The presence of political parties, each of which sees the country’s future in its way, is an integral part of modern democracies. However, this was not always the case; at the time the US Constitution was written, the existence of political parties was not directly assumed. Nevertheless, two currents arose in the American Republic during the discussion of the draft Constitution and after its ratification by the states. Subsequently, they became the first political parties. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, sought to make a strong central government prioritizing national interests. Their opponents, later called Democratic-Republicans, sought to limit the federal government’s powers to strengthen the power of the states and local governments because they feared that the concentration of power would lead to the replacement of democracy by an aristocracy.
Alexander Hamilton was the son of a merchant from the West Indies, and the ideal of the political structure of the state for him was monarchical Great Britain (Trautsch 111). Not surprisingly, the Federalist proposed political system was quite authoritarian. Under its rule, the ruler would have to have broad powers, bordering on autocracy by modern standards. The foreign policy of the Federalists was the neutrality of the United States regarding the war of European states against revolutionary France, which now looks rather conservative. However, it would be wrong to portray the Federalists as conservatives. They were not at all supporters of a return to the pre-bourgeois order. Hamilton, who expressed the interests of the business elite of the North, laid the foundations of the US financial system and promoted the development of national industry and trade, which contributed to strengthening the national independence of the young American republic (Trautsch 114). His economic policy was far ahead of its time and, therefore, could not be fully implemented in farm US.
Jefferson, the head of the Republicans, in contrast to Hamilton, witnessed the French Revolution and was very afraid of the aristocracy coming to power in the United States (Trautsch 166). Jefferson’s party insisted on the need for popular power, which Hamilton’s supporters distrusted. Jefferson, who grew up in a farming environment, was an ardent supporter of decentralization and self-government, which went against the policies of the Federalists. Tariffs on manufactured goods and excise taxes on whiskey, introduced by Hamilton’s supporters, aroused strong opposition from farmers and planters. Jefferson argued that the people have the right to rebel against authority that violates the principles of the social contract (144). Such statements, even now, by many Western governments might be perceived as quite radical, if not even anarchic. They were not just contrary to the ideas of the Federalists – they were utterly opposite. The same can be said about foreign policy. Jefferson insisted that the US should support the revolutions and side with France, not stay neutral. When Jefferson finally came to power, he did not engage in repressing his political opponents but, on the contrary, recognized that the existence of different opinions in politics was the norm. This once again emphasizes the liberalism of the Republicans in comparison with the Federalists.
The ideology of freedom has always been at the heart of the US political system. Despite Hamilton’s progressive economic policies, his views on government were outdated and not suitable for a young democratic state. The policy of decentralization and departure from traditional authoritarian power proposed by the Republicans turned out to be more viable from the historical perspective.
Trautsch, Jasper M. The Genesis of America: US foreign policy and the Formation of National Identity, 1793–1815. Cambridge University Press, 2018.