The Federalist Party was the first lasting political party to arise in the United States. The supporters of a new federal constitution , drafted in 1787, were called Federalists due to their desire for a strong central federal, or national, government. The supporters were eventually drawn into an official political organization led by controversial Federalist Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), during the presidency of George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97).
When delegates gathered at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania , in 1787, their assignment was to decide whether and how to strengthen the powers of Congress under the Articles of Confederation . Congress had functioned under the articles officially since 1781. After the American Revolution (1775–83) ended successfully (leading to American independence), Congress faced challenges stemming from lack of power over the states.
Within the first few days of the Convention of 1787, the delegates decided to abandon the Articles of Confederation and to write a new framework for the federal government. The process proved to be difficult as delegates were faced with resolving different needs among the vastly different states.
Those delegates who became known as Federalists worked to craft a strong central government. They believed that in order to maintain a unified nation of states, it was necessary to have a federal government that was more powerful than the individual state governments. The Federalists wanted a government with enough power to promote the security, financial stability, commercial prosperity, and general well-being of all of the states.
A group of delegates who thought that individual state governments should be more powerful than a federal government opposed the Federalists. These delegates sought to prevent an overly powerful central government, which they felt could result in tyranny at the expense of state's rights. They became known as the Anti-Federalists .
Because there were more Federalists than Anti-Federalists at the convention, the Constitution written that summer of 1787 contained many provisions that the Federalists wanted for a strong central government. Ratification, or approval, of the Constitution occurred in 1788 with a well-organized effort by the Federalists.
The Federalists gained control of the first installation of government under the Constitution. Hamilton, one of the most vocal Federalists at the Constitutional Convention, was the first secretary of the treasury of the United States. He was responsible for establishing the United States as a strong economic force. His policies advocated a strong federal government, Page 547 | Top of Articlethe creation of a national bank, and government support for commerce and shipping.
Although Hamilton's policies were important in establishing the United States as a respectable and successful nation in the eyes of other countries, they stirred concerns within the United States. Hamilton was aggressive with his opinions and policies, and opposition to his policies began to grow. During the 1790s, those who opposed Hamilton and his supporters organized under the Democratic-Republican Party , which was led by Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). The Federalists, as a result, became more formally aligned into a political party.
While the Federalists enjoyed a powerful beginning, their party proved difficult to sustain. Although they managed to elect John Adams (1735–1826; served 1797–1801) president in 1796 after George Washington served two terms, the Federalists began to lose power after 1800. Lack of organization against powerful opposition from the Democratic-Republicans, internal divisions, aversion to compromise, and the death of Hamilton in 1804 led to the party's gradual demise. By 1817, the Federalist Party had dissolved into history.