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Federalist vs. Republican

Updated on June 29, 2012

The Two Sides:

United by the war against intrusions of British monarchial power into everyday life, the United States had not yet experienced the political factions that had then already developed in Britain and around the world. However, soon the conclusion of the revolutionary war and the subsequent ratification of the United States constitution instigated a rigid political party system. On the left, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and their followers known as the Federalists argued for a more centralized government, where the national venue triumphed over the state-based legislatures. Contrastingly, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Democratic-Republicans had claimed the subordination of the national government to the states, and a decentralized, direct representative management. Due to fundamental ideological differences regarding general political policies, the Federalists and Republicans developed into two distinct dichotomies of political theory.

Alexander Hamilton - Federalist
Alexander Hamilton - Federalist

Alexander Hamilton's Argument:

With regards to American economic policy in affiliation with the Federalists, Alexander Hamilton, the newly appointed secretary of the treasury, proposed a series of bold policies that eventually were accepted. He proposed the government pay at face value for the thousands of security certificates that circulated the market and assume the war debts incurred by all states admitted in the union, which would in turn create a substantial national debt. In order to remedy the new indebtedness, Hamilton planned to issue domestic and import taxes in the amount that would not inhibit trade but would increase governmental revenue. Also a key element to Hamilton’s economic stratagems was that it increased national credit ratings thereby reducing interest costs. Moreover, by introducing a larger money supply, new capital would be available for wealthy men to invest, which would in theory further increase individual profits and subsequently national revenue. However, paying at face value for the certificates, as Madison and his republican constituents argued, would unnecessarily burden the country while simultaneously alienating the unprivileged classes in favor of the rich elite.

Hamilton's Economic Strategy:

Hamilton’s rather than Madison’s plan had a greater appeal to congress as most congressmen held certificates and would immediately profit following the successful implementation of the Federalist economic strategy. Still, Hamilton faced challenges. Before the approval of Hamilton’s plan, some congressmen had used their insider knowledge to acquire gargantuan profits in very little time by purchasing numerous bonds just prior to the plan’s approval, knowing that they would get face value for them. Furthermore, some states had already levied taxes for the purpose of paying off the war debt. Nevertheless, Hamilton prevailed by sagaciously altering his policy so that the states who had levied taxes would be reimbursed correspondingly. And in addition to rallying behind the constitution as evidence against progressive centralization, the Federalists quieted the Republicans fears by displacing the national capital from the influences of the rich and instead placing it in the heart of the community whereby its operations could be closely observed by normal laboring men and women whose alliances fell overwhelmingly with the Republicans. Additionally, Hamilton proposed the founding of a national bank that would provide substance to the United States currency which had no direct or indirect tie to a national specie reserve that could control inflation. Effectively, this would make the managing of debt easier. Republicans such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison claimed the unconstitutionality of the proposed policy. Despite this, George Washington had agreed to institute a national bank following Hamilton’s provision of loose evidence in Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution. Hamilton’s careful consideration of all aspects of his opposition led to the success of the Federalists, and his God-given genius enabled him to create a brilliantly designed, modern economic system that provided stability to the United States.

Madison Challenges Hamilton:

Madison had argued for a more yeomen-based policy in which congress satisfied the debt at fair market value and the remaining funds were transferred to the original certificate holders who were forced to sell them to wealthy speculators. Despite what would have been a beautiful compromise, Madison failed to address the lack of records which made tracking down the original owners of the certificates impossible.

Jefferson's Agrarian Community:

Representing the mindset of a typical Federalist, Alexander Hamilton viewed future American success as being inseparable from the development of an urban society. In contrast to Hamilton’s manufacturing based system of acquiring wealth, Thomas Jefferson, after having experienced the brutality of British urban society, saw America as an agrarian community whereby manufactured products could be imported. Jefferson denounced the wages that followed industrial development as a platform for success, instead arguing that the agricultural products attained in the U.S. could be traded internationally for manufactured goods.

War Increases Partisanship:

In 1789, the introduction of the French Revolution emboldened the line between Federalist and Republican. Friction between the parties continued to grow. Federalist power waned, and Republican power waxed as European conflict instigated a sharp spike in agricultural prices. As natural products such as wheat soared, Americans made huge profits, the standard of living skyrocketed, new developments in shipbuilding and produce were undergone, and the Republican’s popularity increased. While the Federalists championed behind President Washington and his achievements in accordance with the Federalist Party, and the Republicans stressed the central ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness found in the Constitution, their political agenda in response to varying circumstances represented two isolated ideological frameworks. During the American years of prosperous neutrality, the culmination of diplomatic effort in Jay’s treaty which specified that the U.S. would have to pay all pre-revolutionary war debt and recognize Britain's right to apprehend French products aboard neutral ships in order to submit claims of illegal royal action towards American ships, further contrasted party differences. As Republicans claimed the treaty too conciliatory to Britain, the Federalists maintained a pro-British stance and passed the treaty with a slight majority. The pinnacle of inter-party negativity culminated out of the Federalist foreign policy. Because the Federalist-run United States government introduced a maritime war with France (however undeclared), anti-British protestors attacked the newly elected Federalist President Adams’s foreign policy. In response to the outrage of public opinion, the Federalists imposed the Alien and Sedition Acts. As the new Federalist imposed acts outlawing free speech and residency requirements ensued, the Republicans quickly jumped to shine light on the new policies direct negation of Constitutional law.

Thomas Jefferson & The Republicans Make a Comeback:

The election of eighteen-hundred provided an outlet for angry citizens, and Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson narrowly prevailed. As both parties fought tooth and nail for the presidency, John Adams contrasted the bitter partisan conflict by negotiating peace with France instead of declaring war—which would have increased Federalist appeal due to an upsurge in patriotism, but would have unreasonably hampered the country. In Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural address in 1801, he underscored the importance of national rather than political identity, and as a resounding effect the nation’s roots were reimagined and the unity that Americans once felt was reignited following a decade of political instability, that, if allowed to continue, may have jeopardized the great American “experiment” altogether.

The Danger of Political Factionalism:

The political factionalisms that had plagued the country at the turn of the eighteenth century works effortlessly to eschew modern disunity found in political parties. Abraham Lincoln, born eight years after Jefferson’s presidency, said “A house divided against itself cannot stand”, and his words along with the testimony of the political rivalry between the Federalists and Republicans has an irrefutable implication that is extremely clear, yet ignored. History can and will be repeated unless the lessons elucidated therein are analyzed, implored, and addressed. Although the end to the Federalist and Republican disputes was positive and swift, the degree of the effects of modern political partisanship cannot be predicted. Assuredly, divisions along party lines are inevitably destructive.


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    • gclitty profile image

      gclitty 5 years ago

      I just read your profile rodric..glad to have your comment. and yes, that is the struggle these days.

    • Rodric29 profile image

      Rodric Johnson 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      The same war continues today. Republicans trying to keep the government small, and Federalist or Democrats trying to bring stability to the nation by making it bigger.