The Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania, 1790-1801: A Study in National Stimulus and Local Response

By Harry Marlin Tinkcom | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS OF 1791 AND 1792

IN THE Pennsylvania Congressional elections of 1791 and 1792 the Federalists and Republicans shared several common aims: both had a profound respect for the sanctity of property, both desired a stable representative governent, and both wished to uphold the State and National Constitutions. The contest of 1792 was born of a curious mixture of divergent nominatory procedures, old political feuds and resentments, personal rivalries and ambitions. These were the principal ingredients in the political stew. The pièce de resistance, a burning issue which could inspire state-wide discussion and mold public opinion, was absent. Some issues there were, of course, but in the general scheme of things they played an unimportant part. Although two contesting groups appeared, neither was sufficiently strong nor confident enough to present two distinct congressional tickets to the public. Since both factions lacked state-wide organization, the principal work was done by small coteries of individuals in Philadelphia. Clear and definite party lines did not appear.

The Pennsylvania Congressional election law of October 4, 1788, applied only to the elections held in that year.1 In the normal course of events Representatives to the Second Congress would have been selected in 1790, but on September 3, 1790, one day after the new constitution was adopted, the Assembly precipitately dissolved without making any provision for an election.2 Consequently none was held in that year. Obviously, if the State were to be represented in the Second Congress, a special or off-year election would be necessary.

As a result, the subject was one of the earliest items of business to be considered by the first legislature under the new constitution. It had barely convened in December, 1790, when Cadwalader Evans, hardy conservative perennial from Montgomery County, urged the lower house to frame an election law. Then William Findley and Blair McClenachan, from Westmoreland and Philadelphia counties respectively, sought to delay the appointment of a committee to bring in a bill until the question could be discussed in the committee of the whole. It is certain that Findley had not forgotten the Federalist victory of 1788, when the State had elected Representatives on a general ticket. Under his leadership the westerners succeeded 46in precipitating 46a 46gen

-45-

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