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Fisher Ames

From 1758
 to 1808

Fisher Ames, of Dedham in Massachusetts, was one of the most eloquent Federalists at the time of America's birth. An ardent opponent of Jeffersonian democracy, Ames feared the worst for the new nation, predicting spiritual decay and social anarchy.

As a member of the Federalist contingent of American revolutionaries, he strongly supported property rights and looked with favor upon the aristocratic character of his party. He was, as John Quincy Adams remarked, a stern moralist-a result of his Calvinist upbringing. Some of his colleagues in the Federalist Party, among them Hamilton and Marshall, advocated economic and territorial expansion inspired by a strong nationalist spirit, a program Ames vehemently opposed.

In The Dangers of American Liberty can be found his most articulate and closely-reasoned political apologia. Published posthumously, his words prescribed the role of government to be the protection of property and the maintenance of social stability. Such requirements, he wrote, could not be fulfilled in a democracy because they are based on two fallacious assumptions: the sufficiency of political virtue and the existence of a constant public morality. Democratic politics requires an appeal to the passions and the simplicity of men, creating conditions under which despotism can reign. Fundamentally, private morality, not constitutions, establish and maintain political stability.

Despite his excessive fears of immanent tyranny, Ames' ever present warnings serve to remind us of the centrality of public morality to the preservation of liberty and maintenance of political and social harmony.