The Federalist Party was the first grass-roots political party in world history. It was founded by Alexander Hamilton in the early 1790s to rally national support for Hamilton's economic programs and creation of a strong national government. Notable spokesmen included Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, John Adams and author Noah Webster. The party greatly admired George Washington; Washington was never a member but did endorse most of its policies. The Federalists were vigorously--and even viciously--opposed by the Democratic-Republican Party formed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The federalists elected Adams in 1796, but were defeated in 1800 and subsequent elections. The Jeffersonians were better campaigners and more willing to listen to the voice of the people. Despite too-late efforts by younger Federalists, that party relied too much on eminent elderly elites who were reluctant to seek the views of the voters.
The Federalist Party was one the first political parties in the United States; Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury for Washington, was for all practical purposes the leader of the party. Chief Justice John Marshall was the last Federalist in the federal government, serving until his death in 1835. The party met with several setbacks in the early nineteenth century that led to its demise. Hamilton, their leader, died in 1804 as a result of his famous duel with Aaron Burr. The party drew most of its support from New England, a region that largely opposed the War of 1812. Many of the Federalist Party's leaders labeled the conflict “Mr. Madison’s War.” The Federalists were among the interests that called the Hartford Convention in 1814 for the purpose of amending the Constitution, and carried with it the implied threat of secession. However, the convention dissolved with news of the Treaty of Ghent and Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans. The fortunes of the party declined after the War of 1812. Opponents used the charge of treason during the post-war nationalism, and no Federalist ever won national office again.
The Federalists advocated a strong national government, capable of holding its own in a world at war. At the state level they promoted strong state governments. Foreign policy was a decisive issue in the 1790s and the federalists promoted friendship and trade with Britain, especially through the Jay Treaty, which was highly controversial but ratified in 1795. The Jeffersonians admired the French Revolution and feared that close ties with Britain would threaten Republicanism and move the new republic back toward monarchy. In terms of economics, federalists subscribed to the Hamiltonian notion that the United States must engage in manufacturing and commerce in order to become a great power.
Confusion on name
The Federalist party of the 1790s is often confused with the "Federalists" of 1787-88, because of overlapping membership. The Federalists of 1787-88, were a loose coalition led by Hamilton and Madison that supported ratification of the Constitution. They were opposed by an even looser coalition called "Anti-federalist." Neither group was a party and neither ran candidates, and both disappeared after the Constitution was ratified in 1788. Madison was a leader of the Federalists of 1787-88, but broke with Hamilton and formed the opposing Democratic-Republican Party along with Jefferson.
- John Adams (1797-1801)
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