How Party Politics and Campaigning Developed in Early America

By admin ~ November 14th, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

George Washington’s secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, supported the idea of a strong central government. The political party he formed by became known as the Federalist Party. Thomas Jefferson, Washington’s secretary of state, believed that a strong central government would quickly become as oppressive to its citizens as the British government had been to American colonists.

Jefferson favored a government in which the majority of the power would be held by the individual states. Jefferson wanted the new nation to become a republic–a country in which power is held by the voting citizens and by the representatives they choose–and for this reason, his political party was known as the Republican Party.

Soon, other issues sparked greater divisions within Washington’s cabinet. First was the question of whether or not the Bill of Rights should be added to the U.S. Constitution. Jefferson’s Republicans supported the addition of the Bill of Rights; Hamilton’s Federalists opposed it.

Economic policies were another area of disagreement. In the years after the Revolutionary War, America was struggling with debt–debt owed to Americans who had served in the Continental Army and provided it with supplies, as well as debts to foreign nations that had helped with the Revolution. Hamilton thought that the national government should assume the responsibility of paying all war debts, both those of the nation and those of the individual states.

Hamilton’s plan to pay off these debts involved a tax on imported goods and on certain American-manufactured items, including whiskey. In addition, Hamilton argued for the creation of a national bank–one bank that would oversee the banks of the individual states. Jefferson and his Republicans strongly opposed these economic policies.

Foreign policy was yet another area that sparked debate. As war brewed in Europe, Jefferson and Hamilton disagreed on what America’s position should be. In 1790, it was learned that Spanish naval vessels had taken command of British ships off of Vancouver Island in Canada.

Jefferson argued that America’s position should be on of neutrality: not supporting either side but instead continuing to do business with as many nations as possible. Hamilton disagreed; he eventually met with an agent of the British government in Canada and indicated that America might support Great Britain in the event of war.

In 1792, when war broke out between France and Great Britain, the split between the two men widened. Joined by Vice President John Adams, Hamilton argued that America should support Great Britain–its major trading partner–in the conflict. Jefferson felt that America owed a debt to France for its support in the Revolutionary War.

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