Federalist Party

Federalist Party

The Federalist Party was the first American
political party, from the early 1790s to 1816, the era of the First Party System, with remnants
lasting into the 1820s. The Federalists controlled the federal government until 1801. The party
was formed by George Washington, and between 1789–1797 it was built mainly with the support
of bankers and businessmen in order to support Hamilton’s fiscal policies. These supporters
grew into the Federalist Party committed to a fiscally sound and nationalistic government.
The United States’ only Federalist president was John Adams; although George Washington
was broadly sympathetic to the Federalist program, he remained an independent during
his entire presidency. The Federalist policies called for a national
bank, tariffs, and good relations with Britain as expressed in the Jay Treaty negotiated
in 1794. Hamilton developed the concept of implied powers, and successfully argued the
adoption of that interpretation of the United States Constitution. Led by Thomas Jefferson,
the Democratic-Republicans, their political opponents, denounced most of the Federalist
policies, especially the bank and implied powers, and vehemently attacked the Jay Treaty
as a sell-out of republican values to the British monarchy. The Jay Treaty passed, and
indeed the Federalists won most of the major legislative battles in the 1790s. They held
a strong base in the nation’s cities and in New England. The Democratic-Republicans, with
their base in the rural South, won the hard-fought election of 1800; the Federalists never returned
to power. They recovered some strength by intense opposition to the War of 1812; they
practically vanished during the Era of Good Feelings that followed the end of the war
in 1815. The Federalists left a lasting imprint as
they fashioned a strong new government with a sound financial base, and decisively shaped
Supreme Court policies for another three decades. Rise
On taking office in 1789 President Washington nominated New York lawyer Alexander Hamilton
to the office of Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton wanted a strong national government
with financial credibility. Hamilton proposed the ambitious Hamiltonian economic program
that involved assumption of the state debts incurred during the American Revolution, creating
a national debt and the means to pay it off, and setting up a national bank. James Madison,
Hamilton’s ally in the fight to ratify the United States Constitution, who would later
be joined by Thomas Jefferson, opposed Hamilton’s program. Political parties had not been anticipated
when the Constitution was drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1788, even though both Hamilton
and Madison played major roles. Parties were considered to be divisive and harmful to republicanism.
No similar parties existed anywhere in the world.
By 1790 Hamilton started building a nationwide coalition. Realizing the need for vocal political
support in the states, he formed connections with like-minded nationalists and used his
network of treasury agents to link together friends of the government, especially merchants
and bankers, in the new nation’s dozen major cities. His attempts to manage politics in
the national capital to get his plans through Congress, then, “brought strong responses
across the country. In the process, what began as a capital faction soon assumed status as
a national faction and then, finally, as the new Federalist party.” The Federalist Party
supported Hamilton’s vision of a strong centralized government, and agreed with his proposals
for a national bank and heavy government subsidies. In foreign affairs, they supported neutrality
in the war between France and Great Britain. The majority of the founding fathers were
originally federalists. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and many others
can all be considered federalists. These federalists knew that the Articles of Confederation had
been too weak to sustain a working government and had decided that a new form of government
was needed. When Alexander Hamilton was made Secretary of the Treasury and came up with
the idea of funding the debt he created a split in the original federalist group. James
Madison greatly disagreed with Hamilton, not just on this issue but on many others as well;
he and John Beckley created the Anti-Federalist faction. These men would eventually become
the Republicans under Thomas Jefferson. By 1792-94 newspapers started calling Hamilton
supporters “Federalists” and their opponents “Democrats,” “Republicans,” “Jeffersonians”,
or “Democratic-Republicans.” Jefferson’s supporters usually called themselves “Republicans” and
their party the “Republican Party.” The Federalist party became popular with businessmen and
New Englanders; Republicans were mostly farmers who opposed a strong central government . The
Congregationalists and the Episcopalians supported the Federalists, and other minority denominations
tended toward the Republican camp. Cities were usually Federalist; frontier regions
were heavily Republican. These are generalizations; there are special cases: the Presbyterians
of upland North Carolina, who had immigrated just before the Revolution, and often been
Tories, became Federalists. Catholics in Maryland were generally Federalists.
The state networks of both parties began to operate in 1794 or 1795. Patronage now became
a factor. The winner-take-all election system opened a wide gap between winners, who got
all the patronage, and losers, who got none. Hamilton had over 2000 Treasury jobs to dispense,
while Jefferson had one part-time job in the State Department, which he gave to journalist
Philip Freneau to attack the Federalists. In New York, however, George Clinton won the
election for governor and used the vast state patronage fund to help the Republican cause.
