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Jefferson & The Brown Tree Snake

An excellent book of political history I can strongly suggest, is Richard Hofstadter’s The Idea of a Party System.

Here in Houston,Texas, we labor under non-partisan municipal elections that mute strongly-held party preferences and limit the capacity for decisive action by city council. 

The Texas legislature in Austin is organized in a so-called “bipartisan” fashion that thwarts the wishes of voters who on Election Day placed one party in the majority and another party in the minority.

In his book, Hofstadter details how the Democratic-Republican majority— Democratic-Republican being the name of one party—of the first quarter of the 19th century stole a number of ideas from the defeated and ever-shrinking Federalist Party minority. 

Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe embraced territorial expansion, banking systems, and naval build-ups, that would have been an anathema to the earlier Republican partisans who worked in opposition to the Federalist leadership of George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton.  

One thing leaders of the majority did not do was share power with any Federalist supporters. This was a strong assertion and an actual practice of party politics in a time when the idea of vigorous political parties was still gaining acceptance in the United States. 

Says Hofstadter— “……However far they might go towards accepting old Federalist measures, they had no intention of accepting old Federalist men. They did not mind adopting a Federalist policy now and then, or bidding for the votes of the former Federalist rank and file, but they were intensely concerned not to haul aboard, along with this inert cargo, any live vipers.” 

The analogy of hauling aboard live vipers as part of the cargo reminded me of a book I read a few months ago called Out of Eden —An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion. This book, about invasive species all over the world, is by Alan Burdick and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Author Burdick writes at some length about the brown tree snake. The brown tree snake is a vicious creature that started out in Australia and Indonesia. Not long after World War II, this snake was accidentally transported to Guam. In Guam it has eaten most of the native bird population.

The brown tree snake can survive in tough conditions and there is concern it will be taken further around the globe in airplanes and in ships. Wherever this snake goes, it wreaks havoc on the native bird pollution and on other local animals.

It seems that 200 years ago Jefferson, Madison and Monroe saw Federalists in the same light that we see the brown tree snake today.

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Best Posts Jan.-June 2007, Books, Political History, Texas | Leave a comment