home

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson

The definitive scholarly edition of the correspondence and other papers of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), first secretary of state and third president of the United States, principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, founder of the University of Virginia.

Cover of Volume 46, which displays the title and publisher of the volume, as well as names of the project editors.

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson editorial project at Princeton University is preparing a comprehensive scholarly edition of documents written or received by Thomas Jefferson. The edition’s publisher is Princeton University Press. Content of the volumes is also available in digital format within the Rotunda imprint of the University of Virginia Press and through Founders Online of the National Archives. Volume 1, with documents from the period 1760–1776, appeared in 1950, and Volume 47, covering a part of the year 1805, will be published in 2023.  

LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR PROJECT

Our Publications

federalist papers thomas jefferson

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Print Edition)

Learn more about the Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Print Edition)

federalist papers thomas jefferson

Second Series

Learn more about the Second Series

federalist papers thomas jefferson

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Rotunda (Digital Edition)

Visit the Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition on Rotunda

federalist papers thomas jefferson

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Founders Online (Digital Edition)

Visit the Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Founders Online

federalist papers thomas jefferson

"3 volumes bound in Marbled paper"

Visit “3 Volumes Bound”

federalist papers thomas jefferson

The Jefferson Weather and Climate Records

Visit the Jefferson Weather and Climate Records

MA in American History : Apply now and enroll in graduate courses with top historians this summer!

  • AP US History Study Guide
  • History U: Courses for High School Students
  • History School: Summer Enrichment
  • Lesson Plans
  • Classroom Resources
  • Spotlights on Primary Sources
  • Professional Development (Academic Year)
  • Professional Development (Summer)
  • Book Breaks
  • Inside the Vault
  • Self-Paced Courses
  • Browse All Resources
  • Search by Issue
  • Search by Essay
  • Become a Member (Free)
  • Monthly Offer (Free for Members)
  • Program Information
  • Scholarships and Financial Aid
  • Applying and Enrolling
  • Eligibility (In-Person)
  • EduHam Online
  • Hamilton Cast Read Alongs
  • Official Website
  • Press Coverage
  • Veterans Legacy Program
  • The Declaration at 250
  • Black Lives in the Founding Era
  • Celebrating American Historical Holidays
  • Browse All Programs
  • Donate Items to the Collection
  • Search Our Catalog
  • Research Guides
  • Rights and Reproductions
  • See Our Documents on Display
  • Bring an Exhibition to Your Organization
  • Interactive Exhibitions Online
  • About the Transcription Program
  • Civil War Letters
  • Founding Era Newspapers
  • College Fellowships in American History
  • Scholarly Fellowship Program
  • Richard Gilder History Prize
  • David McCullough Essay Prize
  • Affiliate School Scholarships
  • Nominate a Teacher
  • Eligibility
  • State Winners
  • National Winners
  • Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize
  • Gilder Lehrman Military History Prize
  • George Washington Prize
  • Frederick Douglass Book Prize
  • Our Mission and History
  • Annual Report
  • Contact Information
  • Student Advisory Council
  • Teacher Advisory Council
  • Board of Trustees
  • Remembering Richard Gilder
  • President's Council
  • Scholarly Advisory Board
  • Internships
  • Our Partners
  • Press Releases

History Resources

federalist papers thomas jefferson

Thomas Jefferson's opposition to the Federalists, 1810

A spotlight on a primary source by thomas jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson to David Howell, December 15, 1810. (GLC01027)

In this letter, Thomas Jefferson responds to a letter from his old acquaintance from Congress and fellow Republican, David Howell of Rhode Island. Howell had requested Jefferson’s support for Rhode Island’s Governor James Fenner. Rather than simply give Fenner an endorsement, Jefferson uses this opportunity to discuss his opposition to the Federalist Party:

I learn with pleasure that republican principles are predominant in your state, because I conscientiously believe that governments founded in them are most friendly to the happiness of the people at large; and especially of a people so capable of self government as ours. I have been ever opposed to the party, so falsely called federalists, because I believe them desirous of introducing, into our government, authorities hereditary or otherwise independant [ sic ] of the national will. these always consume the public contributions and oppress the people with labour & poverty.

A full transcript is available.

Monticello Dec. 15. 10.

Our last post brought me your friendly letter of Nov. 27. I learn with pleasure that republican principles are predominant in your state, because I conscientiously believe that governments founded in them are most friendly to the happiness of the people at large; and especially of a people so capable of self government as ours. I have been ever opposed to the party, so falsely called federalists, because I believe them desirous of introducing, into our government, authorities hereditary or otherwise independant [ sic ] of the national will. these always consume the public contributions and oppress the people with labour & poverty. no one was more sensible than myself, while Gov r . Fenner was in the Senate, of the soundness of his political principles, & rectitude of his conduct. among those of my fellow laborers, of whom I had a distinguished opinion, he was one: and I have no doubt those among whom he lives and who have already given him so many proofs of their unequivocal confidence in him, will continue so to do. it would be impertinent in me, a stranger to them, to tell them what they all see daily. my object too at present is peace and tranquility, neither doing nor saying any thing to be quoted, or to make me the subject of newspaper disquisitions. I read one or two newspapers a week, but with reluctance give even that time from Tacitus & Horace, & so much other more agreeable reading. indeed I give more time to exercise of the body than of the mind, believing it wholesome to both. I enjoy, in recollection, my antient [ sic ] friendships, & suffer no new circumstances to mix alloy with them. I do not take the trouble of forming opinions on what is passing among them; because I have such entire confidence in their integrity & wisdom, as to be satisfied all is going right, & that every one is doing his best in the station confided to him. under these impressions accept sincere assurances of my continued esteem & respect for yourself personally, & my best wishes for your health & happiness.