Washington tried and failed to moderate the feud between his two top cabinet members.
He was re-elected without opposition in 1792. The Democratic-Republicans nominated New York’s
Governor Clinton to replace Federalist John Adams as vice president, but Adams won. The
balance of power in Congress was close, with some members still undecided between the parties.
In early 1793, Jefferson secretly prepared resolutions introduced by William Branch Giles,
Congressman from Virginia, designed to repudiate Hamilton and weaken the Washington Administration.
Hamilton defended his administration of the nation’s complicated financial affairs, which
none of his critics could decipher until the arrival in Congress of the Republican Albert
Gallatin in 1793. Federalists counterattacked by claiming the
Hamiltonian program had restored national prosperity, as shown in one 1792 anonymous
newspaper essay: To what physical, moral, or political energy
shall this flourishing state of things be ascribed? There is but one answer to these
inquiries: Public credit is restored and established. The general government, by uniting and calling
into action the pecuniary resources of the states, has created a new capital stock of
several millions of dollars, which, with that before existing, is directed into every branch
of business, giving life and vigor to industry in its infinitely diversified operation. The
enemies of the general government, the funding act and the National Bank may bellow tyranny,
aristocracy, and speculators through the Union and repeat the clamorous din as long as they
please; but the actual state of agriculture and commerce, the peace, the contentment and
satisfaction of the great mass of people, give the lie to their assertions. Jefferson wrote on February 12, 1798:
Two political Sects have arisen within the U. S. the one believing that the executive
is the branch of our government which the most needs support; the other that like the
analogous branch in the English Government, it is already too strong for the republican
parts of the Constitution; and therefore in equivocal cases they incline to the legislative
powers: the former of these are called federalists, sometimes aristocrats or monocrats, and sometimes
tories, after the corresponding sect in the English Government of exactly the same definition:
the latter are stiled republicans, whigs, jacobins, anarchists, disorganizers, etc.
these terms are in familiar use with most persons.”
The term “Federalist” was considered by some to be misleading. Merrill Jensen, in his book
“The American Revolution Within America”, writes:
The supporters of the Constitution took the name “Federalists” and charged that its opponents
were “Antifederalist,” and so they are known today. Men at the time knew better. They denied
that the names reflected the real convictions of the men involved or the true nature of
the government provided for by the Constitution. In 1789 when James Madison proposed to insert
the word “national” in the part of the Bill of Rights providing that “no religion shall
be established by law,” Elbridge Gerry told Congress that the Antifederalists had objected
to the injustice of that name because they favored a federal government, while the Federalists
favored “a national one.” Madison’s use of the word “national” showed that he, too, agreed.
Party strength in Congress Many Congressmen were very hard to classify
in the first few years, but after 1796 there was more certainty,
Source: Kenneth C. Martis, The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States
Congress, 1789–1989; the numbers are estimates by historians.
The affiliation of many Congressmen in the earliest years is an assignment by later historians.
The parties were slowly coalescing groups; at first there were many independents. Cunningham
noted that only about a quarter of the House of Representatives, up until 1794, voted with
Madison as much as two-thirds of the time, and another quarter against him two-thirds
of the time, leaving almost half as fairly independent.
Effects of foreign affairs International affairs — the French Revolution
and the subsequent war between royalist Britain and republican France — decisively shaped
American politics in 1793–1800, and threatened to entangle the nation in wars that “mortally
threatened its very existence.” The French revolutionaries guillotined King Louis XVI
in January 1793, leading the British to declare war to restore the monarchy. The King had
been decisive in helping America achieve independence. Now he was dead and many of the pro-American
aristocrats in France were exiled or executed. Federalists warned that American republicans
threatened to replicate the horrors of the French Revolution, and successfully mobilized
most conservatives and many clergymen. The Republicans, some of whom had been strong
Francophiles, responded with support, even through the Reign of Terror, when thousands
were guillotined, though it was at this point that many began backing away from their pro-France
leanings. Many of those executed had been friends of the United States, such as the
Comte D’Estaing, whose fleet had fought alongside the Americans in the Revolution. The Republicans
denounced Hamilton, Adams, and even Washington as friends of Britain, as secret monarchists,
and as enemies of the republican values. The level of rhetoric reached a fever pitch.
