FROM LOCAL NOTABLES TO PARTY COMPETITION
IN THE 1790S the world's first modern, national political party system was born in the United States. It began with a set of linked state and local Federalist committees loyal to the cause of Alexander Hamilton and continued with a concerted effort by the so-called Republicans (Jeffersonians) to counter the Federalists. The Republicans formed countyand state-level organizations to coordinate and mobilize electors. By the 1800 elections the Republicans were much better organized than the Federalists and consequently had stunning election triumphs. The Federalists were not yet buried. By 1808 both parties had formal caucuses managing nominations for state and federal offices everywhere in the country (Fischer 1974). For another five years the Republicans and the Federalists competed for control of the national government, not unlike contemporary political parties, as teams of politicians pursuing policy goals. This first party system was, however, short-lived. In the few years after the War of 1812, largely because of their opposition to the war, the Federalists faded away, and the Republicans (increasingly called the Democratic-Republicans, and then just the Democrats) dominated American politics until the 1830s, when the Whigs emerged as a major opposition party and occasionally won power over the next several decades.
Elections for the colonial legislatures in America had been held for a long time prior to the 1790s, and popular election to the Continental Congress and national Congress were in their third decade by then. There were partylike organizations both in the colonial legislatures and among the localities organizing candidates in the 1770s and 1780s (Main 1973; Dinkin 1977). Politicians, before the advent of the national parties, relied on the state-level caucuses or their own personal machinery to campaign and turn out electors, and often nominated themselves or had friends nominate them (Fischer 1974). By the late 1780s in some places and by the late 1790s in all states, however, American political life had changed. Attachment to a national cause, manifest by identification as either a Federalist or a Republican, became an important marker in the relationship between candidates for the Congress and their constituents. Affiliation with one or the other party also became vital to a candidate's prospects for winning. As Dinkin (1982) argues, state-level factions began to link across states into national party organizations in