First Party System

First Party System

The First Party System is a term of periodization used by some political scientists and historians to describe the political system existing in the United States between roughly 1792 and 1824. It featured two national parties competing for control of the presidency, Congress, and the states: the Federalist Party (created by Alexander Hamilton) and the Democratic-Republican Party (created by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison).

The First Party System ended during the Era of Good Feelings (1816-1824), as the Federalists shrank to a few isolated strongholds. In 1824-28, as the Second Party System emerged, the Democratic-Republican Party split into the Jacksonian faction, which became the modern Democratic Party in the 1830s, and the Henry Clay faction, which was absorbed by Clay's Whig Party.

Federalists versus Anti-Federalists in 1787-88

Leading nationalists, led by George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, called the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It drew up a new constitution that was submitted to state ratification conventions for approval. (The old Congress of the Confederation approved the process.) James Madison was the most prominent figure; he is often referred to as "the father of the Constitution." [Morris "The Forging of the Union: 1781-1789" pp 267-97. ]

An intense debate on ratification pitted the "Federalists" against the "Anti-Federalists," with the former gaining the upper hand. The Anti-Federalists were deeply concerned about the theoretical danger of a strong central government (like that of Britain) that some day could usurp the rights of the states. Madison and Alexander Hamilton countered toward a strong central government, especially those promoted by Hamilton.

The term "Federalist Party" originated around 1792-3 and refers to a somewhat different coalition of supporters of the Constitution in 1787-88 as well as entirely new elements, and even some opponents of the Constitution (such as Patrick Henry). Madison largely wrote the Constitution and thus was a Federalist in 1787-88, but opposed the program of the Hamiltonians and their new "Federalist Party."

Washington Administration (1789–1797)

At first, there were no parties in the nation. Factions soon formed around dominant personalities such as Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who opposed Hamilton's broad vision of a powerful federal government. Jefferson especially objected to Hamilton's flexible view of the Constitution, which Hamilton stretched to include a national bank. Washington was re-elected without opposition in 1792.

Hamilton built a national network of supporters that emerged about 1792–93 as the Federalist Party. In response, Jefferson and James Madison built a network of supporters of the republic in Congress and in the states that emerged in 1792-93 as the Democratic-Republican Party. The elections of 1792 were the first to be contested on anything resembling a partisan basis. In most states, the congressional elections were recognized in some sense, as Jefferson strategist John Beckley put it, as a "struggle between the Treasury department and the republican interest." In New York, the race for governor was organized along these lines. The candidates were John Jay, who was a Hamiltonian, and incumbent George Clinton, who was allied with Jefferson and the Republicans. [Elkins and McKitrick, p. 288]

In 1793, the first Democratic-Republican Societies were formed. They supported the French Revolution, which had just seen the execution of King Louis XVI, and generally supported the Jeffersonian cause. The word "democrat" was proposed by Citizen Genet for the societies, and the Federalists ridiculed Jefferson's friends as "democrats." After Washington denounced the societies as unrepublican, they mostly faded away.

In 1793, war broke out between England, France, and their European allies. The Jeffersonians favored France and pointed to the 1778 treaty that was still in effect. Washington and his unanimous cabinet (including Jefferson) decided the treaty did not bind the U.S. to enter the war; instead Washington proclaimed neutrality.

When war threatened with Britain in 1794, Washington sent John Jay to negotiate the Jay treaty with Britain; it was signed in late 1794, and ratified in 1795. It averted a possible war and settled many (but not all) the outstanding issues between the U.S. and Britain., [Elkins and McKitrick, 405-12] the Jeffersonians vehemently denounced it, saying it threatened to undermine republicanism by giving the aristocratic British and their Federalist allies too much influence. [Elkins and McKitrick, 417-8; Goodman (1964) 71-2.] The fierce debates over the Jay Treaty in 1794-96 according to William Nisbet Chanbers, nationalized politics and turned a faction in Congress into a nationwide party. To fight the treaty the Jeffersonians "established coordination in activity between leaders at the capital, and leaders, actives and popular followings in the states, counties and towns." [ Chambers, "Political Parties" p. 80]

In 1796 Jefferson challenged John Adams for the presidency and lost. The Electoral College made the decision, and it was chosen by the state legislatures, which still lacked parties.

