Federalist Party - Encyclopedia

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FEDERALIST PARTY, in American politics, the party that organized the national government of the United States under the constitution of 1787. It may be regarded as, in various important respects, the lineal predecessor of the American Whig and Republican parties. The name Federalists (see Anti-federalists) was first given to those who championed the adoption of the Constitution. They brought to the support of that instrument "the areas of intercourse and wealth" (Libby), the influence of the commercial towns, the greater planters, the army officers, creditors and property-holders generally, - in short, of interests that had felt the evils of the weak government of the Confederation, - and alsc of some few true nationalists (few, because there was as yet no general national feeling), actuated by political principles of centralization independently of motives of expediency and self-interest. Most of the Federalists of 1787-1788 became members of the later Federalist Party.

The Federalist Party, which may be regarded as definitely organized practically from 1791, was led, leaving Washington aside, by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. A nationalization of the new central government to the full extent warranted by a broad construction of the powers granted to it by the constitution, and a correspondingly strict construction of the powers reserved to the states and the citizens, were the basic principles of Hamilton's policy. The friends of individual liberty and local government naturally found in the assumption by the central government of even the minimum of its granted powers constant stimulus to their fears (see Democratic Party); while the financial measures of Hamilton - whose wish for extreme centralization was nowise satisfied by the government actually created in 1787 - were calculated to force an immediate and firm assumption by that government, to the limit, of every power it could be held to possess. To the Republicans (Democratic Republicans) they seemed intended to cause a usurpation of powers ungranted. Hence these measures became the issues on which the first American parties were formed. Their effect was supplemented by the division into French and British sympathizers; the Republicans approving the aims and condoning the excesses of the French Revolution, the Federalists siding with British reaction against French democracy. The Federalists controlled the government until 1801. They, having the great opportunity of initiative, organized it in all its branches, giving it an administrative machinery that in the main endures to-day; established the doctrine of national neutrality toward European conflicts (although the variance of Federalist and Republican opinion on this point was largely factitious); and fixed the practice of a liberal construction of the Constitution,) - not only by Congress, but above all by the United States Supreme Court, which, under the lead of John Marshall (who had been appointed chief-justice by Pres. John Adams), impressed enduringly on the national system large portions of the Federalist doctrine. These are the great claims of the party to memory. After 1801 it never regained power. In attempts to do so, alike in national and in state politics, it impaired its morale by internal dissension, by intrigues,and by inconsistent factious opposition to Democratic measures on grounds of ultra-strict construction. It took up, too, the Democratic weapon of states' rights, and in New England carried sectionalism dangerously near secession in 1808, and in 1812-1814,during the movement, in opposition to the war of 1812, which culminated in the Hartford Convention (see Hartford). It lost, more and more, its influence and usefulness, and by 1817 was practically dead as a national party, although in Massachusetts it lingered in power until 1823. It is sometimes said that Federalism died because the Republicans took over its principles of nationality. Rather it fell because its great leaders, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, became bitter enemies; because neither was even distantly comparable to Jefferson as a party leader; because the party could not hold the support of its original commercial, manufacturing and general business elements; because the party opposed sectionalism to a growing nationalism on the issues that ended in the war of 1812; and, above all, because the principles of the party's leaders (e.g. of Hamilton) were out of harmony, in various respects, with American ideals. Their conservatism became increasingly a reactionary fear of democracy; indeed, it is not a strained construction of the times to regard the entire Federalist period from the American point of view as reactionary - a reaction against the doctrines of natural rights, individualism, and states' rights, and the financial looseness of the period of the War of Independence and the succeeding years of the Confederation. The Federalists were charged by the Republicans with being aristocrats and monarchists, and it is certain that their leaders 1 Even the Democratic party has generally been liberal; although less so in theory (hardly less so in practice) than its opponents.

(who were really a very remarkable body of men) distrusted democratic government; that their Sedition Law was outrageous in itself, and (as well as the Alien Law) bad as a party measure; that in disputes with Great Britain they were true English Tories when contrasted with the friendly attitude toward America held by many English Liberals; and that they persisted in New England as a pro-British, aristocratic social-cult long after they lost effective political influence. In short, the country was already thoroughly democratic in spirit, while Federalism stood for obsolescent social ideas and was infected with political "Toryism" fatally against the times.

Besides the standard general histories see O. G. Libby, Geographical Distribution of the Vote of the Thirteen States on the Federal Constitution, 1787-1788 (Madison, Wis., 1894); the Memoirs of Oliver Wolcott (ed. by Gibbs); C. D. Hazen, Contemporary American Opinion of the French Revolution ("J.H.U. Studies," Baltimore, 1897); Henry Adams, Documents relating to New England Federalism, 1800-1815 (Boston, 1878); A. E. Morse, The Federalist Party in Massachusetts (Princeton, N.J., 1909); and the biographies and writings of George Cabot, Fisher Ames, Gouverneur Morris, John Jay, Rufus King, Timothy Pickering, Theodore Sedgwick, C. C. Pinckney and J. A. Bayard.

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