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Federalist Party


FEDERALIST PARTY. The name "Federalist Party" originated in the ratification debates over the U.S. Constitution. In 1788 the group that favored ratification and a strong central government called themselves "federalists," which at that time indicated a preference for a more consolidated government rather than a loose "confederation" of semi-sovereign states. After the Constitution was ratified, the term "federalist" came to be applied to any supporter of the Constitution and particularly to members of the Washington administration. The term received wide currency with the publication of a series of eighty-one articles by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay arguing for the ratification of the Constitution. Thus, in the early 1790s, not only George Washington, John Adams, and Hamilton, but even Madison, then the floor leader of the administration in the House of Representatives, were all "federalists."

The Washington administration found itself divided, however, over Hamilton's debt, banking, and manufacturing policies, all of which favored the commercial and financial interests of the Northeast over the agrarian interests of the South and West. Foreign policy questions also split Washington's cabinet in his first term, especially the problems arising from treaty obligations to the increasingly radical republicans in France. These questions deeply divided the government, and eventually caused the resignations of the secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison as floor leader. Nevertheless, these questions did not precipitate permanent, consistent political divisions in Congress or in the states.

The Emergence of a Party

The Federalist Party took permanent and consistent form in Washington's second term as president during the controversy over the Jay Treaty with Great Britain. John Jay negotiated a treaty that alienated the frontier interests, the commercial grain exporters of the middle states, and the slaveholders of the South. The division over foreign policy—between "Anglomen" who hoped for favorable relations with Britain and "Gallomen" who hoped for continued strong relations with France—generated a climate of distrust, paranoia, and repression that propelled these foreign policy divisions into sustained political conflict at the elite level and eventually promoted the expansion of a party press, party organizations, and strong party identification in the electorate.

Although the Federalist Party did not arise from the controversy over Hamilton's economic policies, those states and interests that had benefited from Hamiltonian policies tended to favor the Federalists from the beginning. New England and the seaboard states of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina favored the Federalists in part because each of these states was dominated by commercial interests and an entrenched social and religious elite. Similarly, the urban seaboard interests and prosperous agrarian regions of Pennsylvania and New York also favored the Federalists. In New England, federalism was closely associated with the Established Congregational church in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. In the middle states, Federalists tended to be Episcopalian in New York, Presbyterian in New Jersey, and might be either of these, or Quakers, in the area around Philadelphia. In Delaware, on the other hand, Federalists were more likely to be Episcopalians from the lower part of the state, rather than Presbyterians or Quakers from Wilmington.

In the South, federalism dominated only one state, South Carolina, and that was in part the result of its benefit from the Hamiltonian funding policy of state debts. Like the northern Federalists, South Carolina Federalists formed a solid elite in the Low Country along the coast. Mostly Episcopalian and Huguenot Presbyterians, their great wealth and urban commercial interests in Charleston, the South's only significant city, led them to make common cause with Hamiltonians in New England and the middle states. Elsewhere in the South, federalism thrived in regions where the social order was more hierarchical, wealth was greater, and the inroads of evangelicalism were weakest. Thus the Eastern Shore of Maryland, once Loyalist and Anglican, was a Federalist bastion, as were the Catholic counties of southern Maryland. The Tidewater of Virginia was another Federalist stronghold, as were the Cape Fear region of North Carolina and the Lowland counties of Georgia. Outside of a few New England exiles in the Western Reserve area of Ohio, Federalists did not gather much support in the new states of the West.

With strong political support across the Union at the time of Washington's retirement, the Federalists managed to hold the presidency for their party and for their candidate, John Adams, but only by three electoral votes. Adams allowed Washington's cabinet to retain their posts into his new term. They were followers of Alexander Hamilton, arch-Federalists, and far more ideological than Adams himself.

In 1798 the Federalists reached the peak of their national popularity in the war hysteria that followed the XYZ Affair. In the congressional elections of 1798 the Federalists gained greater support in their strongholds in New England, the middle states, Delaware, and Maryland. They made significant gains in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. North and South, the popular slogan in 1798 was "Adams and Liberty." Even as they gained strength over their Democratic Republican adversaries, however, they viewed their opponents with increasing alarm. In a time of war hysteria, extreme Federalists genuinely believed that many Jeffersonians had allied themselves with the most radical factions of Revolutionary France. At a time when the Democratic Republicans were out of favor, their criticisms of the Federalists took on a shrill, often vituperative tone.