Newspapers as party weapons

By 1796, both parties had a national network of newspapers, which attacked each other vehemently. The Federalist and Republican newspapers of the 1790s traded vicious barbs against their enemies. An example is this doggerel from a Democratic-Republican paper: ["Independent Chronicle" (Boston), 16 October 1797 quoted in Carol Sue Humphrey, "The Revolutionary Era: Primary Documents on Events from 1776 to 1800" (2003) p, 260]
*ASK—who lies here beneath this monument?
*L o!—’tis a self created MONSTER, who
*E mbraced all vice. His arrogance was like
*X erxes, who flogg’d the disobedient sea,
*A dultery his smallest crime; when he
*N obility affected. This privilege
*D ecreed by Monarchs, was to that annext.
*E nticing and entic’d to ev’ry fraud,
*R enounced virtue, liberty and God.
*H aunted by whores—he haunted them in turn
*A ristocratic was this noble Goat
*M onster of monsters, in pollution skill’d
*I mmers’d in mischief, brothels, funds & banks
*L ewd slave to lust,—afforded consolation;
*T o mourning whores, and tory-lamentation.
*O utdid all fools, tainted with royal name;
*N one but fools, their wickedness proclaim.

Party Strength in Congress

Historians have used statistical techniques to estimate the party breakdown in Congress. Many Congressmen were hard to classify in the first few years, but after 1796 there was less uncertainty. The first parties were anti-federalist and federalist.

Federalist and Democratic-Republican Strength in Congress by Election YearSource: Kenneth C. Martis, "The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress, 1789-1989" (1989); the numbers are estimates by historians.

Inventing campaign techniques

The Jeffersonians invented many of campaign techniques that were later adopted by the Federalists and became standard American practice. They were especially effective in building a network of newspapers in major cities to broadcast their statements and editorialize in their favor. But the Federalists, with a strong base among merchants, controlled more newspapers. In 1796 the Federalist papers outnumbered the Republicans by 4-1. Every year more papers began publishing; in 1800 the Federalists still had a 2-1 numerical advantage. Most papers, on each side, were weeklies with a circulation of 300 to 1000. [ Stewart, "Opposition Press, p. 622] Jefferson systematically subsidized the editors. Fisher Ames, a leading Federalist, who used the term "Jacobin" to link Jefferson's followers to the terrorists of the French Revolution, blamed the newspapers for electing Jefferson. They were, he wrote, "an overmatch for any Government.... The Jacobins owe their triumph to the unceasing use of this engine; not so much to skill in use of it as by repetition." [Cunningham, 1957 p 167] Historians echo Ames' assessment. As one explains, "It was the good fortune of the Republicans to have within their ranks a number of highly gifted political manipulators and propagandists. Some of them had the ability... to not only see and analyze the problem at hand but to present it in a succinct fashion; in short, to fabricate the apt phrase, to coin the compelling slogan and appeal to the electorate on any given issue in language it could understand." Outstanding phrasemakers included editor William Duane and party leaders Albert Gallatin, Thomas Cooper and of course Jefferson himself. [Tinkcom 271] Meanwhile John J. Beckley of Pennsylvania, an ardent partisan, invented new campaign techniques (such as mass distribution of pamphlets and handwritten ballots) that generated the grass-roots support and unprecedented levels of voter turnout for the Jeffersonians.

War threats with Britain and France

With the world thrown into global warfare after 1793, the small nation on the fringe of the European system could barely remain neutral. The Jeffersonians called for strong measures against Britain, even another war. The Federalists tried to avert war by the Jay Treaty (1795) with England. The treaty became highly controversial when the Jeffersonians denounced it as a sell-out to Britain, even as the Federalists said it avoided war, reduced the Indian threat, created good trade relations with the world's foremost economic power, and ended lingering disputes from the Revolutionary War. When Jefferson came to power in 1801 he honored the treaty, but new disputes with England led to the War of 1812. [Miller, "Federalist Era" pp 165-78]

In 1798 the disputes with France led to a Quasi-War, an undeclared naval war involving the navies and merchant ships of both countries. Democratic-Republicans said France really wanted peace, but the XYZ Affair undercut their position. Warning that full-scale war with France was imminent, Hamilton and his "High Federalist" allies forced the issue by getting Congressional approval to raise a large new army (which Hamilton controlled), replete with officers' commissions (which he bestowed on his partisans). The Alien and Sedition Acts (1798) clamped down on dissenters, including pro-Jefferson editors, and Vermont Congressman Matthew Lyon, who won re-election while in jail in 1798. In the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions (1798), secretly drafted by Madison and Jefferson, the legislatures of the two states challenged the power of the federal government. [Miller, "Federalist Era" pp 210-43]