Th: Jefferson

David Howell esq.

Questions for Discussion

Read the introduction, view the image, and read the transcript of Thomas Jefferson’s letter. Then apply your knowledge of American history to answer the following questions:

  • Explain the criticisms Jefferson leveled against the Federalists regarding “the national will,” consuming “public contributions,” and oppression of “the people with labour & poverty.”
  • To what extent were the concerns of Jefferson mirrored in the contemporary debate over federal and state powers?
  • How did Jefferson, in 1810 out of office only a year, explain his reluctance to engage in political debate or even to keep up with current events in the newspapers?
  • Why did Jefferson use terms such as “pleasure” and “happiness” to describe a republican style of government?

A printer-friendly version is available here .

Stay up to date, and subscribe to our quarterly newsletter.

Learn how the Institute impacts history education through our work guiding teachers, energizing students, and supporting research.

Navigation menu

Personal tools.

  • View source
  • View history
  • Encyclopedia Home
  • Alphabetical List of Entries
  • Topical List
  • What links here
  • Related changes
  • Special pages
  • Printable version
  • Permanent link
  • Page information

Jefferson, Thomas

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, is an ironic political figure in the development of American federalism . Though Jefferson favored a stricter interpretation of the Constitution than his Federalist predecessors, his presidency dramatically expanded the powers of that office and the national government as a whole.

Jefferson was one of the chief architects of state-centered federalism, first articulated in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. In resistance to the nationalist views of Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall , state-centered federalism operated from the premise that the Constitution was a product of state action because state representatives were responsible for the creation and ratification of the document. In turn, the Constitution protects state power through absolute limits on the powers of national government (Article I, Section 8, and the Tenth Amendment). As a result, a primary focus of citizens and government leaders should be to guard against any expansion of national power at the expense of the states.

Jefferson sought to impose this state-centered perspective through the Revolution of 1800. Once in office, Jefferson reduced expenditures in all branches of government, replaced Federalists appointees with Republicans, and attempted to limit the powers of the Federalist-dominated judiciary. At the same time, each of his terms witnessed monumental expansions in the power of the national government. In 1803, the United States bought over 800,000 square miles of Louisiana territory in one of the largest land deals in American history. With no constitutional power for the national government to purchase new territory, the Louisiana Purchase directly contradicted Jefferson’s governing philosophy. Faced with a unique opportunity to nearly double the country’s land area and to preclude European expansion on the North American continent, Jefferson secured the deal despite his ideological predispositions.

The Napoleonic Wars further complicated Jefferson’s desire for a limited national government. Although the wars created a high demand for goods, Britain, France, and United States all tried to block the others’ trade. Jefferson signed the Nonimportatation Act (1806) and the Embargo Act (1807) to protect American merchants. The embargo prohibited all exports, but since foreign-bound ships were forced to depart empty, the act in effect limited imports as well. Jefferson hoped that resulting economic pressure would convince the British and French to mitigate their maritime policies. Domestically, the national government regulated foreign trade for the first time.

The Louisiana Purchase and Embargo Acts ran directly counter to Jefferson’s desire for state-centered federalism. In theory, Jefferson favored the active protection of state power and the strict limitation of national power. In practice, Jefferson suspended strict constitutional construction in favor of expanding national boundaries and regulating international trade. As a result, Thomas Jefferson is remembered as an ironic figure in the development of American Federalism.

Last updated: 2006

SEE ALSO: Hamilton, Alexander ; Federalists ; Louisiana Purchase ; Marshall, John ; Presidency

  • Political/Historical Figures
  • This page was last edited on 29 September 2018, at 21:04.
  • Content is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike unless otherwise noted.
  • Privacy policy
  • Federalism in America
  • Disclaimers

If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

To log in and use all the features of Khan Academy, please enable JavaScript in your browser.

Course: US history   >   Unit 3

  • The Articles of Confederation
  • What was the Articles of Confederation?
  • Shays's Rebellion
  • The Constitutional Convention
  • The US Constitution

The Federalist Papers

  • The Bill of Rights
  • Social consequences of revolutionary ideals
  • The presidency of George Washington
  • Why was George Washington the first president?
  • The presidency of John Adams
  • Regional attitudes about slavery, 1754-1800
  • Continuity and change in American society, 1754-1800
  • Creating a nation
  • The Federalist Papers was a collection of essays written by John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton in 1788.
  • The essays urged the ratification of the United States Constitution, which had been debated and drafted at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.
  • The Federalist Papers is considered one of the most significant American contributions to the field of political philosophy and theory and is still widely considered to be the most authoritative source for determining the original intent of the framers of the US Constitution.

The Articles of Confederation and Constitutional Convention

  • In Federalist No. 10 , Madison reflects on how to prevent rule by majority faction and advocates the expansion of the United States into a large, commercial republic.
  • In Federalist No. 39 and Federalist 51 , Madison seeks to “lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty,” emphasizing the need for checks and balances through the separation of powers into three branches of the federal government and the division of powers between the federal government and the states. 4 ‍  
  • In Federalist No. 84 , Hamilton advances the case against the Bill of Rights, expressing the fear that explicitly enumerated rights could too easily be construed as comprising the only rights to which American citizens were entitled.

