From the beginning of the formation of a republic in the United States, many people feared the creation of factious voting blocks which would impose the will of a vocal minority on the majority of the people. Despite steps to avoid this, two political parties did form after George Washington stated that he would not seek another term and it became unclear who would be the next president. These parties were the Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the Democratic Republican Party, led by Thomas Jefferson. The Federalists were conservative and as a result their beliefs centered on a strong central government. The Democratic Republicans were liberal and supported the rights of states and individuals. The two political parties which formed after Washington’s presidency, the Federalist Party and the Democratic Republican Party, expressed the polarized extremes of the young nation’s beliefs in terms of socioeconomic and political issues.
The first major divide between the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans was over socioeconomic issues. The Federalists believed that the country should be led by the best people, who they viewed as the educated elite.1 They argued that only the highly educated could make informed decisions about important political decisions and that extending the vote to the many would result in mob rule, a disruption of the status quo, and ruin for the country.2 On the other hand, the Democratic Republican Party believed that the country’s leadership should be in the hands of the informed many. Like the Federalists they did not want to extend the vote to the mob, but they believed that common men could lead the country effectively once sufficiently informed.3 In addition, the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans differed over the relative importance of business and agriculture.
The Federalists supported business, including shipbuilding, trade, and the infant manufacturing that was developing in urban centers. As a result of this, the Federalists supported the creation of tariffs to protect growing domestic business and to generate revenue for the government. Also, they favored the creation of a national bank that could provide the capital necessary for businesses to start and grow. On the other hand, the Democratic Republicans supported agriculture, extolling the independent farm as the basic unit of the country. The Democratic Republican’s argued against tariffs because they made the goods that farmers could not produce on their own more expensive.
The Democratic Republicans supported state banks which would be accessible to all individuals and therefore provide the necessary capital to purchase land and start a farm.4 All of these factors led a different socioeconomic demographic to become loyal to each party. As a result of the support of business and the elite, the Federalists mainly received support form the urban upper class. As a result of the support of agriculture and the common people, the Democratic Republican Party mainly received support from rural farmers and recent immigrants.5
The second major divide between the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans was over political issues. At the core of the Federalist political beliefs was a strong central government. They believed that strong central government was the only way to keep people in line and maintain the status quo. On the other hand, the Democratic Republicans believed in strong states’ rights and a weak central government. They believed that a strong central government would turn tyrannical and that it needed to be suppressed by the states and the people. As result of their belief in strong central government, the Federalists believed in an elastic interpretation to the Constitution and afforded the federal government all powers that it was not expressly forbidden. On the other hand, the Democratic Republicans beliefs in a severely limited central government led them to believe in a very literal interpretation of the Constitution that afforded the federal government only the powers that were specifically granted to it.6 In addition, the Federalists’ belief in strong central government led them to favor acquiring a national debt as a result of spending money for the good of the country.
The Democratic Republicans were opposed to a national debt because they felt that the federal government should not be allowed unlimited spending power. In addition, they argued that it placed an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers. The final point of political argument centered over the size and strength of the navy. The Federalists wanted a strong navy which would allow the United States to assert itself on the world stage.7 On the other hand, the Democratic Republicans were more isolationist and wanted a limited navy for defense only.
The Federalist and Democratic Republican parties differed in their core beliefs in socioeconomics and politics. The Federalists’ socioeconomic beliefs centered on rule by the educated elite and resulted in a conservative pro-business outlook. Their political beliefs centered on a powerful central government and resulted in the support of looser interpretation of the Constitution, unlimited national spending, and a strong navy. The Democratic Republicans socioeconomic beliefs centered on rule by the informed many and resulted in a liberal pro-agriculture outlook. The Democratic Republicans belief in a severely limited federal government led to the support of strict interpretation of the Constitution, limited national spending, and a defensive navy. The issues that these first two political parties brought to debate still lie at the foundation of many of today’s political viewpoints.
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