to the new nation’s commercial, financial, and speculative elites.” Taylor referred to this perceived manipulation of the merchant class as “commercial despotism,” which essentially made merchants reliant on bounties into dependent debtors, with the result that “the reputable and useful society of merchants, will dwindle into a dishonest association of speculators.”
Lawrence Hatter has pointed out the importance of commercial centers for the imperial designs of Jefferson and Madison, explaining that “foreign merchants in the Atlantic port cities helped to forge bonds of union between the established eastern states and American colonists west of the Appalachians by providing them with access to a marketplace in which the colonists could sell their agricultural products and purchase manufactured goods.” Thus, commercial centers could be used to good effect for the promotion of agrarian republicanism if allowed to operate freely, without the negative element of a centralized governmental dependency. Taylor explained that “every merchant is secured beyond the reach of government, and yet the bank can ruin almost any merchant, without even a power in government to save him.”
Interestingly, the protections made for international trade in Augustan England by Sir Robert Walpole actually seem to be a combination of Madison’s and Hamilton’s programs. Basil Williams has explained that “he abolished all duties on the export of agricultural produce and of over a hundred manufactured articles,” but he also “gave bounties for the exportation of grain, spirits, silk, sail-cloths, [and] refined sugar.” Notwithstanding this, Isaac Kramnick has explained that Bolingbroke believed that the entire “new composition of the revenue became a great source of corruption,” as it entailed that “schemers, jobbers, and projects controlling the new economic world worked relentlessly and successfully to draw real property, formerly diffused among thousands, into the pockets of a few moneyed men who surrounded the minister.” Thus, despite Bolingbroke being a firmer advocate of commerce than Taylor, both understood that it was an important element in a modern economy and was susceptible to corruption by a minority of speculating individuals placing their self-interest before the common good of the nation. In such an event, political power would be maldistributed and the centralized minority would oppress the majority. Taylor warned his readers that “so long as public spirit predominates in a legislature, its measures cannot be fatal . . . The instant of its loss is an epoch of a revolution, and the commencement of a tyranny.”
Taylor’s ninth point, while not critiquing any specific policies, provides a useful concluding summation of his classical republican ideology. He explained to his readers that:
In short the general government has been an exclamation for money—more money. Obliterate from the statute book, all laws in favor of paper, and the code would almost become a blank. It exhibits a succession of new burthens upon the 5,000,000, which are a succession of delicious repasts to the 5,000.
Taylor’s opposition to avaricious stockjobbers is representative of an ideology that abhors placing the interest of the individual before the state. For him, it is the common good that should always be pursued, and this could only be accomplished through a safe distribution of political power dispersed among a vigilant populace committed to patriotism and virtue. Taylor’s cure for what were the present threats to the republic was pronounced in his concluding remarks to A Definition of Parties. He proposed that “a constitutional expulsion of a stock-jobbing paper interest, in every shape, out of the national legislature, can alone recover the lost principles of a representative government, and save the nation from being owned—bought—and sold.” His fear was that America was being corrupted by Hamilton and his allies to eventually propagate a monarchical system of government that would deprive the citizens of their liberty. Writing as “Franklin” in 1793, he warned readers that “influence upon the acts of the legislature, united with the direction of public money, concentered in one person, constitutes the essence of monarchy. The name of the monarch is unimportant. Whether he is called emperor, king, pope, or secretary of the treasury, it amounts to the same thing.”
Taylor and Bolingbroke differed in some respects, especially in their conception of the proper structure of a balanced government. In this area, Taylor critiqued the traditional, classical republican model of mixed government needing to consist of a monarchy and aristocracy to survive. As with all classical republicans, Taylor believed that his government had discovered the proper balance, which, in America, had been profoundly revolutionary. He wrote that “America has assumed a character upon the theatre of the world, which honour—fame and political philosophy, call upon her to support. She is the inventor of principles, asserting the equal rights of man, and exploding king-craft, priest-craft, nobility-craft and minister-craft.” Thus, the “distinctly American system of politics” developed with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, as described by Gordon S. Wood, was to Taylor a modern reformulation of the classical model of republican government. Notably, Bolingbroke also thought his conception of republican government was the best yet devised. J.G.A. Pocock has explained that Bolingbroke “says that whatever the rights of parliament and the subject may have been in times past, the Revolution has settled the point beyond doubt and there is no need to look further back than 1688 for the foundation of our liberties.” Just as Englishmen like Bolingbroke looked to the “principles of 1688” for their virtuous, uncorrupted government, Taylor and his countrymen looked to the “principles of 1776.” Inasmuch as Hamilton was an American Walpole, Taylor was an American Bolingbroke.
Eliga H. Gould, “Fears of War, Fantasies of Peace: British Politics and the Coming of the American Revolution,” in Empire and Nation: The American Revolution in the Atlantic World, ed. Eliga H. Gould and Peter S. Onuf (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 26.
J.G.A. Pocock, “Machiavelli, Harrington and English Political Ideologies in the Eighteenth Century,” in Politics, Language, and Time: Essays on Political Thought and History (New York: Atheneum, 1971), 110.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, April 27, 1809, Founders Online, National Archives, founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-01-02-0140.
Taylor, A Definition of Parties, 13; Frederick Jackson Turner’s famous “Frontier Thesis” of 1893 argued that the frontier boundary between civilization and barbarism produced America’s unique democratic spirit. By 1890 though, the frontier had been subsumed by civilization, and with it the American spirit.
Lawrence B.A. Hatter, “The Narcissism of Petty Differences? Thomas Jefferson, John Graves Simcoe and the Reformation of Empire in the early United States and British-Canada,” American Review of Canadian Studies 42, no. 2 (June 2012): 132.
David Armitage, “Empire and Liberty: A Republican Dilemma,” in Republicanism: Volume 2, The Values of Republicanism in Early Modern Europe, eds. Martin van Gelderen and Quentin Skinner (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 42.
Andrew Shankman, “‘A New Thing on Earth’: Alexander Hamilton, Pro-Manufacturing Republicans, and the Democratization of American Political Economy,” Journal of the Early Republic 23, no. 3 (Autumn, 2003): 336.