Glossary of 18th and 19th Political Terms

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Federalists were a political party that existed during the Early Republic who held power from 1789 until 1801. Federalists favored a looser interpretation of the Constitution and desired a stronger central government. Policies that Federalists supported include a central bank, federal assumption of state debt, and strong protective tariffs. Federalists did not trust the French and wanted a stronger relationship with the British, which they achieved through Jay's Treaty in 1794. Even though they had not held power for over a decade, the Federalist party continued to exist throughout the War of 1812, which they bitterly opposed. New England Federalists adopted strong sectional positions and threatened to secede over the war with the Hartford Convention in 1815. By 1817 the party was practically dead. However, many of the Federalist policies continued with the National Republican Party which formed in the 1820s.

National Republican:

A short lived political party that existed between 1824-1833. Following the collapse of the Federalists, the Democratic-Republican Party (also known as the Jeffersonian Republicans) remained the only political party in the United States. However, factions existed within the party and in 1824 the Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams faction (influenced by a more nationalistic federalist ideology) split from the Andrew Jackson faction to form the National Republican Party. National Republicans advocated for a strong central government, a national bank, a system of federally funded internal improvements and a system of high protective tariffs. Despite Adam’s loss to Jackson in 1828, the party grew and ran Clay as their candidate in 1832. Jackson and the Democrats dominated that election which essentially killed the National Republican Party. However, former National Republicans and anti-Jacksonian groups soon formed the Whig Party.

Whig (American):

The Whig Party was an American Political party that was founded in 1833 in response to the Jackson Administration. The term Whig is in reference to the British political party who opposed the tyrannical King George III. This anti-tyrannical descriptive applied to the American Whig Party which formed in resistance to Andrew Jackson, who was nicknamed King Andrew for his perceived overuse of executive authority. The Whig Party served as a coalition comprised of a variety of different positions, often with little policy overlap. Members of the Whig Party included: former National Republicans, anti-Jacksonian Democrats, anti-masons, nullifiers, states' rights advocates, supporters of the Bank of the United States, tariff promoters and supporters of internal improvements. Consequently, the Whigs never developed a cohesive party platform. In their most successful election in 1840, they ran military hero William Henry Harrison on a platform devoid of issues. Harrison’s succeeded because of the electioneering of the log-cabin campaign, which adopted many strategies the Democrats used to elect Jackson. In the late 1840s, the Whig Party began to fracture as the “Conscious” (anti-slavery) and “Cotton” (pro-slavery) factions emerged. The Compromise of 1850 turned the “Conscious” Whigs away from the Party. Although never President, Henry Clay is the politician most associated with the party and his death along Franklin Pierce’s election in 1852 was the final nail in the coffin for the party. Generally, northern Whigs joined forces with the Republicans; however, the former Whigs that did not want to take a sectional side found a home with the Know-Nothing Party, which later formed into the Constitutional Union Party.

Whig (British):

A member of the British reforming and constitutional party that sought the supremacy of Parliament. The British Whig party was often contesting power with the rival Tory party. Primarily, the Whig party supported the power of Parliament in a constitutional monarchy over an absolute monarchy. The Whig party controlled the British government from 1715-1760 in a period called the "Whig supremacy." during which they sought to force all Tories out of positions of power. The Whig party tended to support the aristocracy, although, overall, their opinions on subjects including religious toleration, classes, and economics were frequently changing between the 18th and 19th centuries. Aligning themselves with the British Whig party, who opposed an absolute monarchy, American colonists who rejected the rule of England began calling themselves "Whigs" before taking on the name of "Patriot." Due to the fact that the British Whigs were often changing their policies, they were not considered a strong party in the 19th century. They tended to agree that the power of the monarchy should be reduced, they sympathized with nonconformists, and supported merchants. Towards the mid-19th century, the Whig party gained more traction as a party as they established a stronger foundation of beliefs. They supported moral and parliamentary reforms as well as the abolition of slavery, and the idea of shifting power from the aristocracy to the middle classes. By the end of the 19th century, the Whig party joined with free-trade supporting Tories and Radicals and transformed into the Liberal party. 

