All Republicans, All Federalists: 1789-1816
There were no political parties for the United States' first Presidential election in 1789. There was only one party after 1816. But the period in between was marked by some of the most vitriolic partisan debate in the nation's history. The Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties charged each other with unpatriotic alliances with foreign powers, secret designs to subvert the Constitution, and diabolical schemes for punishing their opponents.
There was no mention of parties in the Constitution. The Founding Fathers thought that a good thing. George Washington contended a party system "agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection."1 Thomas Jefferson agreed. "if I could not go to heaven but with a party," he once said, "I would not go at all."2 Even after factions appeared, Jefferson often tried to downplay their differences. He said all Americans should pull together: "We are all [Democratic-] Republicans, we are all Federalists."3
These high-minded declarations could not mask the depth of party feeling that quickly developed. It was Washington who, when asked his preference for his Vice President, said any "true Federalist" would do. Jefferson himself formed the Democratic-Republican party, once saying of the Federalists, "I wish . . . to see these people disarmed either of the wish or the power to injure their country."4
The Federalists won the first three elections of the period. But with the passing of the revered Washington, they entered a serious decline. The Democratic-Republicans took all elections from 1800 on. Their 1816 thrashing of the Federalists was so thorough that the opposition party disappeared. Jefferson's desire that all Americans be of one faction briefly came to pass.
The period of 1789-1816 allowed a testing of the