What do you think?

  • For more on Shays’s Rebellion, see Leonard L. Richards, Shays’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002).
  • Bernard Bailyn, ed. The Debate on the Constitution: Federalist and Anti-Federalist Speeches, Articles, and Letters During the Struggle over Ratification; Part One, September 1787 – February 1788 (New York: Penguin Books, 1993).
  • See Federalist No. 1 .
  • See Federalist No. 51 .
  • For more, see Michael Meyerson, Liberty’s Blueprint: How Madison and Hamilton Wrote the Federalist Papers, Defined the Constitution, and Made Democracy Safe for the World (New York: Basic Books, 2008).

Want to join the conversation?

  • Upvote Button navigates to signup page
  • Downvote Button navigates to signup page
  • Flag Button navigates to signup page

Incredible Answer

National Historical Publications & Records Commission

National Archives Logo

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson

refer to caption

Miniature of Thomas Jefferson, 1788 by John Trumbull. Courtesy Monticello.

Princeton University and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello

Additional information at: https://jeffersonpapers.princeton.edu/

The Rotunda site contains a searchable database of all thirty-six volumes published through 2009 into one searchable online resource. In addition, it includes the first four volumes of the Retirement Series sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which documents the time between Jefferson’s return to private life and his death in 1826. The Retirement Series is creating the definitive edition of Thomas Jefferson’s letters and papers covering the period from 1809 to 1826 in both letterpress and digital form. More information is available at https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/project-description and via Rotunda at http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu/founders/TSJN.html

The Jefferson Papers are also part of Founders Online at founders.archives.gov

A comprehensive edition of the papers of Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826), third President of the United States. Jefferson was a lawyer, delegate to the Virginia House of Burgesses, and landowner, before beginning his political career in 1775. At age 33, he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. At the beginning of the American Revolution he served in the Continental Congress representing Virginia and then served as a wartime Governor of Virginia (1779–1781). Just after the war ended, from mid-1784 Jefferson served as a diplomat, stationed in Paris. Under President Washington, Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State (1790–1793) and was elected Vice President in 1796. Elected president in 1800, he oversaw the purchase of the vast Louisiana Territory from France (1803), and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) to explore the new west. He was the founder of the University of Virginia. The NHPRC also supported a microfilm edition of Jefferson’s Papers at the University of Virginia, 1732-1828. Ten reels.

Forty-three completed volumes of a planned 60-volume edition.

Previous Record   |    Next Record   |    Return to Index  

The Federalist Papers

federalist papers thomas jefferson

Discover the Genius of the Constitution

Thomas Jefferson described The Federalist Papers as “the best commentary on the principles of government, which ever was written.”

In this free ten-lecture course you will gain a deeper understanding of the purpose and structure of the American Founding by studying the arguments of America’s most influential Founders. Written between October 1787 and August 1788, The Federalist Papers  is a collection of newspaper essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay in defense of the Constitution.

Taught by Hillsdale College’s politics faculty, this course explores the major themes of this classic work of American politics, such as the problem of majority faction, the importance of separation of powers, the nature of the three branches of government, and the argument concerning the Bill of Rights.

By enrolling in this course you will receive free access to the course lectures, readings, and quizzes to aid you in this examination of the greatest Constitution ever written.

We invite you to join us today in this urgent study of the Constitution and what has been lost by the modern assault on it.  

Enroll in this free online course on The Federalist Papers today!

To enroll in “ The Federalist Papers ,” please enter your email address.

What students say

The instructors are very good. The tests make you think. There are other helpful discussion screens and the whole process makes it feel much like a classroom setting. I feel the Federalist Papers are somewhat difficult to read on your own, so this course makes it much easier to understand.

This online course, “The Federalist Papers,” pulls the original writers and their times right into ours, today in the 21st century. Deepest appreciation to the lively, scholarly presentations and thought-provoking quiz questions.

The lectures are terrific and are delivered in an interesting, clear, and fluid fashion. I’m enjoying the course very much. Thank you!

New message

federalist papers thomas jefferson

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson was one of the most prolific authors in United States Constitutional History, and his works both public and private have been preserved through the efforts of countless historical societies throughout the country. Most famously through these sources:

  • Library of Congress

Thomas Jefferson , the third president of the United States and a leader in the Enlightenment, spoke five languages fluently and was deeply interested in science, invention, architecture, religion and philosophy, interests that led him to the founding of the University of Virginia after his presidency. He designed his own large mansion on a 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, which he named Monticello . While not a notable orator, Jefferson was a skilled writer and corresponded with many influential people in America and Europe throughout his adult life. Here are some of the papers which are of the greatest historical significance.

Thomas Jefferson's Papers

Thomas Jefferson annotated Declaration of Independence

Jefferson's Draft of the Declaration of Independence (1776)

Jefferson's Draft of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779)

An excerpt from Notes on the State of Virginia (1781)

Excerpt from a Letter to James Madison (1785)

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)

Letter to Edward Carrington (1787)

Letter to Samuel Kercheval (1816)

To the New Haven Merchants (July 12, 1801)

First Inaugural Address

To William G. Munford (June 18, 1799)

The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798

Thomas Jefferson to Philip Mazzei (Apr. 24 ,1796)

Portrait of Jefferson courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Share-Alike License 3.0. Images of the drafts of the Declaration of Independence courtesy of the Library of Congress under the Open Government License.

