|Founded 1791 (1791)||Dissolved 1828 (1828)|
|Leaders Thomas Jefferson,James Madison,James Monroe,Andrew Jackson|
Preceded by Anti-Administration party
Succeeded by Democratic Party (Jacksonians)National Republican Party (Anti-Jacksonians)
Ideology JeffersonianismAmerican republicanismAgrarianismIndependent TreasuryDecentralization
Democrats Vs Republicans | What is the difference between Democrats and Republicans?
The Democratic-Republican Party was an American political party, formed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in 1791–93 to oppose the centralizing policies of the new Federalist Party run by Alexander Hamilton, who was then Secretary of the Treasury and chief architect of George Washington's administration. The new party controlled the presidency and Congress, as well as most states, from 1801 to 1825, during the First Party System. It began in 1791 as one faction in Congress, and included many politicians who had been opposed to the new constitution. They called themselves Republicans after their ideology Republicanism. They distrusted the Federalist commitment to republicanism. The party splintered in 1824 into the Jacksonian movement (which became the Democratic Party in the 1830s) and the short-lived National Republican Party (later succeeded by the Whig Party).
- Democrats Vs Republicans | What is the difference between Democrats and Republicans?
- Presidential elections of 1792 and 1796
- Strength in Congress over time
- Organizational strategy
- Revolution of 1800
- National debt
- Monroe and Adams, 1816–1828
- Republican Party name
The term "Democratic-Republican" is used especially by modern political scientists for the first "Republican Party" (as opposed to the modern Republican Party founded in 1854). It is also known as the Jeffersonian Republicans. Historians typically use the title "Republican Party".
An "Anti-Administration" faction met secretly in the national capital (Philadelphia) to oppose Hamilton's financial programs. Jefferson denounced the programs as leading to monarchy and subversive of republicanism. Jefferson needed to have a nationwide party to challenge the Federalists, which Hamilton was building up with allies in major cities. Foreign affairs took a leading role in 1794–95 as the Republicans vigorously opposed the Jay Treaty with Britain, which was then at war with France. Republicans saw France as more democratic after its revolution, while Britain represented the hated monarchy. The party denounced many of Hamilton's measures as unconstitutional, especially the national bank.
The party was strongest in the South and weakest in the Northeast. It demanded states' rights as expressed by the "Principles of 1798" articulated in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions that would allow states to nullify a federal law. Above all, the party stood for the primacy of the yeoman farmers. Republicans were deeply committed to the principles of republicanism, which they feared were threatened by the supposed monarchical tendencies of the Hamiltonian Federalists. The party came to power in 1801 with the election of Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election. The Federalists—too elitist to appeal to most people—faded away, and totally collapsed after 1815. The Republicans dominated the First Party System, despite internal divisions, until partisanship itself withered away during the Era of Good Feelings after 1816.
The party selected its presidential candidates in a caucus of members of Congress. They included Thomas Jefferson (nominated 1796; elected 1800–01, 1804), James Madison (1808, 1812), and James Monroe (1816, 1820). By 1824, the caucus system had practically collapsed. After 1800, the party dominated Congress and most state governments outside New England. By 1824, the party was split four ways and lacked a center, as the First Party System collapsed. The emergence of the Second Party System in the 1830s realigned the old factions. One remnant followed Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren into the new Democratic Party by 1828. Another remnant led by John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay formed the National Republicans in 1828; it developed into the Whig Party by 1835.
Congressman James Madison started the party among Representatives in Philadelphia (then the national capital) as the "Republican Party"; then he, Jefferson, and others reached out to include state and local leaders around the country, especially New York and the South. The precise date of founding is disputed, but 1791 is a reasonable estimate; some time by 1792 is certain. The new party set up newspapers that made withering critiques of Hamiltonianism, extolled the yeoman farmer, argued for strict construction of the Constitution, favored the French Revolution, strongly opposed Great Britain, and called for stronger state governments than the Federalist Party was proposing.
Presidential elections of 1792 and 1796
The elections of 1792 were the first ones to be contested on anything resembling a partisan basis. In most states the congressional elections were recognized, as Jefferson strategist John Beckley put it, as a "struggle between the Treasury department and the republican interest". In New York, the candidates for governor were John Jay, a Federalist, and incumbent George Clinton, who was allied with Jefferson and the Republicans. Four states' electors voted for Clinton and one (Kentucky) for Jefferson for Vice President in opposition to incumbent John Adams as well as casting their votes for President Washington. (Before 1804 electors cast two votes together without differentiation as to which office was to be filled by which candidate.)