Jefferson and the revolution of 1800

Madison worked diligently to form party lines inside the Congress and build coalitions with sympathetic political factions in each state. In 1800, a critical election galvanized the electorate, sweeping the Federalists out of power, and electing Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party. Adams made a few last minute appointments, notably Federalist John Marshall as Chief Justice, a post he held for three decades and used it to federalize the Constitution, much to Jefferson's dismay. [Miller, "Federalist Era" pp 251-77]

As president, Jefferson worked to cleanse the government of Adam's "midnight" Federalist appointments just before Jefferson took office. He withheld the commissions of 25 of 42 midnight appointment judges and removed Army officers. The sense that the nation needed two rival parties to balance each other had not been fully accepted by either party; Hamilton had viewed Jefferson's election as the failure of the Federalist experiment. The rhetoric of the day was cataclysmic—election of the opposition meant the enemy would ruin the nation. Jefferson's foreign policy was not exactly pro-Napoleon, but it applied pressure on Britain to stop impressment of American sailors and other hostile acts. By engineering an embargo of trade against Britain, Jefferson and Madison plunged the nation into economic depression, ruined much of the business of Federalist New England, and finally precipitated the War of 1812 with a much larger and more powerful foe. [ Smelser, "Democratic Republic"]

The Federalists vigorously criticized the government, and gained strength in the industrial Northeast. However, they committed a major blunder in 1814. That year the semi-secret "Hartford Convention" passed resolutions that verged on secession; their publication ruined the Federalist party. It had been limping along for years, with strength in New England and scattered eastern states but practically no strength in the West. While Federalists helped invent or develop numerous campaign techniques (such as conventions), their elitist bias alienated the seqouia middle class, thus allowing the Jeffersonians to claim they represented the true spirit of "republicanism." [ Banner, "To the Hartford Convention" (1970)]

tate parties

Because of the importance of foreign policy (decided by the national government), of the sale of national lands, and the patronage controlled by the President, the factions in each state realigned themselves in parallel with the Federalists and Republicans. Some newspaper editors became powerful politicians, such as Thomas Ritchie, whose "Richmond Junto" controlled Virginia state politics for decades.

New England was always the stronghold of the Federalist party. One historian explains how well organized it 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.... 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." [Richard J. Purcell, "Connecticut in Transition: 1775-1818" 1963. p. 190.]

Given the power of the Federalists, the Republicans had to work harder to win. In 1806, the state leadership sent town leaders instructions for the forthcoming elections. Every town manager was told by state leaders "to appoint a district manager in each district or section of his town, obtaining from each an assurance that he will faithfully do his duty." Then the town manager was instructed to compile lists and total up the number of taxpayers, the number of eligible voters, how many were "decided republicans," "decided federalists," or "doubtful," and finally to count the number of supporters who were not currently eligible to vote but who might qualify (by age or taxes) at the next election. The returns eventually went to the state manager, who issues directions to laggard town to get all the eligibles to the town meetings, help the young men qualify to vote, to nominate a full ticket for local elections, and to print and distribute the party ticket. (The secret ballot did not appear for a century. ) [Noble E. Cunningham, Jr. "The Jeffersonian Republicans in Power: Party Operations 1801-1809" (1963) p 129] This highly coordinated "get-out-the-vote" drive would be familiar to modern political campaigners, but was the first of its kind in world history.

Religious tensions polarized Connecticut, as the established Congregational Church, in alliance with the Federalists, tried to maintain its grip on power. Dissenting groups moved toward the Jeffersonians. The failure of the Hartford Convention in 1814 wounded the Federalists, who were finally upended by the Democratic-Republicans in 1817.

Era of Good Feelings

By 1800, the United States had the first two-party system in the world. The First Party System was built around foreign policy issues that vanished with the defeat of Napoleon and the compromise settlement of the War of 1812. Furthermore, the fears that Federalists were plotting to reintroduce aristocracy dissipated. Thus an "Era of Good Feelings" under James Monroe replaced the high-tension politics of the First Party System about 1816. Personal politics and factional disputes could occasionally still get nasty, but Americans no longer thought of themselves in terms of political parties.

