The First Doomsayers

Fisher Ames. By: Gilbert Stuart.

Many expected that the American Revolution would lead to some “bloody noses” as “almost all revolutions are founded in blood.” Samuel A. Otis to Theodore Sedgwick, July 30, 1782, Theodore Sedgwick Papers, A. 55, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston. The British had made predictions that separating from Britain would lead to quarrels and the Americans splitting into parties. Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 397. As the Revolutionary years went on, it looked that the British were right, which appeared to put America on a path toward destruction.


Rather than uniting together, Fisher Ames explained in 1787, “[t]he people have turned against their teachers the doctrines which were inculcated in order to effect the late revolution.” Id. at 397-98 quoting Boston Independent Chronicle, Mar. 1, 1787, in Seth Ames, ed., Works of Fisher Ames with a Selection from His Speeches and Correspondence (Boston, 1854), II, 101. The very events that the Founding Fathers hoped to prevent appeared to be happening, as individuals were using the new republican ideology to disrupt the “social fabric” itself. Id. at 398.

Despite all the talk about equality and republicanism, Americans appeared to only to unite to obtain those ideals only to the extent it benefitted themselves. As one early American observed: “Every man wants to be a judge, a justice, a sheriff, a deputy, or something else which will bring him a little money, or what is better, a little authority.” Id. at 399 quoting “On Hard Times,” American Museum, I (1787), 462. Essentially, despite equality being increasingly widespread from the years of British rule, Americans were dividing themselves into factions.

This meant that “party strife in all of the states seemed as bitter as before the war.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 402. These parties, however, were not like those during British rule, which pitted “the people against the rulers, the country against the court; they were instead parties among the people themselves, each aiming at its own aggrandizement.” Id. at 402-03 (internal quotations omitted). As observed in the newspapers at the time: “Formerly, political distinctions originated in the prevailing sentiment of patriotism—in the present times, they seem only relative to particular principles of interest.” Id. at 403 quoting Worcester Mass. Spy, June 21, 1780; Providence Gazette, Aug. 5, 1786; Feb. 24, 1779; Charleston S.C. and American Gazette, Feb. 4, 1779.

Those newspapers continued to state: “Parties are the dangerous diseases of civil freedom; they are only the first stage of anarchy, cloathed [sic] in mild language.” Id. The argument continued that if this were allowed to continue, it would “eventually tear the state apart.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 403.

In retrospect, these early developments appeared to put America on an alarming trajectory, one that was perceived to leading to dissolution of the union and chaos. As any modern American can deduce, these developments may have actually been one of the most beneficial effects of the Revolution. By having multiple parties competing for attention, fame, and fortune, a competitive environment emerged where voices wanted to be heard.

There are many times in history where the very “social fabric” that people knew appeared to be shredding, leaving the future frighteningly uncertain. These years after the American Revolution can be defined by the rapid fragmentation of the society that had been familiar to the early Americans, just as the biggest doomsayers, the British, had predicted. Those who were easily frightened by this development, believing the doomsayers to be correct, were inevitably sure of America’s demise.

These were some of the first doomsayers of America. While they may have been the first, and more than two centuries have since lapsed, there are many who follow in their footsteps. One should pay close attention to the perceived reason for America’s supposed doom. The creation of political parties in America has been one of the best developments, ensuring that an adversarial debate occurs on every major issue, ideally bringing Americans closer to the correct decision on those issues.

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