In the 1796 election, the party made its first bid for the presidency with Jefferson as its presidential candidate and Aaron Burr as its vice presidential candidate. Jefferson came in second in the electoral college (at the time, its balloting could not distinguish between president and vice president) and became vice president. He would become a consistent and strong opponent of the policies of the John Adams administration. Jefferson and Madison were deeply upset by the unconstitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798; they secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which called on state legislatures to nullify unconstitutional laws. The other states, however, did not follow suit and several rejected the notion that states could nullify federal law. The Republican critique of federalism became wrapped in the slogan of "Principles of 1798", which became the hallmark of the party. The most important of these principles were states' rights, opposition to a strong national government, distrust of the federal courts, and opposition to the navy and the national bank. The party saw itself as a champion of republicanism and denounced the Federalists as supporters of monarchy and aristocracy.
The party coalesced around Jefferson, who diligently maintained extensive correspondence with like-minded Republican leaders throughout the country. Washington frequently decried the growing sense of "party" emerging from the internal battles among Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams and others in his administration. As warfare in Europe increased, the two factions increasingly made foreign policy the central political issue of the day. The Republicans wanted to maintain the 1777 alliance with France, which had overthrown the monarchy and aristocracy and become a republic. Even though Britain was by far America's leading trading partner, Republicans feared that increased trade would undermine republicanism. The Republicans distrusted Hamilton's national bank and rejected his premise that a national debt was good for the country; Republicans said they were both forms of corruption. They strongly distrusted the elitism of Hamilton's circle, denouncing it as "aristocratic"; and they called for states' rights lest the Federalists centralize ever more power in the national governments.
The intense debate over the Jay Treaty in 1794–95, transformed those opposed to Hamilton's policies from a loose movement into a true political party. To fight the treaty, the Jeffersonians "established coordination in activity between leaders at the capital, and leaders, actives and popular followings in the states, counties and towns." However, they were defeated when Washington mobilized public opinion in favor of the treaty.
Strength in Congress over time
Historians have used statistical techniques to estimate the party breakdown in Congress. Many Congressmen were hard to classify in the first few years, but after 1796 there was less uncertainty.
The affiliation of many Congressmen in the earliest years is an assignment by later historians; these were slowly coalescing groups with initially considerable independent thinking and voting; Cunningham noted that only about a quarter of the House of Representatives, up till 1794, voted with Madison as much as two-thirds of the time, and another quarter against him two-thirds of the time, leaving almost half as fairly independent. Albert Gallatin recalled only two caucuses on legislative policy between 1795 and 1801, one over appropriations for Jay's Treaty, the other over the Quasi-War, and in neither case did the party decide to vote unanimously.
The new party invented some of the campaign and organizational techniques which were later adopted by the Federalists and became standard American practice. It was especially effective in building a network of newspapers in major cities to broadcast its statements and editorialize its policies. Fisher Ames, a leading Federalist, used the term "Jacobin" to link members of Jefferson's party to the radicals of the French Revolution. He blamed the newspapers for electing Jefferson; they were, he wrote, "an overmatch for any Government.... The Jacobins owe their triumph to the unceasing use of this engine; not so much to skill in use of it as by repetition."
As one historian explained, "It was the good fortune of the Republicans to have within their ranks a number of highly gifted political manipulators and propagandists. Some of them had the ability... to not only see and analyze the problem at hand but to present it in a succinct fashion; in short, to fabricate the apt phrase, to coin the compelling slogan and appeal to the electorate on any given issue in language it could understand." Outstanding propagandists included editor William Duane (1760–1835), and party leaders Albert Gallatin, Thomas Cooper and Jefferson himself.
Just as important was effective party organization of the sort that John J. Beckley pioneered. In 1796, he managed the Jefferson campaign in Pennsylvania, blanketing the state with agents who passed out 30,000 hand-written tickets, naming all 15 electors (printed tickets were not allowed). He told one agent, "In a few days a select republican friend from the City will call upon you with a parcel of tickets to be distributed in your County. Any assistance and advice you can furnish him with, as to suitable districts & characters, will I am sure be rendered." Beckley was the first American professional campaign manager, and his techniques were quickly adopted in other states.
The emergence of the new organizational strategies can be seen in the politics of Connecticut around 1806, which have been well documented by Cunningham. The Federalists dominated Connecticut, so the Republicans had to work harder to win. In 1806, the state leadership sent town leaders instructions for the forthcoming elections. Every town manager was told by state leaders "to appoint a district manager in each district or section of his town, obtaining from each an assurance that he will faithfully do his duty." Then the town manager was instructed to compile lists and total the number of taxpayers and the number of eligible voters, find out how many favored the Republicans and how many the Federalists, and to count the number of supporters of each party who were not eligible to vote but who might qualify (by age or taxes) at the next election. These highly detailed returns were to be sent to the county manager and in turn were compiled and sent to the state manager. Using these lists of potential voters, the managers were told to get all eligible people to town meetings and help the young men qualify to vote. The state manager was responsible for supplying party newspapers to each town for distribution by town and district managers. This highly coordinated "get-out-the-vote" drive would be familiar to modern political campaigners, but was the first of its kind in world history.