The harsh personal criticism by the leading Democratic Republican newspapers prompted some Federalists in Congress to find a way to curb this "licentious" press, punish the opposition editors, and perhaps cripple Democratic Republican political chances in the upcoming presidential election. In Congress, Representative Robert Goodloe Harper of South Carolina and Senator William Lloyd of Maryland introduced legislation in 1798 known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Sedition Act, modeled on the British Sedition Act of 1795, made it unlawful to "print, utter, or publish … any false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against any officer of the government. Under the energetic enforcement of Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, the leading Democratic Republican newspapers in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Richmond, Virginia, were closed down in 1799.

The Election of 1800

The election year of 1800 was the last time an incumbent Federalist engaged himself in a contest for the presidency. Despite Thomas Jefferson's referral to the election as a "revolution," the presidential contest was in fact narrowly won. Only five states allowed for the popular vote for presidential electors, and both parties used every means available—especially legislative selection of electors—to maximize their candidate's electoral vote. This was the first and last year the Federalists and Democratic Republicans contested every single state in the congressional elections. The Republicans won 67 of the 106 seats in the House of Representatives. Despite the decisive popular vote for the Democratic Republicans in Congress, the electoral vote was not at all a clear mandate for Thomas Jefferson. In fact, Thomas Jefferson owed his victory in the Electoral College to the infamous "three-fifths" rule, which stipulated that slaves would be counted in congressional (and electoral college) apportionment as a concession to the South.

Although the contest for president was mostly conducted in the legislatures and the congressional contests were conducted at the local level, the party press of both the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans played up the contrast between Jefferson and Adams. Jefferson was a "Jacobin," an "atheist," and a "hypocrite" with all his talk about equality, while keeping slaves. Adams was an "aristocrat," a "monocrat," and a defender of hereditary privileges. The religious issue played an important part in the election. The Gazette of the United States put this controversy in its starkest form: "God—And a Religious President; Or Jefferson—And No God!!!"

The Decline of Federalism

The Federalists lost more congressional seats in 1802 and in 1804, despite Hamilton's attempt to inject the religious issue into the former election. Their opposition to the Louisiana Purchase seemed to spell certain doom for them in the West. Thanks to the unpopularity of Jefferson's Embargo Act, however, the Federalist Party experienced a revival in New England and the middle states in 1808 at the congressional and state level. By 1812 the Federalist Party and dissident anti-war Republicans grouped together behind DeWitt Clinton and the "Friends of Peace." With the unpopularity of the war in the Northeast, the Federalists and their anti-war allies gave James Madison a close contest for his reelection. The Federalist Party gained seats in Congress in 1812 and 1814 as the fortunes of war seemed arrayed against the Americans.

Some of the more extreme Federalists, however, including Timothy Pickering and Harrison Gray Otis of Massachusetts and Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut, toyed with New England secession in the midst of this unpopular war. They met in Hartford, Connecticut, from 15 December 1814 to 5 January 1815. Although the Federalist delegates defeated a secession resolution, their party was thereafter associated with disloyalty, and even treason. The end of the war made the Hartford Convention nothing more than an embarrassing irrelevance.

The Federalist Party hung on, however, in a long twilight in the seaboard states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and even enjoyed a modest revival in Pennsylvania and New York in the early 1820s. The Federalist Party never again held power at the national level after 1800 in the election triumph that Jefferson called a "revolution." The death of Alexander Hamilton in 1804 killed the one Federalist leader who had youth, national stature, and significant popular support.

The extended influence of the Federalist Party lay in the judiciary. With the appointment of many Federalists to the bench, John Adams ensured that the Federalists would continue to exert a dominant influence on the federal judiciary for many years to come. Federalist judges predominated until the Era of Good Feeling. Thereafter, federalism continued to have influence in the law, thanks in no small part to the intellectual authority of John Marshall, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who remained on the Court until his death in 1835.


Banner, James M. To the Hartford Convention: Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789–1815. New York: Harper, 1970.

Ben-Atar, Doron, and Barbara B. Oberg, eds. Federalists Reconsidered. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998.

Broussard, James. The Southern Federalists. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

Chambers, William Nisbet. The First Party System. New York: John Wiley, 1972.

Dauer, Manning J. The Adams Federalists. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1953.

Elkins, Stanley, and Eric McKittrick. The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788–1800. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Fischer, David Hackett. The Revolution of American Conservatism: The Federalist Party in the Era of Jeffersonian Democracy. New York: Harper, 1965.

