The Federalists were a political party formed by Alexander Hamilton. Well, sure. That guy had to do something to get his face on the ten-dollar bill.
|U.S. History||Early Republic: 1789-1815|
Actually, Hamilton formed a political party called the Federalists, which focused on a
strong central government. A strong central government means more taxes,
but those taxes result in things like public education and paved roads.
And lots and lots of bureaucrats... okay, so it's not a perfect system.
The Federalists also believed in a national bank and in maintaining close ties, friendly ones, with England.
Their political leanings didn't exactly mesh with everyone else's...
...so their opponents, led by Thomas Jefferson - of coin fame -
formed a rival party called the Democratic Republicans.
George Washington did not like the idea of political parties.
In fact, he listed them among his "pet peeves"
along with "telling lies" and "people who think it's funny to hide my false teeth."
Washington worried that political parties would lead to deep
divisions within the fragile, young nation.
There was also the pesky little issue that banning political parties might violate the
first amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
So, are political parties good or bad for the country? Do you think we would have been
better off if they were never formed, or are they a necessary way to organize people and
increase efficiency? While you ponder those questions, let's
take a look at how the first political parties fared.
In the election of 1796, Federalist John Adams narrowly defeated Democratic Republican Thomas Jefferson.
Adams' stunning good looks probably made the difference.
All of the northern states voted for Adams and all of the Southern states voted for Jefferson.
It didn't exactly take a psychic to see the Civil War coming somewhere down the road.
The Democratic Republicans were the small government pro-states-rights party, which
is who you generally vote for if you're worried the Feds will take away all of your slaves.
The really crazy thing is that when Jefferson
defeated Adams in 1800, the state-by-state breakdown was the same...
... but because the number of slaves in the South had increased, the South surpassed the
North in electoral votes. Each slave counted for three-fifths of a person
in the census, but landowning white males were the only people who got to vote...
... so more slaves meant that more people actually voted against the slaves' interests.
In the short term, the Democratic Republicans had a big advantage.
And they had won six elections in a row, while the Federalist Party disappeared completely.
Oh, and Alexander Hamilton got himself killed in a duel.
The Federalist vision of an active and involved central government has much more
in common with the modern United States... ... than the hands-off approach advocated
by the Democratic-Republicans. Hamilton scores from the grave!
Another legacy of the Federalists and Democratic Republicans is the two-party system.
Nowadays, the Democrats and Republicans go head to head every two and four years to see who will
ruin...er... run the country. If we did away with political parties, would
the best candidates be more likely to rise to the top...
...or would we become a model of inefficiency?
Shmoop amongst yourselves.