Revolution of 1800
The party's electors secured a majority in the 1800 election, but an equal number of electors cast votes for Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The tie sent the election to the House, and Federalists there blocked any choice. Finally Hamilton, believing that Burr would be a poor choice for president, intervened, letting Jefferson win (a move that would result in the collapse of the Federalist Party and Hamilton's death, four years later, at the hands of Burr in a pistol duel). Starting in 1800 in what Jefferson called the "Revolution of 1800", the party took control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, beginning a quarter century of control of those institutions. A faction called "Old Republicans" opposed the nationalism that grew popular after 1815; they were stunned when party leaders started a Second Bank of the United States in 1816.
The first official Republican Congressional Caucus meeting took place at Marache's boarding house on May 11, 1800, in Philadelphia. The January 26, 1799 letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to Elbridge Gerry became the party's platform.
In the Senate chamber on February 25, 1804, a "Convention of Republican members of both houses of Congress" met. Senator Stephen Bradley presided, a Committee on Presidential Electors was formed and it was resolved that Thomas Jefferson be nominated for President and George Clinton be nominated Vice President.
The party held a convention by the same name on January 23, 1808, again in the Senate chamber at 6:00 pm on a Saturday. Senator Stephen Bradley, who was the President pro tempore of the Senate, again served as President of the convention with Representative Richard Johnson as the Secretary. A Committee on Correspondence was formed, James Madison was nominated for President, and George Clinton was re-nominated for Vice President.
Legislative issues were handled by the Committee of the Whole, and the elected Speaker of the House of Representatives and floor leaders, who at that time were the Chairman for the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives and Chairman for the Committee on Finance of the Senate.
The state legislatures often instructed Members of Congress how to vote on specific issues. More exactly, they "instructed" the Senators (who were elected by the legislatures), and "requested" the Representatives (who were elected by the people.) On rare occasions a Senator resigned rather than follow instructions.
The opposition Federalist Party, suffering from a lack of leadership after the death of Hamilton and the retirement of John Adams, quickly declined; it revived briefly in opposition to the War of 1812, but the extremism of its Hartford Convention of 1815 utterly destroyed it as a political force.
Jefferson and Albert Gallatin focused on the danger that the public debt, unless it was paid off, would be a threat to republican values. They were appalled that Hamilton was increasing the national debt and using it to solidify his Federalist base. Gallatin was the Republican Party's chief expert on fiscal issues and as Treasury Secretary under Jefferson and Madison worked hard to lower taxes and lower the debt, while at the same time paying cash for the Louisiana Purchase and funding the War of 1812. Burrows says of Gallatin:
His own fears of personal dependency and his small shopkeeper's sense of integrity, both reinforced by a strain of radical republican thought that originated in England a century earlier, convinced him that public debts were a nursery of multiple public evils—corruption, legislative impotence, executive tyranny, social inequality, financial speculation, and personal indolence. Not only was it necessary to extinguish the existing debt as rapidly as possible, he argued, but Congress would have to ensure against the accumulation of future debts by more diligently supervising government expenditures.
Fear of a large debt is a major legacy of the party. Andrew Jackson believed the national debt was a "national curse" and he took special pride in paying off the entire national debt in 1835. Politicians ever since have used the issue of a high national debt to denounce the other party for profligacy and a threat to fiscal soundness and the nation's future.
Monroe and Adams, 1816–1828
In rapidly expanding western states, the Federalists had few supporters. Every state had a distinct political geography that shaped party membership. In Pennsylvania, the Republicans were weakest around Philadelphia and strongest in Scots-Irish settlements in the west. Members came from all social classes, but came predominantly from the poor, subsistence farmers, mechanics and tradesmen. After the War of 1812, partisanship subsided across the young republic—people called it the Era of Good Feelings. James Monroe narrowly won the party's nomination for President in Congress over William Crawford in 1816 and defeated Federalist Rufus King in the general election.
In the early years of the party, the key central organization grew out of caucuses of Congressional leaders in Washington. However, the key battles to choose electors occurred in the states, not in the caucus. In many cases, legislatures still chose electors; in others, the election of electors was heavily influenced by local parties that were heavily controlled by relatively small groups of officials. Without a significant Federalist opposition, the need for party unity was greatly diminished and the party's organization faded away.
James Monroe ran under the party's banner in the 1820 election and built support by consensus. Monroe faced no serious rival and was nearly unanimously elected by the electoral college. The party's historic domination by the Virginian delegation faded as New York and Pennsylvania became more important. In the 1824 election, most of the party in Congress boycotted the caucus; only a small rump group backed William Crawford. The Crawford faction included most "Old Republicans"—those who remained committed to states' rights and the Principles of 1798 and were distrustful of the nationalizing program promoted by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun.