© Oak Hill Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Oak Hill Publishing Company. Box 6473, Naperville, IL 60567 For questions or comments about this site please email us at [email protected]

THE AMERICAN YAWP

6. a new nation.

A newspaper cartoon depicting the thirteen states as pillars. The top reads Reduent Saturnia Regna. On the erection of the Eleventh Pillar of the great national DOME, we beg leave most fiercely to felicitate our DEAR COUNTRY. Rise it will. The foundation good, it may yet be saved.

“The Federal Pillars,” from The Massachusetts Centinel, August 2, 1789.  Library of Congress .

*The American Yawp is an evolving, collaborative text. Please click  here  to improve this chapter. *

I. Introduction

Ii. shays’s rebellion, iii. the constitutional convention, iv. ratifying the constitution, v. rights and compromises, vi. hamilton’s financial system, vii. the whiskey rebellion and jay’s treaty, viii. the french revolution and the limits of liberty, ix. religious freedom, x. the election of 1800, xi. conclusion, xii. primary sources, xiii. reference material.

On July 4, 1788, Philadelphians turned out for a “grand federal procession” in honor of the new national constitution. Workers in various trades and professions demonstrated. Blacksmiths carted around a working forge, on which they symbolically beat swords into farm tools. Potters proudly carried a sign paraphrasing from the Bible, “The potter hath power over his clay,” linking God’s power with an artisan’s work and a citizen’s control over the country. Christian clergymen meanwhile marched arm-in-arm with Jewish leaders. The grand procession represented what many Americans hoped the United States would become: a diverse but cohesive, prosperous nation. 1

Over the next few years, Americans would celebrate more of these patriotic holidays. In April 1789, for example, thousands gathered in New York to see George Washington take the presidential oath of office. That November, Washington called his fellow citizens to celebrate with a day of thanksgiving, particularly for “the peaceable and rational manner” in which the government had been established. 2

But the new nation was never as cohesive as its champions had hoped. Although the officials of the new federal government—and the people who supported it—placed great emphasis on unity and cooperation, the country was often anything but unified. The Constitution itself had been a controversial document adopted to strengthen the government so that it could withstand internal conflicts. Whatever the later celebrations, the new nation had looked to the future with uncertainty. Less than two years before the national celebrations of 1788 and 1789, the United States had faced the threat of collapse.

Daniel Shays became a divisive figure, to some a violent rebel seeking to upend the new American government, to others an upholder of the true revolutionary virtues Shays and others fought for. This contemporary depiction of Shays and his accomplice Job Shattuck portrays them in the latter light as rising “illustrious from the Jail.” Unidentified Artist, Daniel Shays and Job Shattuck, 1787. Wikimedia, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Unidentified_Artist_-_Daniel_Shays_and_Job_Shattuck_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg.

Daniel Shays became a divisive figure, to some a violent rebel seeking to upend the new American government, to others an upholder of the true revolutionary virtues Shays and others fought for. This contemporary depiction of Shays and his accomplice Job Shattuck portrays them in the latter light as rising “illustrious from the Jail.” Unidentified artist, Daniel Shays and Job Shattuck, 1787. Wikimedia .

In 1786 and 1787, a few years after the Revolution ended, thousands of farmers in western Massachusetts were struggling under a heavy burden of debt. Their problems were made worse by weak local and national economies. Many political leaders saw both the debt and the struggling economy as a consequence of the Articles of Confederation, which provided the federal government with no way to raise revenue and did little to create a cohesive nation out of the various states. The farmers wanted the Massachusetts government to protect them from their creditors, but the state supported the lenders instead. As creditors threatened to foreclose on their property, many of these farmers, including Revolutionary War veterans, took up arms.

Led by a fellow veteran named Daniel Shays, these armed men, the “Shaysites,” resorted to tactics like the patriots had used before the Revolution, forming blockades around courthouses to keep judges from issuing foreclosure orders. These protesters saw their cause and their methods as an extension of the “Spirit of 1776”; they were protecting their rights and demanding redress for the people’s grievances.

Governor James Bowdoin, however, saw the Shaysites as rebels who wanted to rule the government through mob violence. He called up thousands of militiamen to disperse them. A former Revolutionary general, Benjamin Lincoln, led the state force, insisting that Massachusetts must prevent “a state of anarchy, confusion and slavery.” 3 In January 1787, Lincoln’s militia arrested more than one thousand Shaysites and reopened the courts.

Daniel Shays and other leaders were indicted for treason, and several were sentenced to death, but eventually Shays and most of his followers received pardons. Their protest, which became known as Shays’s Rebellion, generated intense national debate. While some Americans, like Thomas Jefferson, thought “a little rebellion now and then” helped keep the country free, others feared the nation was sliding toward anarchy and complained that the states could not maintain control. For nationalists like James Madison of Virginia, Shays’s Rebellion was a prime example of why the country needed a strong central government. “Liberty,” Madison warned, “may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power.” 4

The uprising in Massachusetts convinced leaders around the country to act. After years of goading by James Madison and other nationalists, delegates from twelve of the thirteen states met at the Pennsylvania state house in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. Only Rhode Island declined to send a representative. The delegates arrived at the convention with instructions to revise the Articles of Confederation.

