Lecture 7: Federalists and Republicans


This lecture deals with the late 1700s and the early 1800s, when the new republic was working out how things would function under the Constitution. An unexpected (but fortunate) development was the rise of the first political parties, the Federalists and the Republicans. During this time the US also doubled its size and explored the West.


Outline of Lecture


Look for these themes: Would the federal experiment work? Would political parties tear the country apart? Could an independent United States hold its own in the world?

The First American Political Parties

Political parties, although regarded with distaste by the Framers, perform important functions in democracies. The original American political parties were the Federalists and the Republicans. The Federalists envisioned an activist government pursuing economic development. The Republicans envisioned a limited government protecting individual liberties.

Federalists in Power

Alexander Hamilton precipitated the formation of political parties by posing an assertive, four-point plan for development. The points were: funding the national debt at par; assuming the debts of the states; enacting tariffs for revenue and protection; and establishing a national bank. Hamiltonís aim was to secure the support of the wealthy elite for the new federal government.

Revolution American Style

The Federalist program provoked opposition. The government not only crushed the Whiskey Rebellion but also threatened free speech with the Sedition Act. The Republicans countered with the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, proposing interposition against the federal government. The Republican victory in the election of 1800, however, showed how a democracy could defuse revolution by arranging an orderly transition of power.

Westward the Star of Empire

Jefferson, an agrarian president, desired land for future farms. The purchase of Louisiana provided this in 1803. Louisiana, however, was largely unknown to eastern Americans, who had fantastic ideas about what lay out there. Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery provided intelligence about the new land and stimulated interest in the West. Zebulon Pike, however, depicted much of Louisiana as a worthless desert.

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8. Political Parties


Tocqueville is writing in the time of President Andrew Jackson, a time when the two-party system had withered away, and for a while, the US had only one functioning party. On the other hand, he writes quite a bit about the Federalists and Republicans of an earlier era, when partisanship was rife. And many of his comments about political parties are timeless. It falls to us to consider whether they have general application.


         America once had great political parties, Tocqueville says, but doesn't anymore. He is writing in the times of Andrew Jackson, which we will study later. The great parties he is writing about are the Federalists and the Republicans, the subject of this lecture. What made them great parties?

         There is a fundamental question that divides one political party from another. It was so in the days of the Federalists and the Republicans, and is likely so in other times. What is this question? Does it apply to our political parties today?

         How do the wealthy stand in relation to parties and politics in America?

         Class lecture on this topic lays out some reasons for and advantages to political parties in America. Are these in agreement with Tocqueville?


Check out my page on Jefferson's Salt Mountain.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition is the subject not only of the last portion of this lecture bit also of a landmark Ken Burns documentary on PBS. Go to the PBS web site on Lewis & Clark and test your mettle as an explorer going Into the Unknown.

Film Review

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Book Review

Ambrose, Undaunted Courage

The story of the Corps of Discovery (Lewis & Clark Expedition) in the form of a biography of its courageous and flawed leader, Meriwether Lewis. Fine narrative history.

Crowgey, Kentucky Bourbon


Hofstadter, The Idea of a Party System


Miller, Crisis in Freedom


Snowiss, Judicial Review and the Law of the Constitution