Paris in 1793 sent a new minister, Edmond Charles Genêt, who systematically mobilized
pro-French sentiment and encouraged Americans to support France’s war against Britain and
Spain. Genêt funded local Democratic-Republican Societies that attacked Federalists. He hoped
for a favorable new treaty and for repayment of the debts owed to France. Acting aggressively,
Genêt outfitted privateers that sailed with American crews under a French flag and attacked
British shipping. He tried to organize expeditions of Americans to invade Spanish Louisiana and
Spanish Florida. When Secretary of State Jefferson told Genêt he was pushing American friendship
past the limit, Genêt threatened to go over the government’s head and rouse public opinion
on behalf of France. Even Jefferson agreed this was blatant foreign interference in domestic
politics. Genêt’s extremism seriously embarrassed the Jeffersonians and cooled popular support
for promoting the French Revolution and getting involved in its wars. Recalled to Paris for
execution, Genêt kept his head and instead went to New York, where he became a citizen
and married the daughter of Governor Clinton. Jefferson left office, ending the coalition
cabinet and allowing the Federalists to dominate. The Jay Treaty in 1794–95 was the effort
by Washington and Hamilton to resolve numerous difficulties with Britain. Some of these issues
dated to the Revolution, such as boundaries, debts owed in each direction, and the continued
presence of British forts in the Northwest Territory. In addition America hoped to open
markets in the British Caribbean and end disputes stemming from the naval war between Britain
and France. Most of all the goal was to avert a war with Britain — a war opposed by the
Federalists, that some historians claim the Jeffersonians wanted.
As a neutral party, the United States argued, it had the right to carry goods anywhere it
wanted. The British nevertheless seized American ships carrying goods from the French West
Indies. The Federalists favored Britain in the war, and by far most of America’s foreign
trade was with Britain; hence a new treaty was called for. The British agreed to evacuate
the western forts, open their West Indies ports to American ships, allow small vessels
to trade with the French West Indies, and set up a commission that would adjudicate
American claims against Britain for seized ships, and British claims against Americans
for debts incurred before 1775. One possible alternative was war with Britain, a war that
America was ill-prepared to fight. The Republicans wanted to pressure Britain
to the brink of war. Therefore they denounced the Jay Treaty as an insult to American prestige,
a repudiation of the French alliance of 1777, and a severe shock to Southern planters who
owed those old debts, and who were never to collect for the lost slaves the British captured.
Republicans protested against the treaty, but the Federalists controlled the Senate
and they ratified it by exactly the necessary ⅔ vote, 20–10, in 1795. The pendulum of
public opinion swung toward the Republicans after the Treaty fight, and in the South the
Federalists lost most of the support they had among planters.
Whiskey rebellion The excise tax of 1791 caused grumbling from
the frontier including threats of tax resistance. Corn, the chief crop on the frontier, was
too bulky to ship over the mountains to market, unless it was first distilled into whiskey.
This was profitable, as the United States population consumed, per capita, relatively
large quantities of liquor. After the excise tax, the backwoodsmen complained the tax fell
on them rather than on the consumers. Cash poor, they were outraged that they had been
singled out to pay off the “financiers and speculators” back East, and to salary the
federal revenue officers who began to swarm the hills looking for illegal stills.
Insurgents in western Pennsylvania shut the courts and hounded federal officials, but
Jeffersonian leader Albert Gallatin mobilized the western moderates, and thus forestalled
a serious outbreak. Washington, seeing the need to assert federal supremacy, called out
13,000 state militia, and marched toward Washington, Pennsylvania, to suppress this Whiskey Rebellion.
The rebellion evaporated in late 1794 as Washington approached, personally leading the army. The
rebels dispersed and there was no fighting. Federalists were relieved that the new government
proved capable of overcoming rebellion, while Republicans, with Gallatin their new hero,
argued there never was a real rebellion and the whole episode was manipulated in order
to accustom Americans to a standing army. Angry petitions flowed in from three dozen
Democratic-Republican Societies created by Citizen Genêt. Washington attacked the societies
as illegitimate; many disbanded. Federalists now ridiculed Republicans as “democrats” or
“Jacobins”. Washington refused to run for a third term,
establishing a two-term precedent that was to stand until 1940 and eventually to be enshrined
in the Constitution as the 22nd Amendment. Washington warned in his Farewell Address
against involvement in European wars, and lamented the rising North-South sectionalism
and party spirit in politics that threatened national unity. The party spirit, he lamented: serves always to distract the Public Councils,
and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies
and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally
riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find
a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus
the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another. Washington never considered himself a member
of any party. However, his personal beliefs were generally federalist, as were the policies
of his administration. Newspaper editors at war
To strengthen their coalitions and hammer away constantly at the opposition, both parties
sponsored newspapers in the capital and other major cities. On the Republican side, Philip
Freneau and Benjamin Franklin Bache blasted the administration with all the scurrility
at their command. Bache in particular targeted Washington himself as the front man for monarchy
who must be exposed. To Bache, Washington was a cowardly general and a money-hungry
baron who saw the Revolution as a means to advance his fortune and fame, Adams was a
failed diplomat who never forgave the French their love of Benjamin Franklin and who craved
a crown for himself and his descendants, and Alexander Hamilton was the most inveterate
monarchist of them all. The Federalists, with twice as many newspapers at their command,
slashed back with equal vituperation; John Fenno and “Peter Porcupine” were their nastiest
pensmen, and Noah Webster their most learned; Hamilton subsidized the Federalist editors,
wrote for their papers, and in 1801 established his own paper, the New York Evening Post.