Thomas Jefferson wrote on the state of party politics in the early 1820s:
An opinion prevails that there is no longer any distinction, that the republicans & Federalists are completely amalgamated but it is not so. The amalgamation is of name only, not of principle. All indeed call themselves by the name of Republicans, because that of Federalists was extinguished in the battle of New Orleans. But the truth is that finding that monarchy is a desperate wish in this country, they rally to the point which they think next best, a consolidated government. Their aim is now therefore to break down the rights reserved by the constitution to the states as a bulwark against that consolidation, the fear of which produced the whole of the opposition to the constitution at its birth. Hence new Republicans in Congress, preaching the doctrines of the old Federalists, and the new nick-names of Ultras and Radicals. But I trust they will fail under the new, as the old name, and that the friends of the real constitution and union will prevail against consolidation, as they have done against monarchism. I scarcely know myself which is most to be deprecated, a consolidation, or dissolution of the states. The horrors of both are beyond the reach of human foresight.
In the aftermath of the disputed 1824 presidential election, the separate factions took on many characteristics of parties in their own right. Adams' supporters, in league with Clay, favored modernization, banks, industrial development, and federal spending for roads and other internal improvements, which the Old Republicans and the Jackson men usually opposed. Writing in his personal journal on December 13, 1826, President Adams noted the difficulty he faced in attempting to be nonpartisan in appointing men to office:
And it is upon the occasion of appointments to office that all the wormwood and the gall of the old party hatred ooze out. Not a vacancy to any office occurs but there is a distinguished federalist started and pushed home as a candidate to fill it—always well qualified, sometimes in an eminent degree, and yet so obnoxious to the Republican party that he cannot be appointed without exciting a vehement clamor against him and against the Administration. It becomes thus impossible to fill any appointment without offending one-half the community—the federalists, if their associate is overlooked; the Republicans, if he is preferred.
Presidential electors were now all chosen by direct election, except in South Carolina, where the state legislatures chose them. White manhood suffrage was the norm throughout the West and in most of the East as well. The voters thus were much more powerful, and to win their votes required complex party organization. Under the leadership of Martin Van Buren, a firm believer in political organization, the Jacksonians built strong state and local organizations throughout the country. The Old Republicans, or "Radicals", mostly supported Jackson and joined with supporters of incumbent Vice President Calhoun in an alliance. President Adams was defeated by Andrew Jackson in the election of 1828.
Republican Party name
Political parties were new in the United States, and people were not accustomed to having formal names for them. There was no single, official name for the party. Party members generally called themselves Republicans and voted for what they called the Republican Party, republican ticket, or republican interest. Jefferson and Madison often used the terms "republican" and "Republican party" in their letters. The 1804 Convention of Republican members of Congress that renominated Jefferson described itself as a "regular republican caucus". The name Democratic-Republican was used by contemporaries only occasionally.
The term "republican" was in widespread usage from the 1770s to describe the type of government the break-away colonies wanted to form: a republic of three separate branches of government derived from some principles and structure from ancient republics; especially the emphasis on civic duty and the opposition to corruption, elitism, aristocracy and monarchy. The word is used in the U.S. Constitution.
A split appeared in the then Republican party during the 1824 elections (at the end of the Monroe administration). When the election was thrown to the House of Representatives, Henry Clay backed John Quincy Adams to deny the presidency to Andrew Jackson, a longtime political rival. Jackson defeated Adams in 1828, and in the next election, the first Democratic national convention took place in Baltimore, Maryland on May 21–23, 1832. It nominated Andrew Jackson for a second term, and he went on to win the presidential election.
The Adams/Clay alliance became the basis of the National Republican Party, a rival to the Jackson's Democracy. This party favored a higher tariff in order to protect U.S. manufacturers, as well as public works, especially roads. Many former members of the defunct Federalist Party, including Daniel Webster, joined the party. After Clay's defeat by Jackson in the 1832 presidential election, the National Republicans were absorbed into the Whig Party, a diverse group of Jackson opponents. Taking a leaf from the Jacksonians, the Whigs tended to nominate non-ideological war heroes as their presidential candidates. The Whig party fell apart in the 1850s over the question of whether to allow the expansion of slavery into new territories.
The modern Republican Party was formed in 1854 to oppose the expansion of slavery. Many former Whig party leaders (such as Abraham Lincoln – modern Republican Party supporters still sometimes refer to themselves as "the party of Lincoln") and former Free Soil Party leaders joined the newly formed anti-slavery party. The party sought to combine Jefferson's ideals of liberty and equality with Clay's program of using an active government to modernize the economy.
Four United States Presidents were elected following a process that selected them as a national nominee of the Democratic-Republican party: