From the WSJ Jason Willick interviews historian Gordon Wood, Polarization Is an Old American Story;
Mr. Wood has written that most of the Founders “who lived on into the early decades of the nineteenth century expressed anxiety over what they had wrought.” Federalists rued the excesses of democracy, which undermined their aspirations for classical deliberative politics. “People began saying, look, if I don’t have people of my own kind in the government, I don’t feel confident,” Mr. Wood says. “You don’t trust people who aren’t like you, and that’s what feeds the anti-elitism,” which today takes the forms of populism and identity politics.
As for the Republicans, the federal government grew beyond anything they imagined. Today, limited government is associated with conservatism, “whereas in the late 18th century, it’s the radical position.” Jefferson believed a strong state would exacerbate unearned privilege and lead to monarchy. Yet America’s sprawling government today—the welfare state at home and military abroad—largely exists to promote Jeffersonian values of equality and American exceptionalism.
Irony is almost synonymous with history. Jefferson feared a large central government, but could not foresee a central government with Jeffersonian values.