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Southern History Series: Nathaniel Macon on Jeffersonian Democracy

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Editor’s Note: This is a work in progress.

National Review is full of praise for Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina who was the Speaker of the House under President Thomas Jefferson because of a few superficial similarities on government spending to mainstream conservatism:

“Today, Nathaniel Macon would strike his countrymen, depending on their politics, as either crazy or courageous. Or both. This fixture of American politics for four decades was an early-19th-century version of Dr. No — Ron Paul in a frock coat.

Macon, whose career began in the North Carolina legislature, was originally opposed to any form of national government. When asked by his state to serve as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he refused. He then fought against the ratification of the document that the convention produced. When that effort failed, he dedicated himself in the new House of Representatives, where he served from 1791 to 1815 (and as Speaker from 1801 to 1807), and then later in the Senate to the strictest possible interpretation of it.

Macon, a staunch Jeffersonian Republican, opposed a standing national army and navy, voted against the institution of the First Bank of the United States, and ridiculed the idea of the United States Mint. His fear of debt, personal as well as public, was so great that hours before his death he summoned an undertaker to pay any future bills lest he owe a single cent from the grave. Unsurprisingly, he opposed most forms of government spending — including a grand monument to George Washington.”

The following excerpt comes from Elizabeth Varon’s book Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859

“What ought surely to be inferred from Mr. Jefferson’s notes and life, is, that he thinks slavery is a curse, but thinks it is a greater curse to emancipate in his native Virginia. His democracy like that of his great countrymen who have been before mentioned, appears to be of the white family.”

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