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

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

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

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

Excerpt

The evolutionary development of Pennsylvania's political parties during the first twelve years of the Federal period was characterized primarily by the State's intensive reaction to national and international issues. Prior to the formation of the Federal government political controversy stemmed principally from the remarkable Constitution of 1776; but with the appearance of the Federal Constitution and the State Constitution of 1790 a realignment of affiliations and a reinterpretation of ideologies were made necessary. It was in this latter year that the shifting political structure was remarked upon by numerous contemporary politicians. They were convinced that the old patterns had changed and that the operation of new and powerful stimuli would greatly alter current alignments and give a new direction to political forces. They were right. Future partisan organizations would find their raison d'etre in the necessity of expressing opinions arising from action taken by the national administrations.

The amorphousness of party groupings was well illustrated by the election of Thomas Mifflin to the governorship in 1790. With the destruction of the Constitution of 1776 the old Constitutionalist and Anti-Constitutionalist groups had lost their chief cohesive impeflant. Mifflin, who had been popular with both factions, was elected as a compromise governor by an overwhelming majority. The old lines were rapidly disappearing.

During the next eight years the cumulative effect of state and national forces produced two determined political groups known as the Republican and Federalist parties. By 1798 the existence of these organizations was recognized by outstanding leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, William Duane, Thomas Mifflin and Thomas McKean. It was in 1799 that the Republicans, through superior organization and effective exploitation of unpopular Federalist legislation -- particularly the direct property tax -- were enabled to elect Thomas McKean to the governorship. In the following two years this victory was affirmed and emphatically reaffirmed. By 1801 the Republicans were in complete control of the State.

With deep gratitude I wish to thank the following institutions whose collections I utilized in the preparation of this volume: the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society, the Darlington Memorial Library of the University of Pittsburgh, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, the Pennsylvania State Library, the University of Pennsylvania Library, Girard College, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Library of Congress and the New-York Historical Society. The staffs of these institutions were unfailingly courteous and helpful in making available the sources under their care.

To the Director and staff of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania a special note of appreciation. My path to the riches in that institution . . .

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