Though his reputation waned considerably following his death, Joseph Dennie ran three of the
most popular and influential newspapers of the period, The Farmer’s Weekly Museum, the
Gazette of the United States and Port Folio. Adams administration, 1797–1801 Hamilton distrusted Vice President Adams —
who felt the same way about Hamilton — but was unable to block his claims to the
succession. The election of 1796 was the first partisan affair in the nation’s history, and
one of the more scurrilous in terms of newspaper attacks. Adams swept New England and Jefferson
the South, with the middle states leaning to Adams. Thus Adams was the winner by a margin
of three electoral votes, and Jefferson, as the runner-up, became Vice President under
the system set out in the Constitution prior to the ratification of the 12th Amendment.
Foreign affairs continued to be the central concern of American politics, for the war
raging in Europe threatened to drag in the United States. The new President was a loner,
who made decisions without consulting Hamilton or other High Federalists. Benjamin Franklin
once quipped that Adams was a man always honest, often brilliant, and sometimes mad. Adams
was popular among the Federalist rank and file, but had neglected to build state or
local political bases of his own, and neglected to take control of his own cabinet. As a result
his cabinet answered more to Hamilton than to himself.
Alien and Sedition Acts After an American delegation was insulted
in Paris in the XYZ affair, public opinion ran strongly against the French. An undeclared
“Quasi-War” with France from 1798 to 1800, saw each side attacking and capturing the
other’s shipping. It was called “quasi” because there was no declaration of war, but escalation
was a serious threat. The Federalists, at the peak of their popularity, took advantage
by preparing for an invasion by the French Army. To silence Administration critics, the
Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. The Alien Act empowered the
President to deport such aliens as he declared to be dangerous. The Sedition Act made it
a crime to print false, scandalous, and malicious criticisms of the federal government, but
it conspicuously failed to criminalize criticism of Vice President Thomas Jefferson. Several
Democratic-Republican newspaper editors were convicted under the Act and fined or jailed,
and three Democratic-Republican newspapers were shut down. During this period, Jefferson
and Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions passed by the two states’
legislatures, that declared the Alien and Sedition Acts unconstitutional, and insisted
the states had the power to nullify federal laws.
Undaunted, the Federalists created a navy, with new frigates, and a large new army, with
Washington in nominal command and Hamilton in actual command. To pay for it all they
raised taxes on land, houses and slaves, leading to serious unrest. In one part of Pennsylvania
the Fries’ Rebellion broke out, with people refusing to pay the new taxes. John Fries
was sentenced to death for treason, but received a pardon from Adams. In the elections of 1798
the Federalists did very well, but this issue started hurting the Federalists in 1799.
Early in 1799, Adams decided to free himself from Hamilton’s overbearing influence, stunning
the country and throwing his party into disarray by announcing a new peace mission to France.
The mission eventually succeeded, the “Quasi-War” ended, and the new army was largely disbanded.
Hamiltonians called Adams a failure, while Adams fired Hamilton’s supporters still in
the cabinet. Hamilton and Adams intensely disliked one
another, and the Federalists split between supporters of Hamilton and supporters of Adams.
Hamilton became embittered over his loss of political influence and wrote a scathing criticism
of Adams’ performance as President of the United States in an effort to throw Federalist
support to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; inadvertently this split the Federalists and helped give
the victory to Jefferson. Election of 1800 Adams’ peace moves proved popular with the
Federalist rank and file, and he seemed to stand a good chance of re-election in 1800.
If the Three-Fifths Compromise had not been enacted, he most likely would have won reelection
since many Federalist legislatures removed the right to select electors from their constituents
in fear of a Democratic victory. Jefferson was again the opponent and Federalists pulled
out all stops in warning that he was a dangerous revolutionary, hostile to religion, who would
weaken the government, damage the economy, and get into war with Britain. Many believed
that if Jefferson won the election it would be the end of the newly formed United States.
The Republicans crusaded against the Alien and Sedition laws, and the new taxes, and
proved highly effective in mobilizing popular discontent.
