U.S. History/US history


Trace the development of political parties in the U.S. from Washington's to Jefferson's election.


Hi Matthew,

Most of the founding political leaders expressed a distaste for parties, which they saw as interested factions that would prevent decisions from being made on an issue's individual merits.  But within the first few years under the Constitution, political parties began to develop.

Alexander Hamilton was one of the most active members of President Washington's administration.  He was trying to deal with the massive war debt, create a monetary system, and help reestablish international trade and finance.  To accomplish all these things, he needed the support of both the Administration and Congress.  He began reaching out to like minded men in Congress to work on these issues.  These men also began seeking out candidates to run for office to increase support for their agenda in Congress.

At the same time, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Congressman James Madison were deeply opposed to many of Hamilton's policies.  They wanted a more limited government with a more reduced role in the economy.   They similarly began to work with like minded allies to push their agenda.

By the 1792 elections both sides were working to help like minded candidates get elected to office, although most of this help was limited to encouragement and advice, as well as public advocacy for and against candidates in newspapers and other publications.  This coordination was considered active party involvement.

By the 1796 elections, the parties had reached a more powerful level, with most congressional candidates declaring membership in one party or the other.  Presidents Washington and Adams never joined any party, but the Federalist Party nevertheless supported Adams for the Presidency in 1796, with the Democratic-Republicans backing Jefferson.  

The Federalist's won that election but began to have leadership problems.  President Adams went out of his way to rise above partisanship.  Alexander Hamilton's views were often seen as too extreme for many other Federalist leaders.  As the party out of power, the Democratic Republicans continued to organize and build electoral power.  By 1800, they were able to win overwhelmingly, putting Jefferson in the Presidency and taking large majorities in Congress.  The Democratic-Republicans tended to hold that majority position for most of the time up to the Civil War, eventually morphing into the Democratic Party of today.  The Federalists faded, eventually morphing into the Whig Party, which had a few wins but also faded.  Eventually the remnants of the Whig Party formed the Republican party in the 1850's.

Ironically, although the Democratic party became dominant, the Federalist positions tend to be the ones favored today.  Federalists favored a larger federal government with more power over the States.  They favored more federal spending on infrastructure, a larger military, and more international trade.  They saw the future in industrialism and trade rather than farming, and supported a normalization of relations with Britain.  All these positions have succeeded in establishing themselves today, probably far beyond the wildest dreams of the federalists.  The Democrats generally have abandoned the original positions of their founders, which saw an extremely limited federal government, far more power for State governments, a largely farm based economy, no standing army, and France as the country's primary world ally.

I hope this helps!
- Mike  

U.S. History

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Michael Troy


I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.


I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.


J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

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