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How did the existence of political parties affect a young American nation?

After the writing of the Constitution the nation began take form. As various issues arose political parties began to form around strong central leaders like Hamilton and Jefferson. In time the beliefs of these leaders became the beginning of the two party system.

I. Political Parties and their effect on America

A. How did parties first form?

1. Jefferson and Madison toured New England to gain support. In New York, they won over Governor George Clinton and also the support of Aaron Burr, who had many followers in NYC.

2. October 1791: Madison and Jefferson established the National Gazette, which aimed to criticize Hamilton’s views. They then established the Republican Party—those who supported their views

3. Hamilton began setting up his party—the Federalists. They had the great majority of newspapers and clergymen and the Federalist in government were able to reward their party workers with jobs.

4. In 1792 the Republicans were not stable enough to run a candidate for presidency. Washington agreed to serve again and was elected for a second term.

5. Nevertheless the two-party term would remain a characteristic of American politics to this day.

B. What were the two political parties and what were their basic beliefs?

 1. Federalists: People whose opinion were closest to those of Hamilton. They were considered "loose constructionists" and were willing to stretch the Constitution via interpretation. The supported strong central government and like Hamilton were, for the most part, considered elitist. Federalists did not support the concept of nullification, the notion that a state had the right to declare a federal law "null and void."

2. Democrat - Republicans: People whose views were closest to Jefferson and Madison. They were considered "strict constructionists" and felt the words of the Constitution should be followed to the letter. They supported the concept of federalism and were proponents of states rights. They supported the idea of nullification, or the notion that a state could declare a federal law "null and void."

 C. What were some of the differences between Hamilton and Jefferson?


1. Hamilton wanted a powerful nation with a balanced economy of agriculture, trade, finance, and manufacturing,.

2. He thought that the major weakness of the Confederation had been its inability to raise money. He wanted to gain the support of financial leaders for the new governments.

3. Hamilton believed that people in the masses were not to be trusted because they acted “foolishly and needed a strong government to tell them what to do. Only the rich, the educated and the well born were the only people who counted. He feared that if the common people got too much power, they might endanger private property.


1. Jefferson had a deep faith in the common people: “those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God.”

2. Felt that city life corrupted people through ignorance and poverty.

3. Favored a weak central government and strong state governments

4. Viewed the American nation as a land of small independent farmers and educated leaders working together in perfect harmony.

D. What was the result of the election of 1796?

1. The Republicans saw the election of 1796 as their first opportunity to gain control over national policy. The chose Jefferson as their candidate and Aaron Burr as their candidate for vice-pres.

2. Adams received 71 electoral votes and Jefferson 68. However, the Constitution stated that the runner up for pres. should become vice-pres. This is very important because a Republican President had to serve under a Federalist Vice-President. This presented a problem that would later be solved by the twelfth amendment.

3. Washington was disappointed that the election had broken down into support for the South (Democrat - Republicans) and support from the North (Federalists). Washington disapproved of sectionalism—placing the interests of one region ahead of the welfare of the nation as a whole.

E. How did party politics effect the Adams administration?

1. The high federalists decided to crush the criticism that Adams was receiving from the Republican press.

2. The Alien Act—gave the president power to in peacetime to order any alien out of the country

3. The Enemies Act—permitted the president in wartime to jail aliens at his pleasure. (No arrests were made under either act but many frightened French refugees left the country)

4. The Sedition Act—provided fines and jail penalties for anyone guilty of sedition—speaking or writing “with the intent to defame…or bring into contempt or disrepute” the president other members of the government.

F. How did party politics effect the election of 1800?

1. Republicans accused Adams of being the “tool of the wealthy. Federalists accused Jefferson of being a friend of France and of revolutionary disorder. None of these charges were accurate.

2. Adams received 65 votes and Jefferson received 73 but Burr, who was also running, received 73 too. This meant that the House of Representatives, which was dominated by Federalists, would have to break the tie between two Republicans.

3. Hamilton intervened and persuaded enough Federalists to cast blank ballots to give Jefferson the majority. Burr became the nations third Vice President. This is ironic considering that Hamilton and Jefferson battled throughout their careers and had totally contrary political views. The fact of the matter was that Hamilton did not trust Burr. He saw Burr as an opportunist and a power monger. He respected Jefferson as a patriot and despite the fact that he disagreed with Jeffersons politics he felt that Jefferson would always act in the best interests of the nation. Needless to say Burr felt that Hamilton, the leader of his political party, stabbed him in the back.

(It should be noted that Burr later shot and killed Hamilton in a duel. 8 years later, as Burr ran for governor of New York, Hamilton campaigned against him. Burr, lost and challenged him to a duel. Hamilton, who had publicly resolved not to fire, was shot and killed.)

4. Most politicians now recognized the need to change the system of voting in the Electoral College. The next Congress drafted the twelfth amendment.

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