Historians have debated the exact ending of the system. [Skeen (1993), p. 77] Most concluded it petered out by 1820. The little state of Delaware, largely isolated from the larger political forces controlling the nation, saw the First Party System continue well into the 1820s, with the Federalists occasionally winning some offices. For the rest of the nation, the contributions of the founding fathers of political parties had been completed—and thus it seems symbolic that Adams and Jefferson died on the same day (4 July 1826), even on their deathbeds acknowledging the other's remarkable contributions.

Legitimacy of a party system

Alexander Hamilton felt that only by mobilizing its supporters on a daily basis in every state on many issues could support for the government be sustained through thick and thin. Newspapers were needed to communicate inside the party; patronage helped the party's leaders and made new friends. Hamilton, and especially Washington, distrusted the idea of an opposition party, as shown in George Washington's Farewell Address of 1796. They thought opposition parties would only weaken the nation. By contrast Jefferson was the main force behind the creation and continuity of an opposition party. He deeply felt the Federalists represented aristocratic forces hostile to true republicanism and the true will of the people, as he explained in a letter to Henry Lee in 1824:Hofstadter (1970) shows it took many years for the idea to take hold that having two parties is better than having one, or none. That transition was made possible by the successful passing of power in 1801 from one party to the other. Although Jefferson systematically identified Federalist army officers and officeholders, he was blocked from removing all of them by protests from republicans. The Quids complained he did not go far enough.

ee also

*American election campaigns in the 19th century
*Second Party System


* "Encyclopedia of the New American Nation, 1754–1829" ed. by Paul Finkelman (2005), 1600 pp.
* Banning, Lance. "The Jeffersonian Persuasion: Evolution of a Party Ideology" (1978)
* Ben-Atar, Doron and Barbara B. Oberg, eds. "Federalists Reconsidered" (1999), topical essays by scholars
* Beard, Charles A. "The Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy" (1915) [ online edition]
* Bowling, Kenneth R. and Donald R. Kennon, eds. "Perspectives on the History of Congress, 1789-1801." (2000)
* Brown, Roger H. "The Republic in Peril: 1812" (1964), stresses intense hostility between partisans [ online edition]
* Brown; Stuart Gerry. "The First Republicans: Political Philosophy and Public Policy in the Party of Jefferson and Madison" Syracuse University Press. (1954) [ online] .
* Buel, Richard. "Securing the Revolution: Ideology in American Politics, 1789–1815" (1972)
* Chambers, William Nisbet, ed. "The First Party System" (1972)
* Chambers, William Nisbet. "Political Parties in a New Nation: The American Experience, 1776–1809" (1963), political science perspective
* Charles, Joseph. "The Origins of the American Party System" (1956), reprints articles in "William and Mary Quarterly"
* Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. "Jeffersonian Republicans: The Formation of Party Organization: 1789–1801" (1957), highly detailed party history
* Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. "The Jeffersonian Republicans in Power: Party Operations 1801–1809" (1963), highly detailed party history
* Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. "The Process of Government Under Jefferson" (1978)
* Dawson, Matthew Q. "Partisanship and the Birth of America's Second Party, 1796-1800: Stop the Wheels of Government." [ Greenwood, (2000) online version]
* Dinkin, Robert J. "Campaigning in America: A History of Election Practices." [ (Greenwood 1989) online version]
* Elkins, Stanley and Eric McKitrick. "The Age of Federalism" [ (1995) online version] , the standard highly detailed political history of 1790s
* John Ferling; "A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic." [ Oxford University Press. (2003) online version] ; survey
*Fischer, David Hackett. "The Revolution of American Conservatism: The Federalist Party in the Era of Jeffersonian Democracy" (1965)
* Freeman, Joanne B. "The Election of 1800: A Study in the Logic of Political Change." "Yale Law Journal." Volume: 108. Issue: 8. 1999. pp : 1959-1994.
* Goodman, Paul. "The Democratic-Republicans of Massachusetts: Politics in a Young Republic" (1964)
* Goodman, Paul. "The First American Party System" in William Nisbet Chambers and Walter Dean Burnham, eds. "The American Party Systems: Stages of Political Development" (1967), 56–89.
* Hoadley, John F. "the Emergence of Political Parties in Congress, 1789-1803." "American Political Science Review" (1980) 74(3): 757-779. ISSN 0003-0554 Fulltext in Jstor. Looks at the agreement among members of Congress in their roll-call voting records. Multidimensional scaling shows the increased clustering of congressmen into two party blocs from 1789 to 1803, especially after the Jay Treaty debate; shows politics was moving away from sectionalism to organized parties.
* Hofstadter, Richard. "The Idea of a Party System: The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States, 1780-1840" (1970)
* Kerber, Linda K. "Federalists in Dissent: Imagery and ideology in Jeffersonian America" (1970)
* [ Luetscher, George D. "Early Political Machinery in the United States" (1903) online]
* Miller, John C. "The Federalist Era: 1789-1801" (1960), survey of political history
* Pasley, Jeffrey L. et al eds. "Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic" (2004), topical essays by scholars
* Norman K. Risjord; "Chesapeake Politics, 1781-1800" (1978), covers Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina; [ online edition]
* Sharp, James Roger. "American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis" (1993), political narrative of 1790s
* Skeen, Carl Edward. "1816: America Rising" (1993)
* Smelser, Marshall. "The Democratic Republic, 1801-1815" (1968) (ISBN 0-06-131406-4) survey of political and diplomatic history
* Wilentz, Sean. "The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln." (2005), broad-scale interpretation of political history
* Wiltse, Charles Maurice. "The Jeffersonian Tradition in American Democracy" (1935)


