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The Federalists: America’s First Political Party

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Today, the Republican and Democratic Parties take turns running the United States government. While those are the most popular political parties, others have existed through our nation’s history. In the beginning, there were no official parties.

The Federalist Party was the first official political party in the United States. Alexander Hamilton served under President George Washington as secretary of the treasury, but his policies earned strong opposition. Hamilton thought a strong national government was the best way to run the country. He and others who agreed with this idea formed the Federalist Party in 1791.

The Federalists wanted a good relationship with Britain, which was at war with France. They wanted to pay the national debt (money borrowed from others) and establish the Bank of the United States. They were against widespread voting rights and called democracy “mob rule.”

John Adams was in the Federalist Party. In 1797, he became the second President of the United States – and the first to do so as a member of a political party. Adams had an undeclared war with France. To fund this, the Federalists raised taxes. They also signed Jay’s Treaty, which made deals with Britain to prevent war. The Federalists’ policies – especially Jay’s Treaty – drew a lot of opposition. With control of the presidency, Congress, and the courts, the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798.  This law gave the government the power to kick foreigners out of the country. It also let the government punish the press for saying “scandalous” things about it.

Adams finally made peace with France in 1799, but this split the party. Some members followed Adams, and others went with Hamilton. Adams didn’t win re-election in 1800. The Federalists did continue to win some state elections, but they never again put a president in office. The party was dissolved in 1824.

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