Federalist Party

The Federalists, as a rule, were advocates of a strong central government. They were somewhat pessimistic about human nature and believed that the government must resist the passions of the general public. One of the government's prime functions was to maintain order. The Federalists tended to place their faith in the talents of a small governing elite.

Since many Federalists were large landowners, bankers and businessmen, they favored the government's efforts to encourage and protect American industry.

The Federalists were very strong in New England and had large pockets of support in the Middle States.

In foreign affairs the Federalists supported the British, with whom they had strong trade ties, and opposed the French, who at the time were convulsed by the French Revolution.

George Washington would have resented having any party label attached to his name, but he was philosophically aligned with the Federalists. John Adams' administration marked the end of Federalist control of the presidency with Thomas Jefferson's election in 1800 ushering in an era of Democratic-Republicans.

The War of 1812 spelled the end for Federalism as a national force. Some members opposed the War and flirted with secession; Federalism ironically had become a party of states' rights and was largely confined to New England. Rufus King was the last Federalist presidential candidate in 1816.

In time the basic tenets of Federalism would triumph in the United States, but not until the dawning of the Industrial Age.


There is some confusion over the use of the term federalist since its meaning changed sharply over a very short period of time.

The original "Federalists" were supporters of the ratification of the Constitution in the years between 1787 and 1790. Those who had strong objections to the new document were labeled the “Anti-Federalists." Both Hamilton and Jefferson favored ratification and were regarded as Federalists at that time.

However, following the squabble over the creation of the First Bank of the United States, partisanship entered the Washington cabinet. Hamilton headed the Federalists who favored a strong central government, while Jefferson was the leader of the Jeffersonian-Republicans, those favoring a diffusion of power.

In short, Jefferson and his supporters were Federalists in 1790, but were not a few years later.