The election hinged on New York: its electors were selected by the legislature, and given
the balance of north and south, they would decide the presidential election. Aaron Burr
brilliantly organized his forces in New York City in the spring elections for the state
legislature. By a few hundred votes he carried the city—and thus the state legislature—and
guaranteed the election of a Democratic-Republican President. As a reward he was selected by
the Republican caucus in Congress as their vice presidential candidate. Hamilton, knowing
the election was lost anyway, went public with a sharp attack on Adams that further
divided and weakened the Federalists. Members of the Republican party planned to
vote evenly for Jefferson and Burr because they did not want for it to seem as if their
party was divided. The party took the meaning literally and Jefferson and Burr tied in the
election with 73 electoral votes. This sent the election to the House of Representatives
to break the tie. The Federalists had enough weight in the House to swing the election
in either direction. Many would rather have seen Burr in the office over Jefferson, but
Hamilton, who had a strong dislike of Burr, threw his political weight behind Jefferson.
During the election neither Jefferson nor Burr attempted to swing the election in the
House of Representatives. Jefferson remained at Monticello to oversee the laying of bricks
to a section of his home. Jefferson allowed for his political beliefs and other ideologies
to filter out through letters to his contacts. Thanks to Hamilton’s support Jefferson would
win the election and Burr would become his Vice President. Many Federalists held to the
belief that this was the end of the United States and that the experiment they had begun
had ended in failure. “We are all republicans—we are all federalists,” proclaimed Jefferson
in his inaugural address. This election marked the first time power had been transferred
between opposing political parties, an act that occurred, remarkably, without bloodshed.
Though there had been strong words and disagreements, contrary to the Federalists fears, there was
no war and no ending of one government system to let in a new one. His patronage policy
was to let the Federalists disappear through attrition. Those Federalists such as John
Quincy Adams and Rufus King willing to work with him were rewarded with senior diplomatic
posts, but there was no punishment of the opposition.
Jefferson had a very successful first term, typified by the Louisiana Purchase, which
was ironically supported by Hamilton but opposed by most Federalists at the time as unconstitutional.
Shortly before Hamilton’s death, some Federalist leaders began courting Jefferson’s Vice-President
and Hamilton’s nemesis Aaron Burr in an attempt to swing New York into an independent confederation
with the New England states, which along with New York were supposed to secede from the
United States after Burr’s election to Governor. However, Hamilton’s influence cost Burr the
governorship of New York, a key in the Essex Junto’s plan, just as Hamilton’s influence
had cost Burr the Presidency nearly 4 years before. Hamilton’s thwarting of Aaron Burr’s
ambitions for the second time was too much for Burr to bear. Hamilton had known of the
Essex Junto, and Burr’s plans and opposed them vehemently. This opposition by Hamilton
would lead to his fatal duel with Burr in July 1804.
The thoroughly disorganized Federalists hardly offered any opposition to Jefferson’s reelection
in 1804, after his successful first term. In New England and in some districts in the
middle states the Federalists clung to power, but the tendency from 1800 to 1812 was steady
slippage almost everywhere, as the Republicans perfected their organization and the Federalists
tried to play catch-up. Some younger leaders tried to emulate the Democratic-Republican
tactics, but their overall disdain of democracy along with the upper class bias of the party
leadership eroded public support. In the South, the Federalists steadily lost ground everywhere.