Tory (British)

A member of the British party who tended to support the supremacy of the king over parliament,  pitting themselves against the Whig party who contested an absolute monarchy. The Tories were often engaged in a struggle for power against the Whigs. For multiple decades in the 18th century, the Whig party dominated the government and worked hard to ensure that Tories stayed out of positions of power who were in turn alienated for the majority of that period. By the time King George III ascended to the throne in 1760, the Tory party was divided in different factions and weak. The term "Tory" however was still applied to those who supported the supremacy of King George III. The term crossed the Atlantic and was additionally applied to American colonists who supported England and opposed the American Revolution, also called Loyalists. In the 19th century, the term "Tory" became relatively outdated as many Tories joined the new Conservative party and others joined the Liberal party.


The first Anti-Slavery national party in the United States. The Republican Party formed after the collapse of the Whig Party and was formed in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The party consisted of a coalition of wealthy businessmen, farmers, craftsman and wage workers, all of whom were northerners. Most Republicans opposed slavery for economic reasons (see free soilers); however, a few opposed it for moral reasons. All Republicans opposed the slave power, and many viewed the restriction of slavery in the territories as the best way to combat the slave power. As the 1850s progressed and sectional tensions increased, the Republican Party gained more membership. The election of the first Republican President triggered the secession of the lower South states. During the Civil War, the Republican Party supported the war and faced challenges from the Democrat Party. Following the war, the Republican Party dominated national politics for the remainder of the nineteenth century.


Anti-Federalists were a coalition of men in the late 18th century who unsuccessfully opposed the ratification of the Constitution as they opposed a strong federal government. It was through their protests that the United States drafted the Bill of Rights to better protect the rights of individuals from an encroaching federal government. Patrick Henry remains one of the most famous Anti-Federalists. Although not a political party, the Anti-Federalists served as the precursors to the Democratic-Republicans as they both supported state-rights and a strict interpretation of the Constitution.


Democratic-Republican is a modern term used to describe Jeffersonian Republicans in order to distinguish them from the Republican Party that emerged in the 1850s. The Democratic-Republican party formed in 1796 when Thomas Jefferson broke ranks with Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, believing that the federal government held too much power, and favored the affluent as opposed to the common man. Thus, the Democrat-Republicans are this country’s first opposition party. Democratic-Republicans supported a decentralized government and an agrarian society (as opposed to an industrial one.) Democratic-Republicans favored a strict interpretation of the Constitution. The main supporters of the Democratic-Republicans included immigrants, northern merchants/artists, and southern farmers. The Democratic-Republicans held power from 1801-1825 and remained the only political party during the Era of Good Feelings. However, factions existed within the party and the Clay/Adams wing (much more in support of a federalist ideology) split off to from the National Republicans. Following 1825, the party became much more influenced by Jacksonian principles and this new party became known simply as the Democrat Party.


In 1825, with the Clay/Adams faction of the Democratic-Republican Party splitting off to form the National Republicans, the Jacksonian faction remained and essentially morphed into the Democrat Party. While the Democrats had national appeal, they were more regional and less nationalistic in their policies than the National Republicans. For example, Democrats opposed federal intervention in economy and as such opposed a national bank in favor of state banks. Although Democrats remained in favor of limiting perceived extensions of federal authority, they remained staunchly unionist, with a small faction in support of secession. Additionally, Democrats believed in Manifest Destiny and thus ardently supported territorial expansion which manifested itself in a variety of policies including Indian Removal and the Mexican-American War. The Democratic Party as a whole was a pro-slavery party-many northern democrats supported policies that promoted slavery in order to preserve the national alliance. It wasn’t until the late 1840s that slavery became an issue for the party which festered throughout the 1850s until the party split along sectional lines. It was not that northern Democrats were abolitionists, in fact they were far from it, but in the 1850s they became increasingly upset that southern interests dominated the party’s policies at the expense of northern ones. In 1860, the Democratic Party intentionally ran two separate candidates, Stephen Douglas and John C. Breckenridge, this divided voters and led to the election of Abraham Lincoln. Following Lincoln’s election, the southern wing of the party seceded and joined the Confederacy. The northern wing remained loyal to the United States and although a faction party, the Copperheads, vehemently opposed the war. Following the war, former Confederates rejoined the party, which dominated state politics but failed to successfully compete with the Republicans at a national level.

