Political Parties and the Adams Administration

How did the existence of political parties affect a young American nation?

After the writing of the Constitution the nation began take form.
As various issues arose political parties began to form around strong
central leaders like Hamilton and Jefferson. In time the beliefs of
these leaders became the beginning of the two party system.

I. Political Parties and their effect on America

A. How did parties first form?

1. Jefferson and Madison toured New England to gain
support. In New York, they won over Governor George Clinton and also
the support of Aaron Burr, who had many followers in NYC.

2. October 1791: Madison and Jefferson established the National
Gazette, which aimed to criticize Hamilton’s views. They then
established the Republican Party—those who supported their views

3. Hamilton began setting up his party—the Federalists. They had
the great majority of newspapers and clergymen and the Federalist in
government were able to reward their party workers with jobs.

4. In 1792 the Republicans were not stable enough to run a
candidate for presidency. Washington agreed to serve again and was
elected for a second term.

5. Nevertheless the two-party term would remain a characteristic
of American politics to this day.

B. What were the two political parties and what were their basic

 1. Federalists: People whose opinion
were closest to those of Hamilton. They were considered “loose
constructionists” and were willing to stretch the Constitution via
interpretation. The supported strong central government and like
Hamilton were, for the most part, considered elitist. Federalists did
not support the concept of nullification, the notion that a state had
the right to declare a federal law “null and void.”

2. Democrat – Republicans: People whose views were closest
to Jefferson and Madison. They were considered “strict
constructionists” and felt the words of the Constitution should be
followed to the letter. They supported the concept of federalism and
were proponents of states rights. They supported the idea of
nullification, or the notion that a state could declare a federal law
“null and void.”

 C. What were some of the differences between Hamilton and


1. Hamilton wanted a powerful nation with a balanced
economy of agriculture, trade, finance, and manufacturing,.

2. He thought that the major weakness of the Confederation had
been its inability to raise money. He wanted to gain the support of
financial leaders for the new governments.

3. Hamilton believed that people in the masses were not to be
trusted because they acted “foolishly and needed a strong government
to tell them what to do. Only the rich, the educated and the well
born were the only people who counted. He feared that if the common
people got too much power, they might endanger private property.


1. Jefferson had a deep faith in the common people:
“those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God.”

2. Felt that city life corrupted people through ignorance and

3. Favored a weak central government and strong state governments

4. Viewed the American nation as a land of small independent
farmers and educated leaders working together in perfect harmony.

D. What was the result of the election of 1796?

1. The Republicans saw the election of 1796 as their
first opportunity to gain control over national policy. The chose
Jefferson as their candidate and Aaron Burr as their candidate for

2. Adams received 71 electoral votes and Jefferson 68. However,
the Constitution stated that the runner up for pres. should become
vice-pres. This is very important because a Republican President had
to serve under a Federalist Vice-President. This presented a problem
that would later be solved by the twelfth amendment.

3. Washington was disappointed that the election had broken down
into support for the South (Democrat – Republicans) and support from
the North (Federalists). Washington disapproved of
sectionalism—placing the interests of one region ahead of the welfare
of the nation as a whole.

E. How did party politics effect the Adams administration?

1. The high federalists decided to crush the criticism
that Adams was receiving from the Republican press.

2. The Alien Act—gave the president power to in peacetime to order
any alien out of the country

3. The Enemies Act—permitted the president in wartime to jail
aliens at his pleasure. (No arrests were made under either act but
many frightened French refugees left the country)

4. The Sedition Act—provided fines and jail penalties for anyone
guilty of sedition—speaking or writing “with the intent to defame…or
bring into contempt or disrepute” the president other members of the

F. How did party politics effect the election of 1800?

1. Republicans accused Adams of being the “tool of the
wealthy. Federalists accused Jefferson of being a friend of France
and of revolutionary disorder. None of these charges were accurate.

2. Adams received 65 votes and Jefferson received 73 but Burr, who
was also running, received 73 too. This meant that the House of
Representatives, which was dominated by Federalists, would have to
break the tie between two Republicans.

3. Hamilton intervened and persuaded enough Federalists to cast
blank ballots to give Jefferson the majority. Burr became the nations
third Vice President. This is ironic considering that Hamilton and

Jefferson battled throughout their careers and had totally contrary
political views. The fact of the matter was that Hamilton did not
trust Burr. He saw Burr as an opportunist and a power monger. He
respected Jefferson as a patriot and despite the fact that he
disagreed with Jeffersons politics he felt that Jefferson would
always act in the best interests of the nation. Needless to say Burr
felt that Hamilton, the leader of his political party, stabbed him in
the back.

(It should be noted that Burr later shot and killed
Hamilton in a duel. 8 years later, as Burr ran for governor of New
York, Hamilton campaigned against him. Burr, lost and challenged him
to a duel. Hamilton, who had publicly resolved not to fire, was shot
and killed

4. Most politicians now recognized the need to change the system
of voting in the Electoral College. The next Congress drafted the
twelfth amendment.

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