Founded in 1789, the Federalist Party was America’s first political party. By contrast, the Anti-Federalists opposed them. However, the Anti-Federalists weren’t actually a political party in their own right. They were more supporters of an ideology that fizzled out when their purpose was fulfilled. As such, the Federalists hung around a bit longer than their counterparts. But this only scratches the surface. Let’s discuss the platforms of each a bit more in-depth.
Who Were the Federalists and Anti-Federalists?
Despite being the first ever political party, the Federalists only ever had 1 president; John Adams. After losing the Election of 1800 to Thomas Jefferson, the Federalists would never retake control of the oval office.
The Federalist Party was primarily focused on a strong, centralized American government. They wanted to boost the economy and maintain a beneficial relationship with Great Britain. Knowing that the Federalists were mostly businessmen and bankers, it’s pretty fitting that the party would want to focus on the budding American economy.
Alexander Hamilton was a Federalist, and if you know anything about his views on fiscal policy, it should come as no surprise that the Federalists were also calling for a US National Bank.
Federalists and the Jay Treaty
While we’ve referenced the Anti-Federalists, the Federalists actually spent far more of their time opposing the Democratic-Republicans. This is mostly because, like we said before, the Anti-Federalists were not actually a political party. They comprised a movement. After it fell apart, most of its members would fold into the Democratic-Republican party.
With that out of the way, the Federalists would see the first partisan conflicts within America, starting with foreign relations. Particularly, debates around Great Britain and the Jay Treaty.
The Jay Treaty, in essence, kept America from entering further armed conflict with Great Britain during the French Revolutionary War. For context, the French Revolutionary Wars had begun around 1792, while the treaty was signed in 1794. The Federalists, with an economic platform, were of course all for a treaty that facilitated peaceful trade between young America and Great Britain. On the other hand, their Democratic-Republican counterparts stood against the treaty–they thought America could take a weakened Britain in armed conflict.
Eventually, despite the Federalists winning out on pushing the Jay Treaty, the campaigns against it would shift public opinion towards Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans come the Election of 1800.
Federalists and the Alien/Sedition Acts
During John Adams’ time as president, then VP Thomas Jefferson didn’t really like Adams (it was mutual, Jefferson would run against Adams in 1800). Early American history really operates like a sitcom, it’s very petty and fun.
Regardless, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 gave the president power to deport non-citizens (at the time, immigrants largely supported the Democratic-Republicans). The Sedition Act was insidious in a different manner. It limited the ability for the American public to criticize the American government.
As a result, many Democratic-Republican papers were shut down, and Jefferson would work to get state legislatures to nullify both the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Both these acts would be highly controversial if enacted in 2019, and it was no different in the late 1790s. It would cause a fracture within the Federalists (those who supported Adams and those who didn’t), eventually leading to Jefferson’s victory over the incumbent Adams in 1800.
The Anti-Federalists more or less came about as soon as Federalism (as an ideology) did. They weren’t an organized party, but feared centralized power–specifically centralizing power on the president. This makes quite a bit of sense them, considering the Anti-Federalists were coming off the coattails of gaining independence from a monarchy.
So, the Anti-Federalists were opposed to the US Constitution as it was originally made. So much so that they made the Bill of Rights, without its future amendments. They were very much built on the idea of individual liberties, fearing removal of state power (from a national government), and a possible monarchy in the president. The Anti-Federalists also wanted more checks against the American judicial branch.
Eventually, though, both the Constitution and Bill of Rights were passed, so the need for the Anti-Federalist movement waned. Supporters of the movement would eventually move to the Anti-Administration Party, quickly evolving into the Democratic-Republican Party we talked about earlier.
Can you name all the US Political Parties with Electoral Votes?