Printer Friendly

Politics and the Fourth, 1808.

Byline: Albert B. Southwick

COLUMN: ALBERT B. SOUTHWICK

The Fourth of July has long been celebrated as the most American of holidays, iconic beyond any hint of partisanship. It commemorates the start of our land as a nation, an event no one today would depict in partisan terms.

But it was not always so. For years after the Revolution, Fourth of July celebrations were lively partisan events, highly political in nature and dedicated to the advancement of political agendas. The fireworks came from the orations.

Take 1808, for example. The Massachusetts Spy, Worcester's main weekly, kicked things off on June 29 with a rip-roaring editorial bulging with partisan claims and innuendo.

The Spy, founded by Isaiah Thomas in 1775, had for years been staunchly Federalist. But after Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801 and named Worcester's Levi Lincoln as attorney general, things changed. The Lincolns got control of the newspaper and for years it was the mouthpiece of the Jeffersonian Republicans (later termed Democrats or Democratic Republicans). It had little good to say about the Federalists, who were slipping into oblivion. In 1808, President Jefferson was winding up his second term and setting the stage for James Madison, his long-term friend and ally, to succeed him in the White House.

On June 29, 1808, the Spy announced plans for the Fourth of July celebration:

"The glorious anniversary of our independence will be celebrated in this town, by Republicans, and Republican principles, and with Republican feelings. This is no novelty. With meet and willing devotion, you have long been accustomed to appropriate this day to the expression of patriotic joy, to the felicity of patriotic triumph, and to this avowal of patriotic sentiments."

But there was a fly in the ointment.

The despised Federalists were thinking about a political comeback and "with incautious zeal are now striving to push to the utmost their system of delusion. Till a faint glimmer of hope dawned on their benighted prospects, they shrouded themselves in darkness and hurled their envenomed arrows, with cowardly malignity."

That was a reminder that the Revolution of 1776-1783 and its aftermath meant different things to different groups. The first president, George Washington, hoped to head a unity government without "factions," but it was a vain hope. Even his first term in 1789 revealed an ominous split. His secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, envisaged an industrial society with bustling factories and growing cities. By contrast, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson hoped for a nation of small farmers and small towns. Jefferson himself owned a large plantation manned by slaves, but he never seemed to see the inconsistency in his viewpoints.

Hamilton's ideas prevailed until 1801, when Thomas Jefferson succeeded John Adams as president and tried to put his Republican ideas into practice. By 1808 he was preparing the way for James Madison to succeed him. The Worcester Independence Day celebration was part of that campaign.

But the Federalists were planning Fourth of July celebrations based on Federalist principles. The local celebration was planned for Barre and Republican newspapers like the Spy were shocked - shocked! - that the Federalists could even think of linking themselves with the Revolutionary struggle for independence.

The Spy editorial was heavy on sarcasm:

"All genuine Tories and true lovers of `dear old England' are hereby notified that the success of the British ministry in obtaining a majority of fifteen in the Massachusetts House of Representatives will be CELEBRATED at Barre on the Fourth of July next ..."

The Spy cautioned people not to be taken in by the "nefarious designs" of the Federalist propaganda spinners:

"They publicly avow the object of their meeting to be nothing short of a conspiracy against the friends of the present administration, or in other words, to convene a pestiferous caucus, to calumniate and asperse the fairest government in the world!

"Detest their elusive charms - watch them with the eyes of a vigil - be not taken in their artful net, unless slavery and bondage be your ultimate choice.

"Already do they boast that they have by their base perfidy entrapped a few of us - I hope those few will find means of escape."

So it went on the Fourth in 1808 and for decades following. Independence Day celebrations were partisan events sponsored by the various political parties - Federalist, Republican, National Republican, Whig, etc. Generations would pass before the Fourth was accepted and celebrated as a national event without partisan flavor.

As for 1808, James Madison was nominated by the Jeffersonian Democrats, Charles Pinckney by the Federalists. Mr. Madison won and served two terms.

Albert B. Southwick's column appears regularly in the Telegram & Gazette.
COPYRIGHT 2011 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 30, 2011
Words:770
Previous Article:VNA welcomes hospice director.
Next Article:A contract for safe driving.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters