Throughout George Washington’s first term in office, increasing divisions appeared among the officers and legislators involved in the national government. Generally, these divisions fell into two groups—one led by the secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and one led by the secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. In the aftermath of the debate over Jay’s Treaty, these divisions hardened into the first political parties in American history—the Federalists and the Republicans. For the rest of the 1790s, these two parties fought for control of the national government and the loyalty of the American people.
Some American leaders had difficulty accepting the idea of political parties. In an enlightened government, such divisions should not exist because everyone should reach the same logical conclusion once all the evidence was gathered. As a result, the 1790s were a traumatic time for Americans. If political divisions existed, then a conspiracy to commit tyrannical acts must also exist on the part of one group or the other. The Federalists and the Republicans hurled numerous accusations at each other, assuming, of course, that they were right and their opponents were the conspirators.
Newspapers constituted a major mechanism for publicizing these accusations. Both groups had already turned to the press to communicate their ideas. In 1789, Alexander Hamilton encouraged John Fenno to found and publish the Gazette of the United States in order to communicate the thoughts and policies of the national government to the American people. In 1791, Thomas Jefferson induced Philip Freneau to move to Philadelphia and publish the National Gazette as an antidote to Fenno’s paper. These two publications constituted the first party press in United States history. Other party papers founded later in the 1790s included Benjamin Franklin Bache’s General Advertiser (Republican—later renamed the Aurora) and William Cob-