Digital History

The Federalist Era

The Birth of Political Parties Previous Next
Digital History ID 2974



The framers of the Constitution had not prepared their plan of government with political parties in mind. They hoped that the "better sort of citizens" would debate key issues and reach a harmonious consensus regarding how best to legislate for the nation's future. Thomas Jefferson reflected widespread sentiments when he declared in 1789, "If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all."

Yet despite a belief that parties were evil and posed a threat to enlightened government, the nation's first political parties emerged in the mid-1790s. Several factors contributed to the birth of parties.

The Federalists, under the leadership of George Washington, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton, feared that their opponents wanted to destroy the Union, subvert morality and property rights, and ally the United States with revolutionary France.

The Republicans, under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson, feared that the Federalists were trying to establish a corrupt monarchical society, like the one that existed in Britain, with a standing army, high taxes, and government-subsidized monopolies.

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