Know Nothing/American Party:

A nativist political party that grew out of anti-immigrant (and anti-Catholic) sentiment in the 1840s when the United States saw a huge surge in immigration. The name “Know Nothing” originated from a practice among members: when asked about their nativist organization they were told to response “I know nothing” in order to keep practices secret. As the group began to grow in the 1850s, they shed their anti-immigration name and adopted the name the American Party. During the contentious decade of the 1850s, the popularity of the party exploded as many former Whigs did not support the anti-slavery positions of the Republicans but did not want to join ranks with the pro-slavery Democrats. When the 34th United States Congress assembled in 1855, 43 representatives were members of the party. However, at their presidential convention in 1856 the party split along sectional lines over the proslavery platform the party ran on. In 1856 the Know Nothings ran former President Millard Filmore who only carried one state in the Electoral College. Anti-slavery Know Nothings joined the Republican party, whereas pro-slavery Know Nothings flocked to the Democrats, the remaining members created the Constitutional Union Party in 1859.

Constitutional Union Party:

Formed in 1859 by former Know Nothings and Whigs, the Constitutional Party was a moderate party that remained committed to the United States Constitution and protecting the Union without any influence from sectional issues: specifically, slavery. In the Election of 1860 the Constitutional Union Party ran John Bell and achieved some success gaining 39 Electoral College votes from boarder states and Virginia. However, the party was short lived and collapsed soon after the Civil War began. The Constitutional Union Party mainly served as a vehicle for Abraham Lincoln’s election by siphoning off votes that would have gone to Lincoln’s main opponent John Breckenridge.


Another word for an immigrant. The Alien and Sedition Acts (1798) specifically targeted immigrants and those who spoke out against the Adams’ Administration in the press.

War Hawk:

Primarily young politicians from the South and West, War Hawks actively encouraged an armed conflict with Great Britain in the lead up to the War of 1812 mainly because they wanted to add land to the U.S. (mainly Canada and Florida) enabling the promotion of an agrarian economy and the spread of slavery. War Hawks drummed up anti-British sentiment and supported an embargo which led to the War of 1812. Notable War Hawks include John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay.

Colonization (Slavery):

Colonization was a conservative plan for eventual emancipation in the antebellum era. Many prominent politicians joined the American Colonization Society (ACS), which a group of Presbyterians founded in 1816 and served as the leading advocate for colonization. The main idea of colonization is that masters would voluntarily, gradually and peacefully manumit slaves. In theory, these newly freed slaves would form a colony outside the United States, often in Africa where they would form their own successful agrarian society. The ACS transported these newly freed slaves to their colonies and aided them in starting the colony. Abraham Lincoln, a member of the ACS, argued that colonization was an advantageous policy for eventual emancipation because “it is better for [blacks and whites] to be separated.” This thought that freed blacks and whites could not peacefully live amongst each other served as the prevailing view behind colonization. The ACS first colony in Sierra Leone failed before the group achieved some success in Liberia. Between 1821 and 1867, the ACS transported 10,000 black Americans back to Africa. Colonization served as the more conservative faction of the anti-slavery movement and achieved popularity among Americans, even among some slaveowners in the Antebellum era.

Free-Soil Movement

At the heart of the free-soil movement was the commitment to keep slavery out of newly gained territories. Unlike abolitionists, free-soilers did not want to touch slavery in places it currently existed but rather wanted to stop its spread.  Free-soilers objected to slavery not because they viewed it as an abominable institution, but because it hurt northern whites. Specifically, free-soilers wanted to reduce the political influence of slaveowners by increasing the number of free states because many believed slaveowners controlled American politics (for more see Slave Power Conspiracy). Additionally, slavery eliminated labor competition, so by restricting it the in territories made these places a competitive place for labor which benefited northern whites who moved there in search of economic opportunities. The Free Soil Party briefly existed between 1848 and 1854 before merging into the Republican Party.


On the more radical side of the anti-slavery spectrum were abolitionists who desired the immediate emancipation of all slaves without compensation to slaveowners. William Lloyd Garrison served as one of the main founders of the American abolitionist movement and worked endlessly to end slavery in the United States. Abolitionists often used the printed word, including newspapers, slave testimonies and narratives to spread their message and link grassroots abolitionist groups together. However, abolitionists remained deeply unpopular among northerners until the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s incredibly popular fictional novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin which opened northerner’s eyes to the humanitarian concern over slavery. Yet, many northerners still failed to support immediate and forced abolition, believing it to be too radical and that the eve of the Civil War abolitionists represents a fraction of the northern population.