Formisano, Ronald P. The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790–1840. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Hofstadter, Richard. The Idea of a Party System: The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States, 1780–1840. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

Kerber, Linda. Federalists in Dissent: Imagery and Ideology in Jeffersonian America. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970.

Miller, John C. The Federalist Era, 1789–1801. New York: Harper, 1960.

Sharpe, James Roger. American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.

Andrew W.Robertson

See alsoPolitical Parties ; Republicans, Jeffersonian ; Two-Party System .

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Federalist Party


The Federalist Party was an American political party during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It originated in the loosely affiliated groups advocating the creation of a stronger national government after 1781 and culminated with the laws and policies established by Federalist lawmakers from 1789 to 1801. These laws and policies laid the foundation for a strong central government in the United States, thereby securing the transition from the provisional national government established during the Revolutionary War and continuing under the articles of confederation to the intricate system of checks and balances contemplated for the three branches of government in the U.S. Constitution.

The Federalist party's early leaders included alexander hamilton, john jay, james madison, and george washington. These men provided much of the impetus and organization behind the movement to draft and ratify the federal Constitution. Their support came from the established elites of old wealth in the commercial cities and in the less rapidly developing rural regions.

Even before the Articles of Confederation were ratified by the original 13 states in 1781, prominent Americans were criticizing the document for having failed to create a strong federal government. In 1783, George Washington, as commander in chief of the army, sent a circular to state governors discussing the need to add tone to our federal government. Three years later Washington and his political allies were referring to those who opposed strengthening the power of the central government under the Articles of Confederation as antifederal.

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, those favoring a stronger central government drafted a Constitution that greatly increased the powers of Congress and the executive. Debate over ratification of the Constitution sharpened the lines separating those who called themselves federalists and those who called themselves antifederalists. Much of this debate was formalized in The Federalist, later called The Federalist Papers.

Originally written as 85 tracts under the name Publius, the pro-Federalist essays were published in New York City newspapers between October 27, 1787, and May 28, 1788. Each essay was written to persuade the people of New York to elect delegates who would ratify the federal Constitution in the forthcoming state convention. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison were the principal authors, while John Jay wrote five essays. The Federalist Papers are today considered America's most important political treatise and the most authoritative source for understanding the original intent of the Founding Fathers.

After the Constitution was ratified, the Federalist party dominated the national government until 1801. The Federalists believed that the Constitution should be loosely interpreted to build up federal power. They were generally pro-British, favored the interests of commerce and manufacturing over agriculture, and wanted the new government to be developed on a sound financial basis. Accordingly, Secretary of Treasury Hamilton proposed tax increases and the establishment of a national bank.

During their 12-year reign, the Federalist party settled the problems of the revolutionary debt, sought closer relations with Great Britain in Jay's Treaty of 1794, and tried to silence their domestic critics with the alien and sedition acts of 1798. These repressive laws cost the Federalist party much of its support, including that of Madison, who with thomas jefferson organized the democratic-republican party.

The Democratic-Republicans, also known as just the Republicans, opposed the policies and laws of the Federalist party at every turn. Republicans were generally pro-French and pro-agriculture. They believed that the Constitution should be strictly interpreted, favored strong, independent states at the expense of the federal government, and opposed the creation of a national bank.

The Federalist party lost control of the national government when Jefferson became president in 1801. The Federalists continued to diminish in popularity for the next 20 years. The party's last significant political victory came in the impeachment trial of samuel chase, associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court and staunch Federalist, who had been impeached by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives for what they called judicial misconduct. However, in his trial before the Senate, Chase and his attorney convinced enough Senators that the impeachment charges boiled down to little more than partisan politics and that convicting Chase would imperil the independence of the federal judiciary. Chase was thus acquitted on all eight articles of impeachment.

The Federalist party ceased to exist as a national organization after the election of 1816, in which Republican james monroe defeated Federalist Rufus King. However, the party remained influential in a number of states until it disappeared completely during the 1820s. Most Federalists, such as daniel webster, joined the National republican party in the 1820s and later the whig party in the 1830s.

further readings

Boyer, Paul S. 2001. Oxford Companion to United States History. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Hall, Kermit L. 1992. Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Lenner, Andrew. 1996."A Tale of Two Constitutions: Nationalism in the Federalist Era." American Journal of Legal History 40 (January): 72-105.

Lynch, Joseph M. 2000 "The Federalists and The Federalist: A Forgotten History." Seton Hall Law Review 31 (winter): 18-29.


Republican Party; Whig Party.

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"Federalist Party." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Federalist party

Federalist party, in U.S. history, the political faction that favored a strong federal government.

