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10: The Federalist Era

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    Learning Outcomes

    After completing this chapter, you should be able to:

    • Explain Alexander Hamilton’s vision for the republic and the reasons why his vision garnered such opposition.
    • Evaluate the reasons for the emergence of the two-party system and the ideas about political parties held by Americans of this era.
    • Compare and contrast the philosophical positions of Federalists and Republicans on the issues of public credit, the bank, tariffs, internal improvements, new lands, and foreign policy.
    • Analyze the significance of the French Revolution, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Quasi-War, the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the Virginia and the Kentucky Resolutions on the development of political parties in the 1790s.
    • Explain the reasons for the peaceful transfer of power in the election of 1800.

    After the ratification of the Constitution, a new American government began to take shape in what historians refer to as the Federalist Era. From 1789 to 1801, national leaders grappled with questions relating to implementing the Constitution. The framers had sought to create a more centralized national government to handle domestic and foreign policy issues. They had also wanted to curb what they saw as the excesses of democracy at the state level. Finally, they had hoped to create a “more perfect union” led by disinterested leaders. However, few members of the new government realized how difficult it would be to achieve these goals. The democratic ideals of the Revolutionary Era continued to grow in the 1790s. The American people became quite vocal about their opinions on the issues of the day, and they rarely agreed on the appropriate course of action. Nor, for that matter, did their leaders. Disagreements that had surfaced in Philadelphia about the real purpose of the central government remained.

    During the presidencies of George Washington and John Adams, two political parties emerged to represent the broad views of the people on how to interpret the Constitution. The Federalists, the party in power, preferred a strong central government. They saw the federal government as a positive agent for change, which would bring prosperity to all Americans. The Republicans, the opposition party sometimes labeled DemocraticRepublicans to distinguish them from the modern Republican Party, preferred a limited central government. They feared a strong government would trample the rights of the people, believing too much power corrupted even the most well-intentioned politicians. Divisions between the two parties marked the Federalist period. Debates arose, primarily over Alexander Hamilton’s economic plans and the nation’s foreign policy in the wake of the French Revolution. The Federalist Era proved to be a turbulent period because the future of the republic appeared uncertain.

    • 10.1: The Washington Years - Implementing a "More Perfect Union"
      The Federalist Era began during George Washington’s presidency as national leaders sought to implement the “more perfect union” they envisioned when drafting the Constitution. The new president hoped to create a strong central government respected both by the American people and by foreign governments. He also looked to outline the strongest possible role for the president given what the Constitution said about the executive branch.
    • 10.2: The Emergence of Partisan Politics
      When the framers wrote the Constitution, they very much hoped they could avoid the emergence of permanent political parties. However, two distinct factions appeared by the mid-1790s. The Federalists coalesced in support of Alexander Hamilton’s vision for the nation early in the Washington administration. The Republicans, or Democratic-Republicans, formed in opposition to Hamilton’s vision and was led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
    • 10.3: The Adams Years - Federalists Under Fire
      John Adams ascended to the presidency in 1797 with a great deal of public service experience. He took the oath of office and gave his inaugural address, Adams sought to convey his republican simplicity, his desire for political unity, and his determination to avoid war with France or Britain. Unfortunately, he realized none of his goals while in office. The growing crisis with France dominated his administration and, in turn, made partisan politics worse in the United States.
    • 10.4: Conclusion
    • 10.5: Critical Thinking Exercises
    • 10.6: Key Terms
    • 10.7: Chronology
    • 10.8: Bibliography

    Thumbnail: Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull 1806. (Public Domain)

    This page titled 10: The Federalist Era is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Catherine Locks, Sarah Mergel, Pamela Roseman, Tamara Spike & Marie Lasseter (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.