Digital History

The Federalist Era

The Formative Decade Previous Next
Digital History ID 2969



Politically and economically, the 1790s was the nation's formative decade. During this decade the United States implemented the new Constitution, adopted a bill of rights, created its first political parties, and built a new national capital city in Washington, D.C. The 1790s were also years of rapid economic and demographic growth. It was during this critical decade that the United States established the foundations of a prosperous, growing economy.

But the 1790s were also years of conflict and threats of civil war. At the root of conflict were two divergent visions of the kind of nation the United States should become. Alexander Hamilton envisioned an economic and military power modeled on Britain, with a strong central government, a national bank, a standing army, and flourishing industry. Thomas Jefferson offered a very different ideal. He envisioned an agrarian society, without a central bank, taxes, a standing army, or a large government bureaucracy.

The Hamiltonians and the Jeffersonians both feared for the future of the new nation. Hamilton and his supporters were convinced that the Jeffersonians sought to subvert legitimate government, private property, religion, and morality, and ally the United States with revolutionary France. The Jeffersonians believed that Hamilton and his supporters wanted to recreate the monarchical society that Americans had rebelled against in 1776 and that they were willing to use the army to suppress the peoples' liberties.

Rarely in American history has political rhetoric been so impassioned. At the end of the decade, the Federalists warned that if Jefferson were elected president, Americans would "see your dwellings in flames" and "female chastity violated."

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