There are a number of ways in which the political problems of Early National Period mirror the political problems experienced in the world today. That period was rife with change and uncertainty in the United States, and while it is certainly true that the country has moved significantly over that time period, it is also true that significantly similar problems still exist. The Early National Period provides insights into the reality that political problems are ideological in nature, and thus, they will shift in form while keeping some of the same structure over time.
One of the problems during this time was a struggle with building a government that could support the need for national infrastructure. The United States had the bones of a government, but it did not have a functional federal government that could satisfy the country’s goals and needs. Things needed to be built, the country needed to be defended, and the economic infrastructure needed to be protected, as well. At the end of the day, the country was in serious debt, which kept it from doing the things it needed to do.
This mirrors some of the political problems being faced by the nation today. In particular, the United States has a significant national debt that can sometimes strange the national discourse today. While the US does have the ability to control fiscal policy and to print its own money, thus alleviating some of the pressures associated with heavy debt, the national political discourse has still been strangled in many ways by the problems that exist. The national debt has become a talking point in negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on the function of the federal government, just as it was a talking point in discussions between the federalists and anti-federalists during the Early National Period. In fact, during the debt ceiling discussions, in which many Republicans wanted to allow the US to default on her loan obligations, the prevailing national debt became a huge issue that kept the country from addressing the issues facing it.
In addition, one of the biggest political issues of the Early National Period came in the form of threats from foreign governments and entities. Importantly, during the Early National Period, the US faced challenges from the Spanish, the French, the British, and even from various Native American tribes in places where the US was trying to expand. This became a particularly large problem for the country because of the previously mentioned issues with the lack of funding and organization. Currently, the US faces similar threats, though they come in a different form and the US has a different capacity to deal with the challenges. For instance, the US is currently facing threats from external terror groups, which operate much like the enemies of the past. This has become a major issue in the national discourse overall. In short, people today have come to see ISIS and other terror groups as being something that can drive the national discourse. Both presidential candidates have made ISIS a centerpoint of their campaign, with the Republican candidate making it the primary focus of his entire foreign policy discourse. Of course, there are significant differences between then and now. Currently, the US has much more ability to deal with the issues it is facing. The US budget is much bigger, and the military has plenty of funding to get the country through and protect against these threats.
There is another major issue mirrored in the politics of now and the politics of the Early National Period. During that period, the country dealt heavily with the problems of inequality. Farmers revolted during the late 1700s, asking for more rights and to be included in the government. Likewise, there were slave revolts in different parts of the country, as the slaves wanted to be included in the new America that discussed so much freedom and liberty. In short, there was a sense that the government did not serve everyone, and instead, that it was designed for the aristocracy as a means of controlling their own interests. This, of course, became a major issue over the last Democratic presidential primary cycle. In the US, there is a sense in the age of Citizens United that the rich control the political process too much. There is a sense, too, that the bankers and others are in total control of all politicians and that poor people and middle class people get squeezed out in that kind of arrangement. Importantly, this leads to the sort of income inequality that has been complained about by various groups and movements, including the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Bernie Sanders campaign. These issues have changed tremendously over the years, looking different now than they did in the past. They are based heavily in the same conflict, however, which is why some of the issues mirror one another.
The politics of the Early National Period were certainly different than today’s politics. The political system was so young that it was not yet hardened. In fact, there was a real sense that change was possible in the government. That has not necessarily been the case in modern politics. Still some of the issues fought about back in the Early National Period have not been fully resolved. They remain today, as the fight has changed a bit and some of the language used to describe it has certainly changed, but some of the underlying disagreements about the role of politics remain static.
- Agarwal, Sheetal D., Michael L. Barthel, Caterina Rost, Alan Borning, W. Lance Bennett, and Courtney N. Johnson. “Grassroots organizing in the digital age: Considering values and technology in Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.” Information, Communication & Society 17, no. 3 (2014): 326-341.
- Calhoun, Craig. “Occupy wall street in perspective.” The British journal of sociology 64, no. 1 (2013): 26-38.
- Hodges, Graham Russell. Slavery and Freedom Among Early American Workers. Routledge, 2016.