Seeds of Success

George Washington’s First Annual Message to Congress. January 8, 1790.

In George Washington’s First Annual Message to Congress, he looked beyond the largely then-agricultural states and expressed his aspiration that the United States would be self-sufficient for its agricultural, manufacturing, and military needs. At the time, this was a Federalist-backed belief, so that the United States could become a rival to the powers of Europe.

But it planted the seeds for the transformation of America. Then-Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton took Washington’s message to heart, drawing up the Report on the Subject of Manufactures on December 5, 1791. In his report, Hamilton recognized that the building of the American powerhouse economy would take “three or four decades,” but he sketched out the basic economic keys to enabling the transformation to occur. For example, Hamilton explained the necessity of establishing banks, a national mint, and a uniform, paper currency.

These actions by Hamilton and Washington planted the seeds for the United States to take full advantage of the Industrial Revolution’s seismic changes, which of course would place the United States among the leading nations in the world. Considering what was to come in the next three to four decades, and the two centuries since then, Hamilton and Washington have shown their wisdom and vision for the country.

Looking more broadly at American history, it is difficult to identify a more pivotal moment in setting the trajectory for the country. The gravity of policy decisions seldom have the long term consequences that the early decisions of the first presidents had. One could speculate that the Americans’ preparedness for the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II was bolstered by Washington’s and Hamilton’s idea to transition the economy from a largely agricultural society to a manufacturing, military-focused society.

Regardless, it does not require speculation to conclude that we are certainly the beneficiaries of their wisdom.

The Monarchical Republic

George Washington. By: Gilbert Stuart.

At the time of George Washington’s presidency, the role, image, and traditions surrounding the executive office was unclear. It was a new concept entirely, particularly in light of the numerous, well-established monarchies of Europe. In fact, during this time, Poland had an elected monarchy.

For clarity as to the role of the president, many Americans looked to the monarchs of Europe, demanding that the presidency must carry with it a level of regality, tradition, and pomp that was intended to invoke honor and dignity. However much Americans wished to dispose of the monarchical system and replace it with a republic, Americans had little guidance outside of Europe for how a leader should conduct himself or herself.

Many of the traditions first established during Washington’s presidency, such as formal dinners with the powder-haired president where no individual was permitted to speak, have fallen by the wayside in the past two centuries. This is despite the power of the president consistently growing since the days of Washington. However, it seems that Americans now would not tolerate a stiff, overly dignified president who appears to be far superior to the common person. Why is that? Perhaps it’s American pragmatism? Or a collective fear of having a Messianic leader?

Probably a little bit of both. Underlying much of the American sentiment, now and then, is the fear that the republic will slowly become either an empire or a kingdom, in the way that Rome did. These fears underlie the American pragmatism and create a collective feeling that any person with too much power, and any government with too much power, is undesirable.

It is safe to say that Americans have always been keen to avoid both the English and Roman ways of declining in power. Avoiding monarchy, while still flirting with its decorum, characterized the early years of the American republic. Now, it is all but forgotten.

The Last Best Hope of Earth

Abraham Lincoln – Gettysburg Address

This blog is intended to capture the spirit of the words of Abraham Lincoln in his December 1, 1862 address to Congress amidst the Civil War: “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” These words reflect the optimism for America’s future, the uniqueness of America’s role in the world, and the direness of the Civil War. These words are also highly contextual, as likely few modern Americans would call the United States “the last best hope of earth.”

Nonetheless, by uncovering the past and juxtaposing it with contemporary events, this blog aspires to both inform and inspire the reader by showing that despite the doomsayers (modern and historical), the United States is not only mostly adhering to its founding principles but also on an upward trajectory, as it generally has been since its inception.