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What Is the Federalist Era?

By Craig Bonnot
Updated May 17, 2024
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The period in American politics that lasted from 1789 until 1801 is known as the Federalist Era. During this period, the United States Constitution was adopted, and George Washington was elected President. The Federalist Era oversaw the growth of a stronger federal government and the development of political parties in the United States.

The Federalist Era began when the U.S. Constitution went into effect in 1789. While the constitution was being ratified by the states, supporters of the Constitution were called Federalists. People who opposed the Constitution were known as Anti-Federalists. After the Constitution was ratified, the Federalists gained strong majorities in the first U.S. Congressional election.

During Washington's presidency, the Federalist Party began to take shape as a formal political party. His treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, believed in a strong federal government that would play a large role in the nation’s economy. Under Hamilton’s leadership, the Federalists were able to convince the Washington administration to take on all state debts and assume the old debts amassed under the Articles of Confederation. They also were able to pass tax laws and create a national bank.

These policies were strongly opposed by Anti-Federalists such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. They were afraid that a federal government that was too strong would infringe on states’ rights. They also feared that a Federalist tax policy would unfairly benefit the upper class and believed that the establishment of a national bank was unconstitutional. For this reason, the Republican Party was founded in 1792 to oppose Federalist Policy.

In 1796, a Federalist candidate, John Adams, was elected president. In 1798, Adams supported the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which called for the arrest of non-U.S. citizens during wartime and gave the president the power to deport foreign nationals at will. They also made it a criminal offense to criticize the president or the government. These policies were strongly opposed by both Republicans and the general public. Jefferson was able to use this popular discontent to attack Adams and defeat him in the presidential election of 1800.

The Federalist Era ended when Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801. The Federalist Party went into a swift and sudden decline at the national and local levels. The party remained popular in New England, and many Federalists hoped that these states would secede from the union and form a Federalist government. These hopes collapsed when Jefferson won reelection in 1804.

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Discussion Comments
By anon311710 — On Jan 03, 2013

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