13th , 14th, 15th Amendments: 

Known collectively as the “Civil War Amendments,” the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments attempted to extend civil and legal protection to recently emancipate slaves. Ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery nationwide. Ratified on July 9, 1868, the 14th amendment most significantly guaranteed all citizens, both natural born and naturalized, “equal protection under the laws.” The amendment also stripped former Confederates of their right to hold public office, limited their representation in Congress and prohibited former Confederates from repaying war debts or offering compensation to former slave owners. The United States ratified the 15th Amendment on February 3, 1870 which prohibited states from disenfranchising voters "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Despite these amendments, newly emancipated slaves experienced systematic discrimination and violence during the Jim Crow Era.


Nullification is the principle that states can nullify federal authority when it infringes on the rights of its citizens. Nullification theory served at the center of the Nullification Crisis. In the 1850s, the principles behind nullification manifested itself in secession theory, which takes the concept of nullification to an extreme.

Fire Eater:

A Fire Eater refers to a Southern Democrat who staunchly supported secession during the late antebellum era. As southern nationalists, Fire Eaters believed that the United States government was incapable of protecting slavery because of the perceived northern desire for abolition. As such, throughout the 1850s, Fire Eaters continually argued for secession as the only means to protect slavery which they considered to be a benevolent institution that served as the foundation for southern society. While Fire Eaters remained a minority among southerners, they increasingly gained influence as the decade progressed and sectional tensions increased. Their influenced peaked after John Brown’s Raid and the Election of 1860 which triggered the secession of many lower South states.

“Dough Faced” Democrat:

A “Dough Faced” Democrat was a derogatory term used to describe northern Democrats who promoted and protected southern interests to the detriment of northern interests. Many northern Democrats remained ambivalent to slavery in a bid to maintain a political alliance with southern Democrats for the benefit of the party, but as sectional tensions increased in the 1840s and 1850s, those northern Democrats who consistently continued this practice were labeled as “Dough Faced.” Many northerners believed that “Dough Faced” Democrats remained an integral part of the Slave Power Conspiracy. Some politicians who faced charges of being a “dough-faced” included: James Buchannan, Franklin Pierce, and Stephen Douglas.

Slave Power Conspiracy:

The Slave Power Conspiracy refers to a perception among northerners that northern Democrats (“Dough Faced” Democrats) conspired with southerners to promote and protect slavery within all three branches of government. The term “slave power” refers to the political and socioeconomic power held by slaveowners that allowed their interests to dominate national politics when they remained in the minority. As the 1850s progressed, the Slave Power Conspiracy alienated many northerners away from the Democratic party as they believed their interests would be subjugated to the interests of southerners. A few alleged examples of the Slave Power Conspiracy include: Buchanan’s support for the Lecompton Constitution, his support of the Dred Scott decision, Polk’s war with Mexico, the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the strengthened Fugitive Slave Law. The Slave Power Conspiracy ramped up sectional tensions in the 1850s.


Also known as a Peace Democrat, the Copperheads were a faction in the North during the Civil War that opposed war with the seceded states and argued for peace. Copperheads wanted the immediate suspension of hostilities and peace negotiations with the Confederate government. Most Copperheads were Democrats, but not all Democrats were Copperheads. The strongest areas of support for Copperheads included the Midwest (as they had much stronger ties to the South) and areas like New York City where the large immigrant population opposed conscription and emancipation believing that it would cause competition for jobs and housing. At the Democratic Party Convention in the summer of 1864, Copperheads gained control of the party message and ran George McClellan on a peace platform. While not monumentally influential, Copperheads proved to be a thorn in the side of Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans throughout the entire war.

Popular Sovereignty:

The definition for popular sovereignty comes from Article 21 of the Kansas-Nebraska Act which specified that “all questions pertaining to slavery in the territories, and in the new states to be formed therefrom are to be left to the people residing therein.” The adoption of popular sovereignty as the chosen policy for organizing territory repealed the Missouri Compromise and meant that Congress had no authority to regulate slavery in the territories, as it was the people who resided in those areas who determined the slavery policy. The adoption of popular sovereignty in Kansas led to Bleeding Kansas.