Federalists in opposition Jefferson administration The Federalists continued for several years
to be a major political party in New England and the Northeast, but never regained control
of the Presidency or the Congress. With the death of Washington and Hamilton, and the
retirement of Adams, the Federalists were left without a strong leader, beyond John
Marshall, whose appointment to the Supreme Court made him incapable of running for further
office. A few younger leaders did appear, notably Daniel Webster. Federalist policies
favored factories, banking, and trade over agriculture, and thus became unpopular in
the growing Western states. They were increasingly seen as aristocratic and unsympathetic to
democracy. In the South the party had lingering support in Maryland, but elsewhere was crippled
by 1800 and faded away by 1808. Massachusetts and Connecticut were the party
strongholds. Historian Richard J. Purcell explains how well organized the party was
in Connecticut: It was only necessary to perfect the working
methods of the organized body of office-holders who made up the nucleus of the party. There
were the state officers, the assistants, and a large majority of the Assembly. In every
county there was a sheriff with his deputies. All of the state, county, and town judges
were potential and generally active workers. Every town had several justices of the peace,
school directors and, in Federalist towns, all the town officers who were ready to carry
on the party’s work. Every parish had a “standing agent,” whose anathemas were said to convince
at least ten voting deacons. Militia officers, state’s attorneys, lawyers, professors and
schoolteachers were in the van of this “conscript army.” In all, about a thousand or eleven
hundred dependent officer-holders were described as the inner ring which could always be depended
upon for their own and enough more votes within their control to decide an election. This
was the Federalist machine. After 1800 the major Federalist role came
in the judiciary. Although Jefferson managed to repeal the Judiciary Act of 1801 and thus
dismiss many Federalist judges, their effort to impeach Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase
in 1804 failed. Led by the last great Federalist, John Marshall as Chief Justice from 1801 to
1835, the Supreme Court carved out a unique and powerful role as the protector of the
Constitution and promoter of nationalism. President Jefferson imposed an embargo on
Britain in 1807; the Embargo Act of 1807 prevented all American ships from sailing to a foreign
port. The idea was that the British were so dependent on American supplies that they would
come to terms. For 15 months the Embargo wrecked American export businesses, largely based
in the Boston-New York region, causing a sharp depression in the Northeast. Evasion was common
and Jefferson and Treasury Secretary Gallatin responded with tightened police controls more
severe than anything the Federalists had ever proposed. Public opinion was highly negative,
and a surge of support breathed fresh life into the Federalist party. The Republicans
nominated Madison for the presidency in 1808. Federalists, meeting in the first-ever national
convention, considered the option of nominating Vice President George Clinton as their own
candidate, but balked at working with him and again chose Charles Cotesworth Pinckney,
their 1804 candidate. Madison lost New England but swept the rest of the country and carried
a Republican Congress. Madison dropped the Embargo, opened up trade again, and offered
a carrot and stick approach. If either France or Britain agreed to stop their violations
of American neutrality, the U.S. would cut off trade with the other country. Tricked
by Napoleon into believing France had acceded to his demands, Madison turned his wrath on
Britain, and the War of 1812 began. Madison administration
Thus the nation was at war during the 1812 presidential election, and war was the burning
issue. Opposition to the war was strong in traditional federalist strongholds in New
England and New York, where the party made a comeback in the elections of 1812 and 1814.
In their second national convention, in 1812, the Federalists, now the peace party, nominated
DeWitt Clinton, the dissident Republican mayor of New York City, and an articulate opponent
of the war. Madison ran for reelection promising a relentless war against Britain and an honorable
peace. Clinton, denouncing Madison’s weak leadership and incompetent preparations for
war, could count on New England and New York. To win he needed the middle states and there
the campaign was fought out. Those states were competitive and had the best-developed
local parties and most elaborate campaign techniques, including nominating conventions
and formal party platforms. The Tammany Society in New York City highly favored Madison; the
Federalists finally adopted the club idea in 1808. Their Washington Benevolent Societies
were semi-secret membership organizations which played a critical role in every northern
state; they held meetings and rallies and mobilized Federalist votes. New Jersey went
for Clinton, but Madison carried Pennsylvania and thus was reelected with 59% of the Electoral
votes. However the Federalists gained 14 seats in Congress.
Opposition to the War of 1812 The War of 1812 went poorly for the Americans
for two years. Even though Britain was concentrating its military efforts on its war with Napoleon,
the United States still failed to make any headway on land, and was effectively blockaded
at sea by the Royal Navy. The British raided and burned Washington, D.C. in 1814 and sent
a force to capture New Orleans. The war was especially unpopular in New England:
the New England economy was highly dependent on trade, and the British blockade threatened
to destroy it entirely. In 1814, the British Navy finally managed to enforce their blockade
on the New England coast, so the Federalists of New England sent delegates to the Hartford
Convention in December 1814. During the proceedings of the Hartford Convention,
secession from the Union was discussed, though the resulting report listed a set of grievances
against the Democratic-Republican federal government and proposed a set of Constitutional
amendments to address these grievances. They demanded financial assistance from Washington
to compensate for lost trade and proposed constitutional amendments requiring a two-thirds
vote in Congress before an embargo could be imposed, new states admitted, or war declared.
It also indicated that if these proposals were ignored, then another convention should
be called and given “such powers and instructions as the exigency of a crisis may require”.
The Federalist Massachusetts Governor had already secretly sent word to England to broker
a separate peace accord. Three Massachusetts “ambassadors” were sent to Washington to negotiate
on the basis of this report. By the time the Federalist “ambassadors” got
to Washington, the war was over and news of Andrew Jackson’s stunning victory in the Battle
of New Orleans had raised American morale immensely. The “ambassadors” hastened back
to Massachusetts, but not before they had done fatal damage to the Federalist Party.
