Jefferson warns about the rise of an “Anglo-Monarchio-Aristocratic party” in America (1797)

Thomas Jefferson

Found in The Works, vol. 8 (Correspondence 1793-1798)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), in a letter to Phillip Mazzei, warns that a resurgent “Anglo-Monarchio-Aristocratic party” has arisen in America which wished to restore the political and economic practices of the British Empire:

Our political situation is prodigiously changed since you left us. Instead of that noble love of liberty, and that republican government, which carried us triumphantly thro the dangers of the war, an Anglo-Monarchio-Aristocratic party has arisen. Their avowed object is to impose on us the substance, as they have already given us the form, of the British government. Nevertheless, the principal body of our citizens remain faithful to republican principles. All our proprietors of lands are friendly to those principles, as also the mass of men of talents. We have against us the Executive Power, the Judiciary Power, all the officers of government, all who are seeking offices, all timid men who prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty, the British merchants and the Americans who trade on British capitals, the speculators, persons interested in the bank and the public funds. Establishments invented with views of corruption, and to assimilate us to the British model in its corrupt parts.

In this provocative and controversial letter to Phillip Mazzei, Jefferson is very open in his criticism of the direction in which American politics was heading in 1797. The harshness of his language offended many people including George Washington. Among his criticisms are the following, that those who worked for the government had become mere “place-seekers” who were more interested in their jobs than serving the people, that a new and powerful group of people had arisen who benefited from lending money to the government and its bank, and that too many people in the capital had become “timid men who prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.” In spite of these problems Jefferson was hopeful that the bulk of the American people still adhered to the republican principles which had made the American Revolution possible and that the new “Anglo-Monarchio-Aristocratic party” which was trying to rebuild in America the British system of privilege and corruption would ultimately be defeated. In his mind, the American people had briefly gone to sleep after the exertions of the Revolution thus giving opponents of liberty an opportunity to bind the people down with “lilliputian ties”. However, Jefferson believed the American Gulliver would awaken and cast off these ropes and assume its rightful place in the world.