Origins and Members

In the later years of the Articles of Confederation there was much agitation for a stronger federal union, which was crowned with success when the Constitutional Convention drew up the Constitution of the United States. The men who favored the strong union and who fought for the adoption of the Constitution by the various states were called Federalists, a term made famous in that meaning by the Federalist Papers (see Federalist, The) of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

After the Constitution was adopted and the new government was established under the presidency of George Washington, political division appeared within the cabinet, the opposing groups being headed by Alexander Hamilton and by Thomas Jefferson. The party that emerged to champion Hamilton's views was the Federalist party. Its opponents, at first called Anti-Federalists, drew together into a Jeffersonian party; first called the Republicans and later the Democratic Republicans, they eventually became known as the Democratic party. Party politics had not yet crystallized when John Adams was elected President, but the choice of Adams was, nevertheless, a modest Federalist victory.

The Federalists were conservatives; they favored a strong centralized government, encouragement of industries, attention to the needs of the great merchants and landowners, and establishment of a well-ordered society. In foreign affairs they were pro-British, while the Jeffersonians were pro-French. The members of the Federalist party were mostly wealthy merchants, big property owners in the North, and conservative small farmers and businessmen. Geographically, they were concentrated in New England, with a strong element in the Middle Atlantic states.

Federalist Policies

During Washington's second administration, and under that of John Adams, Federalist domestic policies were given a chance to prove themselves. The young nation's economy was established on a sound basis, while the governmental structure was expanded and an honest and efficient administrative system was developed. In foreign affairs, however, trouble with France led to virtual warfare in 1798. It led also to the Alien and Sedition Acts, passed by the Federalist-controlled Congress ostensibly in response to hostile actions of the French Revolutionary government but actually designed to destroy the Jeffersonians. John Adams, who was a moderate and honest man, followed the course he considered wise, and by rejecting Hamilton's extreme desires, he caused something of a division in the Federalist ranks.

The Triumph of the Jeffersonian Opposition

The Jeffersonians were meanwhile winning popular support not only among Southern landowners but also among the mechanics, workers, and generally the less privileged everywhere. Jefferson showed skill in building his party, and the Jeffersonians were much better at publicity than were the Federalists.

The election of 1800 was a Federalist debacle. The Jeffersonians came to power and stayed there, establishing the so-called Virginia dynasty, with James Madison succeeding Jefferson and James Monroe succeeding Madison. The Federalist party remained powerful locally, but increasingly the leadership passed to the reactionaries rather than to the moderates. It tended to be a New England party.

This trend was accentuated in the troubled period before the War of 1812. Merchants and shipowners were opposed to the Embargo Act of 1807, which caused considerable economic loss to the seaboard cities, and their feelings were expressed through the Federalist party. The Federalists, however, failed to enlist De Witt Clinton and his followers in New York in their cause, and their challenge in the elections of 1808 was easily overridden by the Jeffersonians.

Dissolution of the Party

Opposition to war brought the Federalists the support of Clinton and many others, and the party made a good showing in the election of 1812, winning New England (except for radical Vermont), New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and part of Maryland. They failed, however, in Pennsylvania and lost the election. While the country was at war, the disgruntled merchants of New England, represented by the Essex Junto, contemplated secession and called the Hartford Convention. Thus, paradoxically the Federalists became the champions of states' rights.

The successful issue of the war ruined the party, which became firmly and solely the party of New England conservatives. The so-called era of good feelings followed, and politics became a matter of internal strife within the Democratic party. The Federalist party did not even offer a presidential candidate in 1820, and by the election of 1824 it was virtually dead.


See C. G. Bowers, Jefferson and Hamilton (1925); W. O. Lynch, Fifty Years of Party Warfare (1931); L. D. White, The Federalists (1948); S. G. Kurtz, The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism, 1795–1800 (1957, repr. 1961); J. C. Miller, The Federalist Era, 1789–1801 (1960, repr. 1963); S. Livermore, The Twilight of Federalism (1962); D. H. Fischer, The Revolution of American Conservatism (1965); L. K. Kerber, Federalists in Dissent (1970).

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Federalist Party

Federalist Party US political party led by George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and John Jay. Formed in 1787 to promote ratification of the Constitution, it represented planters, merchants, bankers, and manufacturers. Hamilton, Jay, and James Madison (later an Anti-Federalist) wrote the ‘Federalist Papers’ essays, expressing support for sound financial management, government banking, and strong federal powers. They opposed the states' rights, agrarian philosophy of the Republican Party.

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