Early Elections and Political Parties in the United States
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From the Book:
A Short History of United States Politics – Book 1
Greetings, listeners to this episode will learn about the first elections held under the Constitution as well as some of the early political parties that formed.
Careful readers of the Constitution will note the absence of political parties in the document. By and large, the Founding Fathers did not desire the formation of political parties, which they viewed as factions that might tear the new nation apart. Their experience with the various political factions in England had led them to this conclusion. The English Civil Wars of the previous centuries they believed were caused by people grouping themselves into opposing factions and resorting to violence to advance their cause. Their study of history convinced them that in the English system, the one which they were most familiar with, the parties did not work for the good of the people. Instead, they tended to advance their own agenda, in spite of what the people needed. They wished to avoid that, believing that political parties were a thing of the past. Thus, when they drafted the Constitution, they avoided the topic of political parties in the hope what they considered a monarchial system of parties would not evolve. Many believed that the types of political differences that would develop in a popularly elected government made political parties unnecessary.
In spite of the feelings of the Founding Fathers, political parties have existed since almost the beginning of the Republic. Political scientists tend to categorize political groups into two main types of groupings, factions and parties.
In theory, a faction consists of a group of people united in a common cause that will work solely to advance their agenda. Factions are unwilling to compromise their position and will labor to gain supremacy for their agenda. In modern politics in the United States Planned Parenthood, the National Rifle Association, pro-life groups and global warming adherents are all examples of factions, or special interest groups, as they have become known.
Again, in theory, a political party is the union of several factions. These factions come together to form a common set of objectives under the auspices of a “party platform.” In history, the faction predates the political party by several centuries. Three main components comprise the modern political party, the voters who consider themselves as adherents to their particular party, the elected officials, including the candidates running for office and the party hierarchy, those who work for the party at some level.
The first election under the new United States Constitution took place from Monday, December 15, 1788 to Saturday, January 10, 1789. This is the only United States Election that took place in two separate years. There were no parties nor a campaign, as George Washington received unanimous approval to become President. John Adams was elected as Vice President.
The Election of 1796 echoed the results of the Election of 1792, with George Washington receiving an overwhelming electoral victory. John Adams once again was elected as Vice President. The election took place from Friday, November 2, to Wednesday, December 5, 1792.
George Washington appointed Hamilton as his Secretary of the Treasury during his first term. Hamilton’s actions helped stabilize the state of the United State’s finances. During his tenure he became one of the key figures in the Federalist Party. he also played a key role in the passage of the Coinage Act of 1792, which established the United States Mint and the currency system still used today. He was a proponent of establishing a Bank of the United States, and assuming the various states’ Revolutionary War debt. His plan led to opposition from many states, especially southern ones, that had already paid off their debt. The compromise between these factions led to the establishment of the Federal Capital, Washington DC, on the banks of the Potomac River, which separated Maryland and Virginia. Hamilton left the post on January 31, 1795 to return to New York.
Hamilton remained one of Washington’s trusted confidantes, which created resentment among many of the other leaders of the United States, especially John Adams. In a dispute with Vice President Aaron Burr, Hamilton challenged Burr to a duel. Aaron Burr fatally wounded Hamilton in the duel on July 12, 1804.
Alexander Hamilton was one of the early founders of the Federalist Party while a member of George Washington’s administration as Secretary of the Treasury. The party essentially believed in a strong central government with implied powers, a strong banking system, promoting economic growth, friendly relations with Great Britain and diversification of the economy. The Federalist Party was the first political party that evolved in the United States and had many adherents, though John Adams was the only actual Federalist President. Washington seemed to favor the party’s policies, but did not join it, remaining neutral as far as political parties was concerned. Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party won the 1800 election, taking power from the Federalists. the party faded away after the War of 1812. Urban businessmen and bankers tended to belong to the party, men who primarily made their living in trade. Since the war would interfere with trade they generally opposed it.
The Anti-Administration Party was an early political faction. The Anti-Administration Party name has been coined by historians to describe the political faction that formed to oppose the policies of Alexander Hamilton. The group was never an official party, however. These Senators and Representatives typically voted in unison to oppose these policies and included the likes of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Most members had opposed the ratification of the Constitution, however many had been proponents, including Jefferson and Madison. The nucleus of the faction formed during Washington’s first administration to oppose many of Hamilton’s policies. The group numbered about 32 members out of a total of 72 House members from 1791 – 1793. Many people of the Antifederalist movement were part of this one. Many that were part of those movements joined Thomas Jefferson when the began assembling the Democratic-Republican Party.
The Anti-Federalists comprised a large, varied group of people that opposed the ratification of the Constitution. These people had several concerns, that included:
Fear that the newly established office of President would evolve into a monarchy
Fear that the Constitution concentrated too much power in Congress
Fear that Congress would subjugate the states’ power
Fear that without a Bill of Rights the Constitution would allow the government to become tyrannical
Fear that the Federal courts would subvert local courts
Fear that the Congress would institute a standing army
Fear that the Congress would impose confiscatory taxes and use the army to enforce them
Fear that the new government would gather increasing amounts of power until it completely dominated the people
The Anti-Federalists believed that state governments were the best guarantors of individual liberty. Most state constitutions included a Bill of Rights that they believed protected their rights.
Many prominent men of the period were part of this movement. They include:
Richard Henry Lee
Mercy Otis Warren
Using pseudonyms, many of the men listed above wrote a series of pamphlets that argued against the ratification of the Constitution. Called the Anti-Federalist Papers the essays were not as well known as the corresponding Federalist Papers, however the writers were able state their thoughts effectively as most newspapers published them.
When the Constitution was ratified, the Anti-Federalist party collapsed. Many of its adherents joined with Thomas Jefferson when he established the Democratic Republican Party.
Thomas Jefferson began assembling the elements that would become the Democratic-Republican Party early in George Washington’s first term while he served as Washington’s Secretary of State. The party is also known as the Jeffersonian Party and the Republican Party. The modern Republican Party has no ties to this early party. Jefferson disliked many of the Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s policies and his penchant for centralizing government. The Democratic-Republicans feared centralization of the government and feared giving it too much power. The Democratic-Republicans formed with ideals that included:
Commitment to States Rights
Strong relations with France
Belief that all Americans should own farms
That the United States should have an agricultural based economy
The voting franchise and right to hold elected office should extend to all white men that owned property, no matter how little
The merchants, farmers, and laborers of the new nation tended to favor the Democratic-Republican Party, sometimes called the Republican, or Jeffersonian, Party.
This story is excerpted from my book, A Short History of United States Politics Book 1, which is part of my United States History Series. You can find the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other online retailers in both ebook and softbound format. You can also find the book on my website, http://www.mossyfeetbooks.com. You can contact me at email@example.com
Thank you for listening.
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