The biggest problem the convention needed to solve was the federal government’s inability to levy taxes. That weakness meant that the burden of paying back debt from the Revolutionary War fell on the states. The states, in turn, found themselves beholden to the lenders who had bought up their war bonds. That was part of why Massachusetts had chosen to side with its wealthy bondholders over poor western farmers. 5

James Madison, however, had no intention of simply revising the Articles of Confederation. He intended to produce a completely new national constitution. In the preceding year, he had completed two extensive research projects—one on the history of government in the United States, the other on the history of republics around the world. He used this research as the basis for a proposal he brought with him to Philadelphia. It came to be called the Virginia Plan, named after Madison’s home state. 6

James Madison was a central figure in the reconfiguration of the national government. Madison’s Virginia Plan was a guiding document in the formation of a new government under the Constitution. John Vanderlyn, Portrait of James Madison, 1816. Wikimedia, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Madison.jpg.

James Madison was a central figure in the reconfiguration of the national government. Madison’s Virginia Plan was a guiding document in the formation of a new government under the Constitution. John Vanderlyn, Portrait of James Madison, 1816. Wikimedia .

The Virginia Plan was daring. Classical learning said that a republican form of government required a small and homogenous state: the Roman republic, or a small country like Denmark, for example. Citizens who were too far apart or too different could not govern themselves successfully. Conventional wisdom said the United States needed to have a very weak central government, which should simply represent the states on certain matters they had in common. Otherwise, power should stay at the state or local level. But Madison’s research had led him in a different direction. He believed it was possible to create “an extended republic” encompassing a diversity of people, climates, and customs.

The Virginia Plan, therefore, proposed that the United States should have a strong federal government. It was to have three branches—legislative, executive, and judicial—with power to act on any issues of national concern. The legislature, or Congress, would have two houses, in which every state would be represented according to its population size or tax base. The national legislature would have veto power over state laws. 7

Other delegates to the convention generally agreed with Madison that the Articles of Confederation had failed. But they did not agree on what kind of government should replace them. In particular, they disagreed about the best method of representation in the new Congress. Representation was an important issue that influenced a host of other decisions, including deciding how the national executive branch should work, what specific powers the federal government should have, and even what to do about the divisive issue of slavery.

For more than a decade, each state had enjoyed a single vote in the Continental Congress. William Patterson’s New Jersey Plan proposed to keep things that way. The Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman, furthermore, argued that members of Congress should be appointed by the state legislatures. Ordinary voters, Sherman said, lacked information, were “constantly liable to be misled” and “should have as little to do as may be” about most national decisions. 8 Large states, however, preferred the Virginia Plan, which would give their citizens far more power over the legislative branch. James Wilson of Pennsylvania argued that since the Virginia Plan would vastly increase the powers of the national government, representation should be drawn as directly as possible from the public. No government, he warned, “could long subsist without the confidence of the people.” 9 )

Ultimately, Roger Sherman suggested a compromise. Congress would have a lower house, the House of Representatives, in which members were assigned according to each state’s population, and an upper house, which became the Senate, in which each state would have one vote. This proposal, after months of debate, was adopted in a slightly altered form as the Great Compromise: each state would have two senators, who could vote independently. In addition to establishing both types of representation, this compromise also counted three-fifths of a state’s enslaved population for representation and tax purposes.

The delegates took even longer to decide on the form of the national executive branch. Should executive power be in the hands of a committee or a single person? How should its officeholders be chosen? On June 1, James Wilson moved that the national executive power reside in a single person. Coming only four years after the American Revolution, that proposal was extremely contentious; it conjured up images of an elected monarchy. 10 The delegates also worried about how to protect the executive branch from corruption or undue control. They endlessly debated these questions, and not until early September did they decide the president would be elected by a special electoral college.

In the end, the Constitutional Convention proposed a government unlike any other, combining elements copied from ancient republics and English political tradition but making some limited democratic innovations—all while trying to maintain a delicate balance between national and state sovereignty. It was a complicated and highly controversial scheme.

Delegates to the Constitutional Convention assembled, argued, and finally agreed in this room, styled in the same manner it was during the Convention. Photograph of the Assembly Room, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA. Wikimedia, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Independence_Hall_10.jpg.

Delegates to the Constitutional Convention assembled, argued, and finally agreed in this room, styled in the same manner as during the Convention. Photograph of the Assembly Room, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Wikimedia . Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

The convention voted to send its proposed Constitution to Congress, which was then sitting in New York, with a cover letter from George Washington. The plan for adopting the new Constitution, however, required approval from special state ratification conventions, not just Congress. During the ratification process, critics of the Constitution organized to persuade voters in the different states to oppose it.

Importantly, the Constitutional Convention had voted down a proposal from Virginia’s George Mason, the author of Virginia’s state Declaration of Rights, for a national bill of rights. This omission became a rallying point for opponents of the document. Many of these Anti-Federalists argued that without such a guarantee of specific rights, American citizens risked losing their personal liberty to the powerful federal government. The pro-ratification Federalists, on the other hand, argued that including a bill of rights was not only redundant but dangerous; it could limit future citizens from adding new rights. 11

Citizens debated the merits of the Constitution in newspaper articles, letters, sermons, and coffeehouse quarrels across America. Some of the most famous, and most important, arguments came from Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison in the Federalist Papers , which were published in various New York newspapers in 1787 and 1788. 12 The first crucial vote came at the beginning of 1788 in Massachusetts. At first, the Anti-Federalists at the Massachusetts ratifying convention probably had the upper hand, but after weeks of debate, enough delegates changed their votes to narrowly approve the Constitution. But they also approved a number of proposed amendments, which were to be submitted to the first Congress. This pattern—ratifying the Constitution but attaching proposed amendments—was followed by other state conventions.

