The new national government established by the Constitution in 1789 was first led by the politics of the Federalist Party . Policies implemented under President George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97) reflected that party's belief in a strong central government. Led by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), the Federalists used the government to cultivate a national economy dominated by commerce.
By 1792, opposition to the policies of the Federalist Party was growing. Led by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), critics of the Federalists banded together to form the Republican Party . They were also called Democratic-Republicans or Jeffersonian Republicans.
The Democratic-Republican Party stood for states’ rights in opposition to the powerful central government the Federalists were building. As such, its members believed in strict interpretation of the Constitution, limited central government, and a small national military. Democratic-Republican Party policies represented the interests of common free men, particularly U.S. farmers, craftsmen, and laborers. Its economic policies reflected the needs of small businesses and individuals rather than of wealthy merchants and large commercial ventures. It also was the party of the plantation economy in the South.
The Democratic-Republican Party grew quickly through the use of pamphlets, newspaper articles, and organized political clubs. The party's leader, Thomas Jefferson, was elected president in 1800. The Democratic-Republican Party dominated national politics for the next twenty-five years.
When the Federalist Party declined after the War of 1812 , no opposition party arose in its place. Instead, political differences of opinion started to cause internal divisions within the Democratic-Republican Party. The divisions concerned issues such as tariffs (taxes on imports), powers of the second Bank of the United States (the first Bank of the Page 436 | Top of ArticleUnited States, the first federally chartered bank in the country, lapsed in 1811), and internal improvements.
The election of War of 1812 general and former U.S. senator Andrew Jackson (1767–1845; served 1829–37) of Tennessee in 1828 caused the party to split into two parties, the National Republicans and the Democratic-Republicans. Within a few years, the National Republicans became known as the Whig Party , and the Democratic-Republicans were simply called Democrats. The Whigs eventually dissolved, and the Democratic Party survives today.