The rise of enduring political parties in the United States began with several disagreement
s between Alexander Hamilton
and Thomas Jefferson
. They had very different beliefs on government. Hamilton’s financial plan, the formation of political newspapers and “clubs,” the Whiskey Excise, the Jay Treaty
, and the Election of 1796 all caused the differentiation between the parties to escalate. The Alien and Sedition Acts also related to these parties, as well as the challenges
presented to them.
The financial plan Alexander Hamilton presented to Congress and the president gave initial direction for our nation’s debt problems. Madison and Jefferson were only able to modify such decisions, but the series of events that followed showed them how to gain control of the government, and consequentially form a political party. When these plans were ready to go into effect, Madison and Jefferson made strong efforts to gather people to oppose him. Jefferson tried to make his opinions and advice known to the president, as Hamilton so often did. He succeeded in putting the Mint under the State Department, but failed in getting friends appointed to positions and claiming the Post Office for his area. In 1792, Jefferson and Madison went as far as to call themselves the Republican Party. The others remained Federalists (not technically a party). Their source of power came from George Washington and his support for Hamilton.
Another factor was the creation of different newspapers for each political party to voice its views. Before 1791, the Gazette of the United States was the only political newspaper around. The editor was a devout Hamiltonian, which persuaded Madison and Jefferson to want another news source. They got Philip Freneau to create the National Gazette, which gave news from a Republican view (often attacking those of the Hamiltonians). Democratic Clubs were also formed, which were similar to Jacobin societies in revolutionary France.
After the incredibly unpopular Whiskey Excise was put into effect, rebellion occurred in western Pennsylvania. Washington eventually had to send 15,000 troops out to stop things, and gave a speech about how he disapproved of these clubs (even though it wasn’t necessarily them doing the rioting). After Washington’s show of disapproval, these “societies” dissolved. Not only did he stop the Democratic Clubs with this speech, but he also showed Hamilton how great Washington’s power was and that he should use it to the best of his advantage.
The next major event in the story of the feuding parties is the signing of the Jay Treaty. After much disapproval, Washington signed the Jay Treaty anyway. The Republicans, however, wouldn’t take no for an answer. They marched to the House of Representatives demanding something be done, and even though it wasn’t in their power to do anything, they rejected the proposal anyway.
Then came the Election of 1796. This was the time when the Republicans could finally challenge Hamilton. The Jay Treaty setback was not on their side, though. The candidates came down to Jefferson for the Republicans and Adams for the Federalists. These candidates were chosen because they had a large citizen following. The outcome of the election was not in the favor of the Republicans, however. Adams became the president, and Jefferson became the vice president. Some people were quite weary of this combination.
The Alien and Sedition Acts related to the development of the political parties, because it showed how different the two groups were in their views. By passing laws making it illegal to criticize the federal government or the president and restricting people from other countries, the Federalists were intentionally targeting Republicans. This, of course, angered the Republican Party, because their beliefs were not being respected, and the Federalists were going against the Enlightenment and the Constitution. They felt the Constitution was being violated.
For this reason, John Madison persuaded the Virginians to declare these laws unconstitutional. Kentucky followed suit after a visit from Jefferson, saying the laws were “void and of no force,” but they were the only states. The other states let the laws expire on their own terms. Even though these declarations weren’t very effective, the question of where sovereignty lied was once again brought into the spotlight.
The two political parties that were so different during this time shared different views on almost everything. Things that fueled the evolution of these groups were Hamilton’s financial plan, the formation of political newspapers and “clubs,” the Whiskey Excise, the Jay Treaty, and the Election of 1796. The Alien and Sedition Acts also outraged the Republicans, and the Kentucky and Virginia challenges to these laws opened up more questions to be answered.