The Federalist Party

After the passage and ratification of the Constitution and subsequent Bill of Rights, the Legislative Branch began to resemble what it is today. While organized political parties were nonexistent during the presidency of George Washington, informal factions formed between congressmen that were either ‘Pro-Administration’ or ‘Anti-Administration’. After George Washington stepped down as President, the informal coalitions in Congress became officially organized, transforming the ‘Pro-Administration’ faction into the Federalist Party and the ‘Anti-Administration’ faction into the Jeffersonian Party (Also known as the Democratic-Republicans or Anti-Federalists).

The Federalist Party was formed by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison who all authored many of the Federalist Papers. Hamilton was a key ideological figure for this political party, influencing other party members with his previous experience as the Secretary of the Treasury under Washington. Thus, the party advocated for a stronger national government centered around the Executive Branch among other federal entities. The main base of support for this party came from the urban cities as well as the New England area. The supporters were of the mind that the national government was superior to the state government, thus establishing a governmental hierarchy.

The Federalist Party had many successes throughout the late 1700s in the Legislative Branch. In the Executive Branch, the second President of the United States, John Adams, was a member of the Federalist Party and was to be the only Federalist president in US history. Once the early 1800s arrived, the Federalists began to lose support among the American voters, allowing the rival Jeffersonian Party to garner support. The death of Hamilton at the hands of Aaron Burr and the final Federalist candidate for President losing in 1816 (Rufus King) marked the end of the Federalist Party. However, Supreme Court Chief Justice, and moderate Federalist, John Marshall continued the party’s legacy of federal supremacy long after the party’s dissolution.  

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton



The Federalist Party saw the Articles of Confederation as weak and indicative of the inevitable instability a nation will face without a strong centralized government. Thus, the party advocated heavily in favor of the Implied Powers of the President within the Constitution alongside Federal Supremacy. Despite fears of a tyrannical central figure, the Federalists maintained that the Constitution was to act as a safeguard in order to prevent a tyrant from taking power. The preventative measures for the federal government were to come in the form of checks and balances that were laid out in the Constitution, alongside other measures like Senate approval/ratification, Judicial Review, and Executive appointed positions. The Federalist Party in Congress passed the Naturalization Act of 1790 which provided citizenship for “free white person[s] ... of good character” who had been in the United States for a certain amount of time. This law was amended in 1798 to increase the minimum time one had to be a resident in the US from 5 years to 14 years. Furthermore, the law granted children of US citizens that were born abroad US citizenship. However, the Federalist’s most controversial domestic law put into place was the Sedition Act of 1798. The law, signed under President John Adams, allowed people who wrote “false, scandalous, or malicious writing” regarding the government to be imprisoned, fined, or even deported.


The Revolutionary War caused the Continental Congress to amass an incredible amount of war debt that was inherited by the new United States Government. Additionally, under the Articles of Confederation, the debt of individual states was unable to be collected by the federal government, resulting in more economic issues for the infant nation. Hamilton’s previous experience as Secretary of the Treasury heavily influenced the Federalist economic thought. Thus, the party’s policies reflected a focus on the national economy rather than that of individual states. The Federalist debt platform focused around import tariffs and taxation of shipping tonnage to gain revenue while protecting industries in the US to make the new nation self-sufficient. Additionally, the US government paid all state debts in order to give legitimacy to the national government. Hamilton managed to accomplish this by having investors invest in public securities, a type of bond that must be repaid-with interest, thus giving the federal government the money to be able to pay off the debt of each state. Furthermore, the public investment established credit between the national government and international and domestic investors. In addition to creating a strong line of public credit, the Federalist’s established the First National Bank in 1791 to ensure a safe and fair system of trading and exchanging securities through a stable national currency. James Madison contested that congress did not have the power to create a national bank and later sided with Thomas Jefferson and his party of Jeffersonians in opposition to these Federalist policies.


Tensions between the United States and Britain were at an all-time high despite the Revolutionary War being over with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. British forces remained in forts among the Great Lakes area, Canada was still ruled by the British Empire, captured American shipping vessels traveling from the British West Indies, and provided weapons to numerous Native American tribes, while the British government refused to clarify a solid border between the US and Canada, impressed American sailors for service in the British Navy against Revolutionary France, and never paid compensation for the slaves of Loyalist settlers, although the peace agreement stated otherwise. The Federalists, horrified at the actions of Revolutionary France, were keen on repairing and maintaining a stable relationship with Britain. To resolve this issue, Federalists promoted the ratification of the Jay Treaty. The treaty, negotiated by Supreme Court Justice John Jay, solidified the US-Canadian border, removed British military presence in the Great Lakes region, allowed American shipping to access portions of the British West Indies, and established a trading relationship between the US and Britain which included Anti-French trading practices. The Anti-French sentiments among the Federalists continued to grow. The Federalist President John Adams refused to repay war debts to Revolutionary France because of Adam’s belief that the debt was owed to the French Kingdom rather than the current regime. This act outraged the First French Republic who then refused to negotiate with American delegations without a bribe beforehand. This sparked the XYZ Affair which insulted the American government and resulted in the ‘Quasi-War’ with France which saw the back and forth capture of American and French shipping on seabound trade routes. Additionally, the Federalists passed the Alien Acts, which allowed the president to deport any foreign national that may threaten the peace and security of the US or any military-aged man of a hostile country. The acts of aggression angered those opposed to the Federalists and increased popular support for the Jeffersonians. Furthermore, the Federalists were staunchly opposed to the War of 1812, which they titled “Mr. Madison’s War”. In some instances, certain Federalist areas refused to call up volunteers and militias to fight against the British. Federalist opposition to the War of 1812 was so widespread that many contend that the war was the United States’ most unpopular war. 

Further Reading