The Federalists were thereafter associated with the disloyalty and parochialism of the
Hartford Convention, and destroyed as a political force. They fielded their last presidential
candidate in 1816, and their last serious vice-presidential candidate in 1820. With
its passing partisan hatreds and newspaper feuds on the decline, the nation entered the
“Era of Good Feelings”, marked by the absence of all but one political party. After the
dissolution of the final Federalist congressional caucus in 1825, the last traces of Federalist
activity came in Delaware and Massachusetts state politics in the late 1820s, where in
1829 Harrison Gray Otis was elected Mayor of Boston, the last significant Federalist
office holder in the United States. As late as 1828 the party won control of the Delaware
state legislature, and as late as 1830 the Federalists controlled the Massachusetts Senate.
Interpretations Intellectually, Federalists, were profoundly
devoted to liberty. As Samuel Eliot Morison explained, they believed that liberty is inseparable
from union, that men are essentially unequal, that vox populi [voice of the people] is seldom
if ever vox Dei [the voice of God], and that sinister outside influences are busy undermining
American integrity. Oxford-trained British historian Patrick Allitt concludes that Federalists
promoted many positions that would form the baseline for later American conservatism,
including the rule of law under the Constitution, republican government, peaceful change through
elections, judicial supremacy, stable national finances, credible and active diplomacy, and
protection of wealth. The Federalists were dominated by businessmen
and merchants in the major cities who supported a strong national government. The party was
closely linked to the modernizing, urbanizing, financial policies of Alexander Hamilton.
These policies included the funding of the national debt and also assumption of state
debts incurred during the Revolutionary War, the incorporation of a national Bank of the
United States, the support of manufactures and industrial development, and the use of
a tariff to fund the Treasury. In foreign affairs, the Federalists opposed the French
Revolution, engaged in the “Quasi War” with France in 1798–99, sought good relations
with Britain and sought a strong army and navy. Ideologically the controversy between
Republicans and Federalists stemmed from a difference of principle and style. In terms
of style the Federalists distrusted the public, thought the elite should be in charge, and
favored national power over state power. Republicans distrusted Britain, bankers, merchants and
did not want a powerful national government. The Federalists, notably Hamilton, were distrustful
of “the people,” the French, and the Republicans. In the end, the nation synthesized the two
positions, adopting representative democracy and a strong nation state. Just as importantly,
American politics by the 1820s accepted the two-party system whereby rival parties stake
their claims before the electorate, and the winner takes control of majorities in state
legislatures and the Congress, and gains governorships and the presidency.
As time went on, the Federalists lost appeal with the average voter and were generally
not equal to the tasks of party organization; hence, they grew steadily weaker as the political
triumphs of the Republican Party grew. For economic and philosophical reasons, the Federalists
tended to be pro-British – the United States engaged in more trade with Great Britain than
with any other country – and vociferously opposed Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807 and
the seemingly deliberate provocation of war with Britain by the Madison Administration.
During “Mr. Madison’s War”, as they called it, the Federalists made a temporary comeback.
However they lost all their gains and more during the patriotic euphoria that followed
the war. The membership was aging rapidly, but a few young men from New England did join
the cause, most notably Daniel Webster. After 1816 the Federalists had no national
power base apart from John Marshall’s Supreme Court. They had some local support in New
England, New York, eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. After the collapse of the Republican
Party in the course of the 1824 presidential election, most surviving Federalists joined
former Republicans like Henry Clay to form the National Republican Party, which was soon
combined with other anti-Jackson groups to form the Whig Party in 1833. Some former Federalists
like James Buchanan, Louis McLane and Roger B. Taney became Jacksonian Democrats.
The “Old Republicans,” led by John Randolph of Roanoke, refused to form a coalition with
the Federalists and instead set up a separate opposition since Jefferson, Madison, Gallatin,
Monroe, John C. Calhoun and Clay had in effect adopted Federalist principles of implied powers
to purchase the Louisiana Territory, and after the failures and lessons of the War of 1812,
raised tariffs to protect factories, chartered the Second national bank, promoted a strong
army and navy and promoted internal improvements. All these measures were opposed to the strict
construction of the constitution, which was the formal basis of the republicans; but the
drift of the party to support them could not be checked. It was aided by the supreme court,
whose influence as a nationalizing factor now first became apparent. The whole change
reconciled the federalists to their absorption into the republican party. Indeed, they claimed,
with considerable show of justice, that the absorption was in the other direction: that
the republicans had recanted; and that the “Washington-Monroe policy,” as they termed
it after 1820, was all that federalists had ever desired.
