Federalist Party
Name Federalist Party
Establishment 1794
Dissolved 1823
Symbol Cockade
Color Black
Alexander Hamilton

The Mind behind the Federalist Party

The Federalist Party was led by John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and John Marshall, developing out of the political group which fought for a stronger federal government through the ratification of the constitution. In reaction to this party (which preferred not to think of themselves as a party, but rather as above all divisive politics), the forces opposing the ratification of the constitution formed the party then known as the Democratic-Republican Party (which morphed into the current Democratic Party after Andrew Jackson's election to the presidency,the modern Republican Party developing primarily out of other sources).

The Rise of the Federalist PartyEdit

When George Washington took office in 1789, he nominated the New York lawyer Alexander Hamilton to the office of Secetary of the Treasury. Hamilton desired a strong national government with finacial credibility, and proposed an ambitious economic program involving the assumption of the state debts incurred during the American Revolution by the federal government and the creation of national bank, creating both a national debt and the means of paying it off. James Madison, once Hamilton's ally in the fight to ratify the United States Constitution, joined with Thomas Jefferson in opposing this program of Hamilton's program. Political parties at this point were considered to be divisive and harmful to republicanism, as no similar political parties existed elsewhere in the world at the time.

Washington was known for being sympathetic to the Federalist policies of Hamilton than to Jefferson's proposed policies, but he was remained a political independent during his two terms in office, who attempted to reconcile the diverse interests of the two developing political parties in order to promote the good of the entire nation in the manner then expected. However, despite his efforts he failed to moderate the feud between his top cabinent members; with John Adams going on to be elected as the second president by the Federalist Party and Thomas Jefferson as the third by the Democratic-Republican Party. Ironically, due to the way the election process worked back then, Thomas Jefferson also served as a Democratic-Republican Vice President under the Federalist President John Adams, despite their clearly divsive interests and declared opposition to one another's policies.

Whiskey rebellionEdit

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 Pittsburgh to suppress this Whiskey Rebellion. The rebellion evaporated in late 1794 as Washington approached, personally leading the army (only two sitting Presidents have directly led American military forces, Washington during the Whiskey Rebellion and Madison in an attempt to save the White House during the War of 1812). The rebels dispersed and there was no fighting. Federalists were relieved that the new government proved capable of overcoming rebellion, while Democratic-Republicans, with Gallatin as 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, and many disbanded. Federalists now began ridiculing the Democratic-Republicans as "democrats" (meaning in favor of mob rule) or "Jacobins" (as a reference to The Terror in France).

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." In accordance with this, Washington refused to consider himself a member of any party, although in retrospect he is usually regarded as a Federalist because of greater tendency to side with Hamilton than with Jefferson.

Foreign Affaris Edit

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 were thought to "mortally threaten 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 because of the long hatred held between the monarchies of the two European countries, and with him dead and many of pro-American aristocrats in France exiled or executed the U.S. lost a strong national ally across the Atlantic. Federalist used this oppurtunity to imply that the Democratic-Republican Party of America threatened to replicate the horrors of the revolution in France, mobilizing most conservatives and many clergymen to their side. The Democratic-Republicans, some of whom had been strong Francophiles, responded with support, even through the Reign of Terror when thousands were guillotined.Many of those executed in this terrible regime had been friends of the United States, such as the Comte D'Estaing, whose fleet defeated the British at Yorktown. (Lafayette had already fled into exile, and Thomas Paine went to prison in France.) The Republicans in turn denounced Hamilton, Adams, and even George Washington himself as friends of Britain, as secret monarchists, and as enemies of the republican values (which was to spell the end of the friendship the first president once had with the third).

Paris in 1793 sent a new minister, Edmond Charles Genêt ("Citizen 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. The French minister 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. 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 (and assumed that America could defeat a weak Britain).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 once had from the slaveocracy.

John Adams administration: 1797-1801 Edit

Hamilton and Vice President Adams distrusted one another, but the former was unable to block the latter's claims to succession. The election of 1796 was the first partisan affair in the nation's history (the election and re-election of Washington being unanimous), 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.

After an American delegation was insulted in Paris in the XYZ affair (1797), 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, and in turn Adams fired Hamilton's supporters still in the cabinet.

Because Hamilton and Adams disliked one another so intensely, the Federalists split between supporters of Hamilton ("High Federalists") 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.

Opposition to the War of 1812Edit

The War of 1812 was unpopular in New England, as their economy was highly dependent on trade, which the British blockade threatened to destory entirely. When the Bristish Navy finally managed to enforce said blockade along the New England coast in 1814, the Federalists of New England sent delegates to the Hartford Convention in December of the year.

During these proceedings, the Federalists discussed secession from the Union, though the end result was a listing of their set of grievances against the Democratic-Republican federal government and the proposal of a set of Constitutional amendments to address said 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 had raised American morale immensely. The "ambassadors" slunk 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. Their last serious presidential candidate was Rufus King in the year of 1816, and their last serious vice-presidential candidate was Richard Stockton in 1820. With the passing of partisan hatreds and newspaper feuds on the decline, the nation entered what became known as the "Era of Good Feelings", marked by the absence of all but one political party:the Democratic-Republican Party. After the dissolution of the final Federalist congressional caucus in 1825, the last traces of Federalist activity came in Delaware state politics in the late 1820s, where in 1826 Governor Charles Polk, Jr. was elected, the last significant Federalist office holder in the United States, and as late as 1828 the party won control of the legislature.

Positions on the IssuesEdit

  • The Federalist party favored a stronger central government as opposed to stronger individual states.
  • The Federalist party was typically associated with the aristocracy, fighting for central development of industry over agriculture.
  • Federalists typically favored allying with imperialist Great Britain over revolutionary France.
  • Federalist believed that "liberty was inseparable from union, that men are essentially unequal, that the voice of the people is seldom if ever the voice of God, and that sinister outside influences are busy undermining American integrity". The Federalists distrusted the public and thus thought the elite should be in charge for the public's own good.
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