America's First Political Parties

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America's First Political Parties

Beginning in about 1796, two political parties emerged to dominate American politics and many Americans aligned with one or the other. Some founding fathers feared this possibility and warned of the danger of factions.

Political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution. However, differences in values and how the United States government and economy should be run led to internal division and the eventual separation into the first two major parties.

These two parties were the Federalists and Democratic Republicans.

Federalists wanted a strong central government and they had a loose interpretation of the Constitution, meaning if something was not expressly forbidden by the Constitution, it could be done.

Alexander Hamilton was the leader of the Federalist Party. It was made up mostly of merchants, bankers, manufacturers, wealthy farmers, and plantation owners.

Many Federalists were well-educated and had most of their support in big cities in the Northeast. Federalists wanted tariffs and protection for businesses and an economy based on manufacturing, commerce, finance, and overseas trade.

Alexander Hamilton and the First Political Parties

The Democratic Republican Party was led by Thomas Jefferson and was created in direct opposition to the Federalist Party. Democratic-Republicans were supported by commoners and the middle and lower classes.

This party included many artisans, shopkeepers, frontier settlers, backcountry and poor farmers. Democratic-Republicans were generally not as highly educated and many were illiterate.

Thomas Jefferson and the Anti Federalists

Democratic-Republicans had most of their support across the South and in America's western frontier. Many supporters believed in states’ rights and had a strict interpretation of the Constitution and that the government can only do what is stated in it.

Members of this party believed in self-government and that America was founded on democratic principles. They supported the common man and wanted an economy based on agriculture.

The Federalists and Democratic-Republicans differed on almost every topic. Even though these two parties had major differences, they both favored American freedom and independence and contributed to the development of the new nation.

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