Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal, Wikipedia.
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 ConventionConstitutional Convention,
in U.S. history, the 1787 meeting in which the Constitution of the United States was drawn up. The Road to the Convention
The government adopted by the Thirteen Colonies in America (see Confederation, Articles of, and Continental
..... Click the link for more information. 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, TheFederalist, The,
series of 85 political essays, sometimes called The Federalist Papers, written 1787–88 under the pseudonym "Publius." Alexander Hamilton initiated the series with the immediate intention of persuading New York to approve the Federalist Constitution.
..... Click the link for more information. ) 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 HamiltonHamilton, Alexander,
1755–1804, American statesman, b. Nevis, in the West Indies. Early Career
He was the illegitimate son of James Hamilton (of a prominent Scottish family) and Rachel Faucett Lavien (daughter of a doctor-planter on Nevis and the estranged
..... Click the link for more information. and by Thomas JeffersonJefferson, Thomas,
1743–1826, 3d President of the United States (1801–9), author of the Declaration of Independence, and apostle of agrarian democracy. Early Life
Jefferson was born on Apr. 13, 1743, at "Shadwell," in Goochland (now in Albemarle) co.
..... Click the link for more information. . The party that emerged to champion Hamilton's views was the Federalist party. Its opponents, at first called Anti-FederalistsAnti-Federalists,
in American history, opponents of the adoption of the federal Constitution. Leading Anti-Federalists included George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, Patrick Henry, and George Clinton.
..... Click the link for more information. , drew together into a Jeffersonian party; first called the Republicans and later the Democratic Republicans, they eventually became known as the Democratic partyDemocratic party,
American political party; the oldest continuous political party in the United States. Origins in Jeffersonian Democracy
When political alignments first emerged in George Washington's administration, opposing factions were led by Alexander Hamilton
..... Click the link for more information. . Party politics had not yet crystallized when John AdamsAdams, John,
1735–1826, 2d President of the United States (1797–1801), b. Quincy (then in Braintree), Mass., grad. Harvard, 1755. John Adams and his wife, Abigail Adams, founded one of the most distinguished families of the United States; their son, John Quincy
..... Click the link for more information. 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.
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 ActsAlien and Sedition Acts,
1798, four laws enacted by the Federalist-controlled U.S. Congress, allegedly in response to the hostile actions of the French Revolutionary government on the seas and in the councils of diplomacy (see XYZ Affair), but actually designed to destroy Thomas
..... Click the link for more information. , 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 1807Embargo Act of 1807,
passed Dec. 22, 1807, by the U.S. Congress in answer to the British orders in council restricting neutral shipping and to Napoleon's restrictive Continental System. The U.S.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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 ClintonClinton, De Witt
, 1769–1828, American statesman, b. New Windsor, N.Y.; son of James Clinton. He was admitted (1790) to the New York bar but soon became secretary to his uncle, George Clinton, first governor of the state, and in that position (1790–95) gained
..... Click the link for more information. 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 JuntoEssex Junto,
group of New England merchants and lawyers, so called because many of them came from Essex co., Mass. They opposed the radicals in Massachusetts in the American Revolution and supported the Federalist faction of Alexander Hamilton.
..... Click the link for more information. , contemplated secession and called the Hartford ConventionHartford Convention,
Dec. 15, 1814–Jan. 4, 1815, meeting to consider the problems of New England in the War of 1812; held at Hartford, Conn. Prior to the war, New England Federalists (see Federalist party) had opposed the Embargo Act of 1807 and other government measures;
..... Click the link for more information. . Thus, paradoxically the Federalists became the champions of states' rightsstates' rights,
in U.S. history, doctrine based on the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
..... Click the link for more information. .
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).