The Federalists, a la Shmoop.
Are you fed up with the Feds? Once upon a time, in the late 18th century,
the United States was a fairytale land without political parties or gang alliances…
…where everybody got to wear these awesome wigs. Then Alexander Hamilton ruined all of it. One night when everybody was asleep… well,
he burned all the wigs. Actually, Hamilton formed a political party
called the Federalists, which focused on a strong central government.
A strong central government means more taxes, but those taxes result in things like public
education and paved roads. And lots and lots of bureaucrats…
okay, so it’s not a perfect system. The Federalists also believed in a national bank and
in maintaining close ties, friendly ones, with England. Their political leanings didn’t exactly
mesh with everyone else’s… …so their opponents, led by Thomas Jefferson
– of coin fame – formed a rival party called the Democratic Republicans. George Washington did not like
the idea of political parties. In fact, he listed them among his “pet peeves” along with “telling lies” and “people
who think it’s funny to hide my false teeth.” Washington worried that political parties
would lead to deep divisions within the fragile, young nation. There was also the pesky little issue that
banning political parties might violate the first amendment, which guarantees freedom
of speech and freedom of assembly. So, are political parties good or bad for
the country? Do you think we would have been better off if they were never formed, or are
they a necessary way to organize people and increase efficiency?
While you ponder those questions, let’s take a look at how the first political parties fared. In the election of 1796, Federalist John Adams narrowly
defeated Democratic Republican Thomas Jefferson. Adams’ stunning good looks probably
made the difference. All of the northern states voted for Adams
and all of the Southern states voted for Jefferson. It didn’t exactly take a psychic to see
the Civil War coming somewhere down the road. The Democratic Republicans were the small
government pro-states-rights party, which is who you generally vote for if you’re worried
the Feds will take away all of your slaves. The really crazy thing is that when Jefferson defeated Adams in 1800, the state-by-state
breakdown was the same… … but because the number of slaves in the
South had increased, the South surpassed the North in electoral votes.
Each slave counted for three-fifths of a person in the census, but landowning white males
were the only people who got to vote… … so more slaves meant that more people
actually voted against the slaves’ interests. In the short term, the Democratic Republicans
had a big advantage. And they had won six elections in a row, while
the Federalist Party disappeared completely. Oh, and Alexander Hamilton got
himself killed in a duel. The Federalist vision of an active
and involved central government has much more in common with the modern United States…
… than the hands-off approach advocated by the Democratic-Republicans.
Hamilton scores from the grave! Another legacy of the Federalists and Democratic
Republicans is the two-party system. Nowadays, the Democrats and Republicans go head
to head every two and four years to see who will ruin…er… run the country.
If we did away with political parties, would the best candidates be more
likely to rise to the top… …or would we become a model of inefficiency? Shmoop amongst yourselves.