* Banning, Lance. "The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic" (1995), to 1795; [ online edition]
* Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. , "John Beckley: An Early American Party Manager," "William and Mary Quarterly", 13 (Jan. 1956), 40-52, in JSTOR
* Malone, Dumas. "Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty" v 3(ISBN 0-316-54469-8); "Jefferson the President: First Term 1801 - 1805" vol 4 (ISBN 0-316-54480-9); "Jefferson the President: Second term, 1805-1809" vol 5; (1948-70), the standard multivolume biography
* Miller, John C. "Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox" (1959), full scale biography; [ online edition]
* Schachner, Nathan. "Aaron Burr: A Biography" (1961), full scale biography [ online version]

tate and regional studies

* Banner, James M. "To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789–1815" (1970)
* Broussard, James H. "The Southern Federalists: 1800–1816" (1978)
* Formisano, Ronald. "The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s–1840s" (1983)
* Goodman, Paul. "The Democratic-Republicans of Massachusetts" (1964)
* Leonard, Gerald. "The Invention of Party Politics: Federalism, Popular Sovereignty, and Constitutional Development in Jacksonian Illinois" (2002)
* McCormick, Richard P. "The Second Party System: Party Formation deals with the collapse of the First Party System, state by state
* Prince, Carl E. "New Jersey’s Jeffersonian Republicans: The Genesis of an Early Party Machine, 1789–1817" (1967)
* Risjord, Norman K. "Chesapeake Politics, 1781–1800" (1978), covers Virginia and Maryland
* Risjord, Norman K. "The Old Republicans: Southern Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson" (1965)
* Tinkcom, Harry M. "The Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania, 1790–1801: A Study in National Stimulus and Local Response" (1950)
* Turner, Lynn Warren; "The Ninth State: New Hampshire's Formative Years." (1983).
* Young, Alfred F. "The Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763–1797" (1967)


* Humphrey, Carol Sue "The Press of the Young Republic, 1783-1833" (1996)
* Knudson, Jerry W. "Jefferson And the Press: Crucible of Liberty" (2006) how 4 Republican and 4 Federalist papers covered election of 1800; Thomas Paine; Louisiana Purchase; Hamilton-Burr duel; impeachment of Chase; and the embargo
* Jeffrey L. Pasley. "The Tyranny of Printers": Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic" (2003) (ISBN 0-8139-2177-5)
* Stewart, Donald H. "The Opposition Press of the Federalist Era" (1968), highly detailed study of Republican newspapers
* The complete text, searchable, of all early American newspapers are [ online] at Readex America’s Historical Newspapers, available at research libraries.

Primary sources

* Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. ed. "The Making of the American Party System 1789 to 1809" (1965), short excerpts from primary sources
* Cunningham, Noble E., Jr., ed. "Circular Letters of Congressmen to Their Constituents 1789-1829" (1978), 3 vol; political reports sent by Congressmen to local newspapers


External links

* [ American Political History Online] guide to WWW resources
* [ "The First American Party System" lesson plan for grades 9-12]

* [ A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns, 1787-1825]

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