The name “Federalist” came increasingly to be used in political rhetoric as a term of
abuse, and was denied by the Whigs, who pointed out that their leader Henry Clay was the Republican
party leader in Congress during the 1810s. See also
List of political parties in the United States Democratic-Republican Party
First Party System Federalist Era
Essex Junto Blue light federalists
Port-Folio Bibliography
Ben-Atar, Doron S., and Liz B. MacMillan, eds. Federalists Reconsidered
Banner, James M.. To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics
in Massachusetts, 1789–1815.  Beeman, Richard R.. The Old Dominion and the
New Nation, 1788–1801.  Broussard, James H.. The Southern Federalists:
1800–1816.  Buel, Richard, Jr.. Securing the Revolution:
Ideology in American Politics, 1789–1815. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-0705-2. 
Chambers, William Nisbet. Political Parties in a New Nation: The American Experience,
1776–1809 William Chambers, ed., ed.. The First Party
System: Federalists and Republicans. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-14340-5. 
Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. Penguin Books. ISBN 1-59420-009-2. 
Chernow, Ron. Washington: A Life Cunningham, Noble E., Jr.. The Making of the
American Party System 1789 to 1809.  Elkins, Stanley; Eric McKitrick. The Age of
Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788–1800. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506890-4. ,
the most detailed history of 1790s Ferling, John. John Adams: A Life
Fischer, David Hackett. The Revolution of American Conservatism: The Federalist Party
in the Era of Jeffersonian Democracy.  Formisano, Ronald. The Transformation of Political
Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s–1840s.  Formisano, Ronald P. “State Development in
the Early Republic,” in Boyd Shafer and Anthony Badger, eds. Contesting Democracy: Substance
and Structure in American Political History, 1775–2000, pp. 7–35.
Fox, Dixon Ryan. The Decline of Aristocracy in the Politics of New York, 1801–1840.
Longmans, Green & Co., agents. ASIN B000863CHY.  Hickey, Donald R. “Federalist Party Unity
and the War of 1812.” Journal of American Studies 12#1 pp: 23-39
vol 4 of Richard Hildreth, History of the United States covering 1790s
Humphrey, Carol Sue. The Press of the Young Republic, 1783–1833. 
Jensen, Richard. “Federalist Party,” in Encyclopedia of Third Parties
Knudson, Jerry W. Jefferson And the Press: Crucible of Liberty how 4 Republican and 4
Federalist papers covered election of 1800; Thomas Paine; Louisiana Purchase; Hamilton-Burr
duel; impeachment of Chase; and the embargo McCormick, Richard P.. The Second Party System:
Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era.  details the collapse state by state
McCullough, David. John Adams. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-2313-6. 
McDonald, Forrest. The Presidency of George Washington. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-7006-0110-4. 
Mason, Matthew, “Federalists, Abolitionists, and the Problem of Influence,” American Nineteenth
Century History 10, 1–27. Miller, John C.. The Federalist Era: 1789–1801.
Harper. ISBN 1-57766-031-5.  general survey Mitchell, Broadus. Alexander Hamilton: The
National Adventure, 1788–1804. McMillan.  Morison, Samuel Eliot. Harrison Gray Otis,
1765-1848: The Urbane Federalist Jeffrey L. Pasley, et al. eds., ed.. Beyond
the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic. 
Norman Risjord, ed., ed.. The Early American Party System. Harper & Row. 
Risjord, Norman K. “The Virginia Federalists,” Journal of Southern History Vol. 33, No. 4,
pp. 486–517 in JSTOR Sharp, James Rogers. American Politics in
the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. Yale University Press. , detailed political
history of 1790s Sheehan, Colleen. “Madison v. Hamilton: The
Battle Over Republicanism and the Role of Public Opinion” American Political Science
Review 2004 98(3): 405–24. in JSTOR Siemers, David J. ”Ratifying the Republic:
Antifederalists and Federalists in Constitutional Time(2002)
Smelser, Marshall. The Democratic Republic 1801–1815.  general survey
Theriault, Sean M. “Party Politics during the Louisiana Purchase,” Social Science History
2006 30(2):293-324; doi:10.1215/01455532-30-2-293 Tinkcom, Harry M.. The Republicans and Federalists
in Pennsylvania, 1790–1801.  Waldstreicher, David. “The Nationalization
and Racialization of American Politics: 1790–1840,” in Boyd Shafer and Anthony Badger, eds. Contesting
Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775–2000, pp. 37–83.
Wood, Gordon S. Empire of Liberty: A history of the Early Republic, 1789-1815
References External links
Media related to Federalist Party at Wikimedia Commons
A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns 1787–1825

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2 thoughts on “Federalist Party

  1. Hamilton sold Federalism on the idea that representative government would prevent factionalization, but the party system that he helped create did exactly that.

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