The most high-profile convention was held in Richmond, Virginia, in June 1788, when Federalists like James Madison, Edmund Randolph, and John Marshall squared off against equally influential Anti-Federalists like Patrick Henry and George Mason. Virginia was America’s most populous state, it had produced some of the country’s highest-profile leaders, and the success of the new government rested upon its cooperation. After nearly a month of debate, Virginia voted 89 to 79 in favor of ratification. 13

On July 2, 1788, Congress announced that a majority of states had ratified the Constitution and that the document was now in effect. Yet this did not mean the debates were over. North Carolina, New York, and Rhode Island had not completed their ratification conventions, and Anti-Federalists still argued that the Constitution would lead to tyranny. The New York convention would ratify the Constitution by just three votes, and finally Rhode Island would ratify it by two votes—a full year after George Washington was inaugurated as president.

Although debates continued, Washington’s election as president cemented the Constitution’s authority. By 1793, the term Anti-Federalist would be essentially meaningless. Yet the debates produced a piece of the Constitution that seems irreplaceable today. Ten amendments were added in 1791. Together, they constitute the Bill of Rights. James Madison, against his original wishes, supported these amendments as an act of political compromise and necessity. He had won election to the House of Representatives only by promising his Virginia constituents such a list of rights.

There was much the Bill of Rights did not cover. Women found no special protections or guarantee of a voice in government. Many states continued to restrict voting only to men who owned significant amounts of property. And slavery not only continued to exist; it was condoned and protected by the Constitution.

Of all the compromises that formed the Constitution, perhaps none would be more important than the compromise over the slave trade. Americans generally perceived the transatlantic slave trade as more violent and immoral than slavery itself. Many northerners opposed it on moral grounds. But they also understood that letting southern states import more Africans would increase their political power. The Constitution counted each Black individual as three fifths of a person for purposes of representation, so in districts with many enslaved people, the white voters had extra influence. On the other hand, the states of the Upper South also welcomed a ban on the Atlantic trade because they already had a surplus of enslaved laborers. Banning importation meant enslavers in Virginia and Maryland could get higher prices when they sold their enslaved laborers to states like South Carolina and Georgia that were dependent on a continued slave trade.

New England and the Deep South agreed to what was called a “dirty compromise” at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. New Englanders agreed to include a constitutional provision that protected the foreign slave trade for twenty years; in exchange, South Carolina and Georgia delegates had agreed to support a constitutional clause that made it easier for Congress to pass commercial legislation. As a result, the Atlantic slave trade resumed until 1808 when it was outlawed for three reasons. First, Britain was also in the process of outlawing the slave trade in 1807, and the United States did not want to concede any moral high ground to its rival. Second, the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), a successful slave revolt against French colonial rule in the West Indies, had changed the stakes in the debate. The image of thousands of armed Black revolutionaries terrified white Americans. Third, the Haitian Revolution had ended France’s plans to expand its presence in the Americas, so in 1803, the United States had purchased the Louisiana Territory from the French at a fire-sale price. This massive new territory, which had doubled the size of the United States, had put the question of slavery’s expansion at the top of the national agenda. Many white Americans, including President Thomas Jefferson, thought that ending the external slave trade and dispersing the domestic slave population would keep the United States a white man’s republic and perhaps even lead to the disappearance of slavery.

The ban on the slave trade, however, lacked effective enforcement measures and funding. Moreover, instead of freeing illegally imported Africans, the act left their fate to the individual states, and many of those states simply sold intercepted enslaved people at auction. Thus, the ban preserved the logic of property ownership in human beings. The new federal government protected slavery as much as it expanded democratic rights and privileges for white men. 14

Alexander Hamilton saw America’s future as a metropolitan, commercial, industrial society, in contrast to Thomas Jefferson’s nation of small farmers. While both men had the ear of President Washington, Hamilton’s vision proved most appealing and enduring. John Trumbull, Portrait of Alexander Hamilton, 1806. Wikimedia, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alexander_Hamilton_portrait_by_John_Trumbull_1806.jpg.

Alexander Hamilton saw America’s future as a metropolitan, commercial, industrial society, in contrast to Thomas Jefferson’s nation of small farmers. While both men had the ear of President Washington, Hamilton’s vision proved most appealing and enduring. John Trumbull, Portrait of Alexander Hamilton, 1806.  Wikimedia .

President George Washington’s cabinet choices reflected continuing political tensions over the size and power of the federal government. The vice president was John Adams, and Washington chose Alexander Hamilton to be his secretary of the treasury. Both men wanted an active government that would promote prosperity by supporting American industry. However, Washington chose Thomas Jefferson to be his secretary of state, and Jefferson was committed to restricting federal power and preserving an economy based on agriculture. Almost from the beginning, Washington struggled to reconcile the Federalist and Republican (or Democratic-Republican) factions within his own administration. 15

Alexander Hamilton believed that self-interest was the “most powerful incentive of human actions.” Self-interest drove humans to accumulate property, and that effort created commerce and industry. According to Hamilton, government had important roles to play in this process. First, the state should protect private property from theft. Second, according to Hamilton, the state should use human “passions” and “make them subservient to the public good.” 16 In other words, a wise government would harness its citizens’ desire for property so that both private individuals and the state would benefit.

