\ JAMES FINCK, PH.D.
FROM THE SOUTH WEST LEDGER
While political parties officially started under the George Washington administration with the introduction of Alexander Hamilton’s economic plan, they really took root when Washington stepped down leading to the first contested election in 1796. They organized for the first time as parties to nominated candidates for the presidency.
Federalists nominated Vice President John Adams and South Carolina’s Thomas Pinckney while the Democratic Republicans nominated Thomas Jefferson and New York’s Aaron Burr. When the Electoral College delegates were chosen, they voted and awarded Adams with 71 votes, Jefferson with 68 votes, Pinckney with 59 votes and Burr with only 30.
This made Adams the president with his ex-BFF now hated rival Jefferson as vice president. The two men did not make a good team. Jefferson was a very handsoff VP and spent most of his time organizing his party against Adams and preparing for the rematch in 1800 in which he would win.
During this time the two parties officially organized while still seeing them as necessary evils. Really they saw the other party was evil, but their party was necessary to counteract the other. While Adams was president, it was Hamilton who remained the head of his party which caused conflict between the two men and hurt Adam’s chances of reelection.
There were four key differences between the two parties. Federalists wanted to model themselves after and keep an alliance with Great Britian. They saw Britian as the greatest, most powerful nation in the world. The Jeffersonian Republicans wanted to align themselves with France who was in the midst of their own democratic revolution and were at war with all of Europe.
France hoped America would come to their aid the way France had come to America’s assistance in our hour of need. Jefferson believed the best way to safeguard the American experiment was to help spread democracy to other nations, so that America was not an island. Hamilton, however, argued against giving the French aid claiming the Reign of Terror occurring in France with the mass executions and pure chaos was the worst possible scenario for America. He believed if the ideas from the French Revolution migrated to America, it would only be a matter of time before the Founding Fathers were waiting in line for the guillotine. He believed any alliance with France ended when the French executed King Louis XVI. The second issue that separated the two parties was the size of government. As with classic conservatives, the Federalists wanted a larger federal government. It is important to understand that no one in 1796 could have even imagined the size of government today. By our definition, the Federalists’ government would be miniscule, but they believed government was necessary to protect their freedoms and property from chaos. The classic liberals of the Democratic Republicans wanted very limited government. Jefferson believed that local and state government should have the most say and the federal government limit itself to only key issues like foreign policy.
The third issue dealt with a particular clause in the Constitution that in some ways has been the source of all conflict up to the present. Article I, Section 8 states that Congress can “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” The interpretation of what is referred to as the Necessary and Proper Clause or sometimes called the Elastic Clause was a major source of conflict with the two parties. Federalists believed in a loose interpretation of the Constitution or that this clause gave them the power to enact any new law for the benefit of the nation, like the Bank of the United States. Jeffer-sonian Republicans, on the other hand, read this differently and believed in a strict interpretation of the Constitution and believed government could only enact laws that were specifically defined in the Constitution. In other words, they believed the bank was unconstitutional because the Constitution did not grant the government the authority to create one.
The fourth difference dealt with the direction of the nation. Federalists wanted to make America an industrial might. This was what made Great Britain powerful, and America should follow. To do this, the Federalists wanted strong tariffs and for government to invest in an infrastructure to support industry. The Jeffersonians instead wanted America’s greatness to come from a nation of small farmers. The reason only landholders could vote at the time was because with an open ballot workers could be pressured to vote the same as their employers. So, only selfemployed workers were free. If America was full of small farmers then it would be the freest and greatest nation in the world. Industry meant only a small group of owners voted and a larger population would be subservient workers.
In 1800, Jeffersonian Republicans took the presidency. Federalists lasted for the next 20 years but never reclaimed the White House. While this looked like a great victory for Republicans, it turns out it is more the case of winning the battle but losing the war.
James Finck, Ph.D. is a professor of history at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. He can be reached at HistoricallySpeaking1776@ gmail.com.