Federalists vs. Democratic-Republicans in the US Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer


The Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party were the two major opposing American political forces that were in confrontation from the late 18th up to the early 19th century. Alexander Hamilton, who created the American financial system, was severely criticized by Thomas Jefferson, one of the American Founding Fathers, when he proposed a new financial plan. This conflict led to the emergence of the two parties: the one led by Hamilton (Federalists or Hamiltonians) and the other headed by Jefferson (Democratic-Republicans or Jeffersonians).1

The paper at hand is aimed to examine the ideological differences between the two approaches to which the parties adhered. It will attempt to prove that despite the general success of the Republican-Democratic course of development the nation chose, there were still certain failures in Jefferson’s presidency that featured self-contradicting policies.2

Definition of the Parties

The Federalist Party was the first official American party and had two stages of development:

  1. At the first stage (which lasted throughout the 1780s), Federalists were not a political party. However, they supported the idea of a strong central government and claimed that the Constitution had to be ratified. The major figures were John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, who wrote The Federalist Papers by joint efforts.3
  2. In the second stage (which emerged in the 1790s), Federalists became a party and were headed by Alexander Hamilton.4

Democratic-Republicans were led by Thomas Jefferson. The party came to power only in 1800 and openly opposed Federalists stating that to win the approval of the majority, Hamilton’s party sacrificed its principles. Jeffersonians dominated the national policy until 1820s.5

The Major Ideological Differences between the Parties

The basic points of disagreement between the parties can be summarized as follows:

  • The Federalist Party believed that any act that is not prohibited by the Constitution could be performed. On the contrary, Democratic-Republicans had a strict interpretation of the Constitution stating that things not mentioned in it were outlawed. Thus, according to them, the Congress had no right to go beyond the scope of the Constitution.6
  • Federalists were supported by the upper-class representatives. Unlike them, Democratic-Republicans were most popular among the middle class.7
  • Federalists promoted relationships with the British Empire. They believed that cooperation with such a powerful country could be advantageous for the United States. Democratic-Republicans did not trust Britain and supported the French government.8
  • Federalists planned to build a trade-oriented economy, whereas Democratic-Republicans considered agriculture to be the driving economic force.
  • Federalists supported the first American Bank believing that credit building would benefit the economy. In contrast to them, Democratic-Republicans thought that the Bank was not allowed by the Constitution and was created with the only purpose to assist the rich.9

Achievements and Failures of Jefferson’s Administration

After the triumph of Jefferson in the Revolution in 1800, he made a series of other significant contributions to the development of the country:

  1. In 1803, Jefferson purchased Louisiana from France (app. 800,000 square miles) for $15 million. The territory of the country was doubled.10
  2. In 1804, he initiated the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the continent in general and the new area in particular. Another purpose of the expedition was to learn more about the Native Americans’ lifestyle. Besides, the expedition found a water passage situated between the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean.11
  3. In 1815, the Library of Congress was founded with Jefferson’s library (more than 6500 volumes) as the core collection. Jefferson agreed to sell his books to the Library for only $24,000.12
  4. In 1819, Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. He believed that higher education should go beyond preaching. On the contrary, universities should concentrate on educating future political leaders. The University of Virginia became the first secular educational institution and was the pioneer in using the elective course system.13
  5. Jefferson considerably advanced farming and agriculture. He devoted a lot of time experimenting with new gardening techniques on his farm. He eliminated the common prejudice that a lot of vegetables were poisonous and inedible. It revolutionized the agricultural sector of the US economy in the long run.14

However successful his policy may seem, there were still certain failures:

  1. The most ironic thing about Jefferson’s administration was that he owned 600 slaves despite proclaiming that all people were equal in the Declaration of Independence. He never tried to eliminate slavery during his presidency.15
  2. Another ironic fact was that, despite supporting France and opposing Britain, Jefferson failed to build lasting trade relationships with either of the countries. Since France and Britain were at war, they prevented American ships from reaching the adversary country.16
  3. The Embargo Act of 1807 proved to be a failure as well as the Non-Intercourse Act that came to replace in 1809 allowing the USA to trade with any countries except Britain and France. The economy was damaged severely by this decision.17


The opposition between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans (with equal chances for success) led to the domination of the later and the election of Jefferson as a president. Even though his Declaration of Independence was certainly a triumph and his inner policy contributed a lot to the prosperity and expansion of the country, he was not so successful in building foreign relationships. Besides, his neglect of the slavery problem undermined the credibility of his principles stated in the Declaration.


Adams, Henry. History of the United States of America (1801-1817): Volume 2: During the First Administration of Thomas Jefferson 2. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Chinard, Gilbert. Thomas Jefferson: The Apostle of Americanism. Portland: The Floating Press, 2011.

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History: Seagull Fourth Edition. Vol. 1. New York: WW Norton & Company, 2013.

Hanson, Russell L. The Democratic Imagination in America: Conversations with our Past. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Jefferson, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. X (in 12 Volumes): Correspondence and Papers 1803-1807. Vol. 10. New York: Cosimo, Inc., 2010.

Rose, Lisle A. Prologue to Democracy: The Federalists in the South 1789–1800. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2015.

Shi, David E., and George Brown Tindall. America: A Narrative History. New York: WW Norton & Company, 2016.

Young, Alfred F. The Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763-1797. Chapel Hill: UNC Press Books, 2012.


  1. David E. Shi and George Brown Tindall, America: A Narrative History (New York: WW Norton & Company, 2016), 84.
  2. Gilbert Chinard, Thomas Jefferson: The Apostle of Americanism (Portland: The Floating Press, 2011), 12.
  3. Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History: Seagull Fourth Edition. Vol. 1 (New York: WW Norton & Company, 2013), 263.
  4. Ibid., 264.
  5. Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. X (in 12 Volumes): Correspondence and Papers 1803-1807. Vol. 10 (New York: Cosimo, Inc., 2010), 75.
  6. Alfred F. Young, The Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763-1797 (Chapel Hill: UNC Press Books, 2012), 35.
  7. Ibid., 36.
  8. Russell L. Hanson, The democratic imagination in America: Conversations with our Past (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 79.
  9. Lisle A. Rose, Prologue to Democracy: The Federalists in the South 1789–1800 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2015), 94.
  10. Henry Adams, History of the United States of America (1801-1817): Volume 2: During the First Administration of Thomas Jefferson 2. Vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 62.
  11. Ibid., 62-63.
  12. Ibid., 63.
  13. Ibid., 65.
  14. Ibid., 68.
  15. Ibid., 79.
  16. Ibid., 81.
  17. Ibid., 81-82.
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