Hamilton, like many of his contemporary statesmen, did not believe the state should ensure an equal distribution of property. Inequality was understood as “the great & fundamental distinction in Society,” and Hamilton saw no reason why this should change. Instead, Hamilton wanted to tie the economic interests of wealthy Americans, or “monied men,” to the federal government’s financial health. If the rich needed the government, then they would direct their energies to making sure it remained solvent. 17

Hamilton, therefore, believed that the federal government must be “a Repository of the Rights of the wealthy.” 18 As the nation’s first secretary of the treasury, he proposed an ambitious financial plan to achieve just that.

The first part of Hamilton’s plan involved federal “assumption” of state debts, which were mostly left over from the Revolutionary War. The federal government would assume responsibility for the states’ unpaid debts, which totaled about $25 million. Second, Hamilton wanted Congress to create a bank—a Bank of the United States.

The goal of these proposals was to link federal power and the country’s economic vitality. Under the assumption proposal, the states’ creditors (people who owned state bonds or promissory notes) would turn their old notes in to the treasury and receive new federal notes of the same face value. Hamilton foresaw that these bonds would circulate like money, acting as “an engine of business, and instrument of industry and commerce.” 19 This part of his plan, however, was controversial for two reasons.

First, many taxpayers objected to paying the full face value on old notes, which had fallen in market value. Often the current holders had purchased them from the original creditors for pennies on the dollar. To pay them at full face value, therefore, would mean rewarding speculators at taxpayer expense. Hamilton countered that government debts must be honored in full, or else citizens would lose all trust in the government. Second, many southerners objected that they had already paid their outstanding state debts, so federal assumption would mean forcing them to pay again for the debts of New Englanders. Nevertheless, President Washington and Congress both accepted Hamilton’s argument. By the end of 1794, 98 percent of the country’s domestic debt had been converted into new federal bonds. 20

Hamilton’s plan for a Bank of the United States, similarly, won congressional approval despite strong opposition. Thomas Jefferson and other Republicans argued that the plan was unconstitutional; the Constitution did not authorize Congress to create a bank. Hamilton, however, argued that the bank was not only constitutional but also important for the country’s prosperity. The Bank of the United States would fulfill several needs. It would act as a convenient depository for federal funds. It would print paper banknotes backed by specie (gold or silver). Its agents would also help control inflation by periodically taking state bank notes to their banks of origin and demanding specie in exchange, limiting the amount of notes the state banks printed. Furthermore, it would give wealthy people a vested interest in the federal government’s finances. The government would control just 20 percent of the bank’s stock; the other eighty percent would be owned by private investors. Thus, an “intimate connexion” between the government and wealthy men would benefit both, and this connection would promote American commerce.

In 1791, therefore, Congress approved a twenty-year charter for the Bank of the United States. The bank’s stocks, together with federal bonds, created over $70 million in new financial instruments. These spurred the formation of securities markets, which allowed the federal government to borrow more money and underwrote the rapid spread of state-charted banks and other private business corporations in the 1790s. For Federalists, this was one of the major purposes of the federal government. For opponents who wanted a more limited role for industry, however, or who lived on the frontier and lacked access to capital, Hamilton’s system seemed to reinforce class boundaries and give the rich inordinate power over the federal government.

Hamilton’s plan, furthermore, had another highly controversial element. In order to pay what it owed on the new bonds, the federal government needed reliable sources of tax revenue. In 1791, Hamilton proposed a federal excise tax on the production, sale, and consumption of a number of goods, including whiskey.

Grain was the most valuable cash crop for many American farmers. In the West, selling grain to a local distillery for alcohol production was typically more profitable than shipping it over the Appalachians to eastern markets. Hamilton’s whiskey tax thus placed a special burden on western farmers. It seemed to divide the young republic in half—geographically between the East and West, economically between merchants and farmers, and culturally between cities and the countryside.

In the fall of 1791, sixteen men in western Pennsylvania, disguised in women’s clothes, assaulted a tax collector named Robert Johnson. They tarred and feathered him, and the local deputy marshals seeking justice met similar fates. They were robbed and beaten, whipped and flogged, tarred and feathered, and tied up and left for dead. The rebel farmers also adopted other protest methods from the Revolution and Shays’s Rebellion, writing local petitions and erecting liberty poles. For the next two years, tax collections in the region dwindled.

Then, in July 1794, groups of armed farmers attacked federal marshals and tax collectors, burning down at least two tax collectors’ homes. At the end of the month, an armed force of about seven thousand, led by the radical attorney David Bradford, robbed the U.S. mail and gathered about eight miles east of Pittsburgh. President Washington responded quickly.

First, Washington dispatched a committee of three distinguished Pennsylvanians to meet with the rebels and try to bring about a peaceful resolution. Meanwhile, he gathered an army of thirteen thousand militiamen in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. On September 19, Washington became the only sitting president to lead troops in the field, though he quickly turned over the army to the command of Henry Lee, a Revolutionary hero and the current governor of Virginia.

As the federal army moved westward, the farmers scattered. Hoping to make a dramatic display of federal authority, Alexander Hamilton oversaw the arrest and trial of a number of rebels. Many were released because of a lack of evidence, and most of those who remained, including two men sentenced to death for treason, were soon pardoned by the president. The Whiskey Rebellion had shown that the federal government was capable of quelling internal unrest. But it also demonstrated that some citizens, especially poor westerners, viewed it as their enemy. 21

Around the same time, another national issue also aroused fierce protest. Along with his vision of a strong financial system, Hamilton also had a vision of a nation busily engaged in foreign trade. In his mind, that meant pursuing a friendly relationship with one nation in particular: Great Britain.

