In this letter, Thomas Jefferson reports on the nature of partisan politics in the United States during the early 1820s. After the War of 1812, the nation had reverted to a period of one-party government in national politics. The decline of the Federalist party had created the illusion of national political unity, but, as Jefferson observes, appearances were deceptive. Without the discipline imposed by competition with a strong opposition party, the Republican party began to fragment into cliques and factions. In this letter, Jefferson maintains that while the Federalist party as a formal political organization had disappeared, its ideas and principles persisted.
The letter's recipient, the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), had sailed from France to America in 1777 and helped the colonists win independence. He was instrumental in persuading France to send military aid to the colonists and served as a major general in the Continental army. He also played a leading role in the early stages of the French Revolution. In 1824, Lafayette returned to America and received a hero's welcome from a grateful public. Congress voted that $200,000 and a township in Florida be given him.
The papers tell you there are no parties now. Republicans and federalists forsooth are all amalgamated. This, my friend, is not so. The same parties exist now which existed before. But the name of Federalist was extinguished in the battle of New Orleans; and those who wore it now call themselves republicans. Like the fox pursued by the dogs, they take shelter in the midst of the sheep. They see that monarchism is a hopeless wish in this country, and are rallying anew to the next best point, a consolidated government. They are therefore endeavoring to break the barriers of state rights, provided by the constitution, against a consolidation.