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The Development of American Political Parties and How Hamilton and Jefferson Affected Them

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Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were two of the most important figures to the development of the American political parties. Though these two men came from very different backgrounds, they both sought a way to develop and improve the American republic. Alexander Hamilton came from a life of poverty yet managed to rise to the top, earning a degree from King’s College and serving as an aide to Washington in the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson was born into a wealthy family and studied law, eventually serving in Virginia’s House of Burgesses. The beliefs of Hamilton and Jefferson were the guidelines for the Federalist and Democratic-Republic Parties which, though they both strove to perfect the nation, had very contrasting opinions.

Alexander Hamilton was the founder of the Federalist Party in America. All of his political beliefs could be found in The Federalists Papers, a collection of pamphlets that he co-wrote with James Madison and John Jay, both of whom were Federalists. The main focus of this party was advocating a strong central government. Hamilton believed that the government should be in charge of all aspects of running a country, as a strong central government would encourage unity and equality. Because of this, Hamilton and his followers preferred a loose interpretation of Constitution, which would allow the government to create institution or organizations they thought would benefit the nation. For example, in 1791, Hamilton proposed that the United States form a privately funded National Bank, which would essentially allow citizens to buy into the future of the country. This proposal was met with much opposition. Hamilton defended the Bank’s Constitutionality using Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, the “Necessary and Proper” Clause (also known as the “Elastic” Clause), which gave power to the government to institute any policies they believed would allow the nation to prosper. One of Hamilton’s major emphases was the running of the government by educated members of the elite. He saw these men as learned scholars who understood the complexities of economic systems and political policies. The common people he saw as uneducated and incapable of running a government efficiently. When immigration began to increase in the new country, the Federalists observed that the majority of these new immigrants were voting for Democratic-Republicans. To prevent more immigrants from voting for Democratic-Republicans in important elections, Hamilton and his followers instituted a set of policies known as the Alien and Sedition Acts, which increased the amount of years that a person must live in the United States to become a citizen. (Divine, 164-165) (Knauer, 79, 86)

Thomas Jefferson was the founder of the Democratic-Republican Party, originally called the Anti-Federalist Party, in America. He, unlike Hamilton, believed that the common people should be completely in charge of the government. After all, Jefferson was the one who wrote: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” in the Declaration of Independence. Though he himself was an educated man (a man that Hamilton would have looked favorably upon to govern the country), he expressed faith in the common people in running the country. One of the most important beliefs of the Democratic-Republicans was that the states’ rights. Jefferson and his followers believed in a very strict interpretation of the Constitution, going so far as to declare that any rights or powers not specifically stated or given to the central government belonged to the state. It is clear to see why this party put up such a fight against Hamilton’s National Bank; they did not see it providing the nation with anything except probable corruption. (Divine, 165,168) (Knauer, 86)

Alexander Hamilton achieved his status by employing charm, courage and intellect to fulfill his inexhaustible ambition. Though he had many opportunities to become rich, Hamilton strove not to gain wealth, but to earn a good reputation among high powered men. He believed in the value of higher education due to the fact that he was born in unfavorable conditions yet still managed to attend King’s College. Hamilton saw Great Britain as America’s greatest possible ally. Though he received much backlash for this belief, Hamilton thought that America could create strong economic ties with the country they had separated from. The European market was a very important economic center and could spur America onto industrial and commercial improvements, which would fund the country and make it the sophisticated and developed nation that Hamilton dreamed of. (Divine, 164)

Thomas Jefferson, like Hamilton, did not search for personal wealth; however, he went in pursuit of advancing Republican ideals, such as those he stated in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson firmly believed that the common man was capable of running a nation but concluded that power lead to corruption and warned the American public against “the avaricious, monopolizing, Spirit of Commerce and Commercial Men”. The writings of Locke greatly influenced his own ideas. For example, both Locke and Jefferson defined the government as an organization made by the people’s consent, run by the people, for the people’s benefit. Because of his more democratic ideals, Jefferson favored allying with France over Great Britain. While Great Britain was content with their monarchy, the French could not stand their king, who they saw as the Americans saw King George, tyrannical and inconsiderate of his people. Also, Jefferson acknowledged that the French helped out the Americans during the American Revolution. The French seemed like a good ally until the French Revolution began, and an alliance with France lost its appeal. (Divine, 164, 168) (Knauer, 78, 86)

Alexander Hamilton’s most recognized achievement, other than serving as Washington’s aide during the American Revolution, is his economic system for the new nation. This system had two basic parts. The first part is encouragement of manufacturing and industry. The Industrial Revolution was going strong in England and was making them a very rich country. Hamilton wanted that for America, so he suggested the United States focus more on the mass manufacturing and sale of goods than on agriculture, as American produced goods would help reduce dependence on foreign trade. The second part was Hamilton’s three major reports of the American Economy: The First Report of Public Credit (January 14, 1790), The Second Report on Public Credit (January, 1791), and The Report on Manufactures (December, 1791). These three reports calculated and proposed ways to pay off the national and state debts in 1790, established the Bank of the United States, and set up policies to regulate trade and manufacturing. (Divine, 165)

Thomas Jefferson and his followers believed the industry and manufacturing that Hamilton promoted would corrupt the Republican ideals of the United States. Instead, Jefferson promoted an agrarian based economy. In this system, America could be self-sustaining, with each family producing enough food to live on their own, perhaps with a small surplus that they could sell to buy tools, cloth, or other consumer goods. An agrarian economic lifestyle would also allow America to participate in international trade market. Crops that could only be found in America could be sold on European markets for a fair price. An agrarian lifestyle would support Jefferson’s political belief that even a common person such as a farmer could prosper. (Divine, 165)

It is very ironic that one of the things that Washington addressed in his farewell speech was avoiding political parties, yet his time in office is the period in which the first political parties started. Both Hamilton and Jefferson believed that their respective beliefs would lead to a more prosperous America, though they both chose very opposite paths and believed in very different ideals. This does not mean that one was right while the other wrong, on the contrary, it proves that choosing opposing sides does not necessarily make you enemies. Political parties were made to guide a nation through changing times, shifting with the needs and desires of the people. In the end, political parties play a huge role in the development of a country (and the founders, an even bigger role) yet people cannot function with them.

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