Why Did Political Parties Spring Up in the United States in the 1790s?

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Why did political parties spring up in the United States in the 1790s?

Why did political parties spring up in the United States in the 1790s?

On the 30th April 1789 America’s first President, George Washington was elected into office and was to stay in power until 1797. Within this time the political scope of the United States of America expanded hugely, giving birth to the politics in which we see in America even to this present day. This essay will tackle the many aspects of the development of political parties; from the economic plans adopted by Alexander Hamilton, which forged America’s first bank in 1791, to the ways in which Americans viewed the Constitution put in place in 1789 causing the birth of Federalist and Republican attitudes throughout the United States of America.

A major factor in the creation of political parties came through the influence of Alexander Hamilton. During his time as Secretary of the Treasury to George Washington, Hamilton devised five economic programs as a result of his Nation Government ideology. Eric Foner argues that: ‘Political divisions first surfaced over the financial plan developed... in 1790 and 1791’[1]. Hamilton’s financial models won strong support from the American financiers and manufacturers, and the models would only work if America created close links with Great Britain. This ideology sparked resistance from Jefferson and Madison, as they both believed that ‘the future lay in Westward expansion’[2] and thus, the foundations for political divisions were in place due to the ideological differences between Jefferson and Hamilton. Therefore, it can be argued that Hamilton was the main initial influence to instigate political thought in America.

However, although political divisions began to emerge over Hamilton's financial plans, it was the events that occurred in Europe that acted as a catalyst for creating two coherent political parties. At first, the French Revolution didn’t stir any conflict between Jefferson and Hamilton but after the execution of King Louis XVI, war broke out between France and Great Britain and inevitably against Jefferson and Hamilton. On the one hand, Jefferson argued that ‘Revolution marked a historic victory for the idea of popular self-government’[3] however Hamilton; as stated by Bruce Miroff, ‘set himself resolutely against the rising tide of democracy’[4] and the events of the Revolution made the links with Britain even more significant for him.

Economically America was torn. Alexander Hamilton’s economic plans for the federal government to pay off the revolutionary war debts, and the creation of a national bank were vastly disputed. Thomas Jefferson expressed massive disputes with the policies, as he thought of them as unconstitutional and would create class barriers. The historian Ryan P. Randolph argued in favour of Jefferson’s views, stating, “It was not in the best interests of the landowners they represented.”[5] Jefferson’s view of a development of patriarchal society is also supported by historian John P. Kaminski who argued that “The foundation of the Bank of America would ally the federal government with wealthy shareholders… the assumption of the state’s wartime debts by the federal government would also bountifully benefit this favoured class.”[6] Hamilton however admired Britain’s reforms, which restored its financial health, and therefore modelled American financial policies in part on William Pitt’s in an attempt to restore America’s own finances. However the success of Hamilton’s program depended on cooperation with Britain, as duty on imports provided a major source of federal income and most imports came from Britain. Jefferson however is argued to have a deeply hostile towards Britain. His somewhat Anglophobia is argued to have played a huge part in his drifting from Hamilton and the formation of the traditional Jeffersonian viewpoints in which founded the Republican Party. However there wasn’t a complete...
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