America’s relationship with Britain since the end of the Revolution had been tense, partly because of warfare between the British and French. Their naval war threatened American shipping, and the impressment of men into Britain’s navy terrorized American sailors. American trade could be risky and expensive, and impressment threatened seafaring families. Nevertheless, President Washington was conscious of American weakness and was determined not to take sides. In April 1793, he officially declared that the United States would remain neutral. 22 With his blessing, Hamilton’s political ally John Jay, who was currently serving as chief justice of the Supreme Court, sailed to London to negotiate a treaty that would satisfy both Britain and the United States.

Jefferson and Madison strongly opposed these negotiations. They mistrusted Britain and saw the treaty as the American state favoring Britain over France. The French had recently overthrown their own monarchy, and Republicans thought the United States should be glad to have the friendship of a new revolutionary state. They also suspected that a treaty with Britain would favor northern merchants and manufacturers over the agricultural South.

In November 1794, despite their misgivings, John Jay signed a “treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation” with the British. Jay’s Treaty, as it was commonly called, required Britain to abandon its military positions in the Northwest Territory (especially Fort Detroit, Fort Mackinac, and Fort Niagara) by 1796. Britain also agreed to compensate American merchants for their losses. The United States, in return, agreed to treat Britain as its most prized trade partner, which meant tacitly supporting Britain in its current conflict with France. Unfortunately, Jay had failed to secure an end to impressment. 23

For Federalists, this treaty was a significant accomplishment. Jay’s Treaty gave the United States, a relatively weak power, the ability to stay officially neutral in European wars, and it preserved American prosperity by protecting trade. For Jefferson’s Republicans, however, the treaty was proof of Federalist treachery. The Federalists had sided with a monarchy against a republic, and they had submitted to British influence in American affairs without even ending impressment. In Congress, debate over the treaty transformed the Federalists and Republicans from temporary factions into two distinct (though still loosely organized) political parties.

The mounting body count of the French Revolution included that of the Queen and King, who were beheaded in a public ceremony in early 1793, as depicted in the engraving. While Americans disdained the concept of monarchy, the execution of King Louis XVI was regarded by many Americans as an abomination, an indication of the chaos and savagery reigning in France at the time. Charles Monnet (artist), Antoine-Jean Duclos and Isidore-Stanislas Helman (engravers), "Day of 21 January 1793 the death of Louis Capet on the Place de la Révolution,” 1794. Wikimedia, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Execution_of_Louis_XVI.jpg.

The mounting body count of the French Revolution included that of the queen and king, who were beheaded in a public ceremony in early 1793, as depicted in the engraving. While Americans disdained the concept of monarchy, the execution of King Louis XVI was regarded by many Americans as an abomination, an indication of the chaos and savagery reigning in France at the time. Charles Monnet (artist), Antoine-Jean Duclos and Isidore-Stanislas Helman (engravers), Day of 21 January 1793 the death of Louis Capet on the Place de la Révolution, 1794. Wikimedia .

In part, the Federalists were turning toward Britain because they feared the most radical forms of democratic thought. In the wake of Shays’s Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, and other internal protests, Federalists sought to preserve social stability. The course of the French Revolution seemed to justify their concerns.

In 1789, news had arrived in America that the French had revolted against their king. Most Americans imagined that liberty was spreading from America to Europe, carried there by the returning French heroes who had taken part in the American Revolution.

Initially, nearly all Americans had praised the French Revolution. Towns all over the country hosted speeches and parades on July 14 to commemorate the day it began. Women had worn neoclassical dress to honor republican principles, and men had pinned revolutionary cockades to their hats. John Randolph, a Virginia planter, named two of his favorite horses Jacobin and Sans-Culotte after French revolutionary factions. 24

In April 1793, a new French ambassador, “Citizen” Edmond-Charles Genêt, arrived in the United States. During his tour of several cities, Americans greeted him with wild enthusiasm. Citizen Genêt encouraged Americans to act against Spain, a British ally, by attacking its colonies of Florida and Louisiana. When President Washington refused, Genêt threatened to appeal to the American people directly. In response, Washington demanded that France recall its diplomat. In the meantime, however, Genêt’s faction had fallen from power in France. Knowing that a return home might cost him his head, he decided to remain in America.

Genêt’s intuition was correct. A radical coalition of revolutionaries had seized power in France. They initiated a bloody purge of their enemies, the Reign of Terror. As Americans learned about Genêt’s impropriety and the mounting body count in France, many began to have second thoughts about the French Revolution.

Americans who feared that the French Revolution was spiraling out of control tended to become Federalists. Those who remained hopeful about the revolution tended to become Republicans. Not deterred by the violence, Thomas Jefferson declared that he would rather see “half the earth desolated” than see the French Revolution fail. “Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every country, and left free,” he wrote, “it would be better than as it now is.” 25 Meanwhile, the Federalists sought closer ties with Britain.

Despite the political rancor, in late 1796 there came one sign of hope: the United States peacefully elected a new president. For now, as Washington stepped down and executive power changed hands, the country did not descend into the anarchy that many leaders feared.

The new president was John Adams, Washington’s vice president. Adams was less beloved than the old general, and he governed a deeply divided nation. The foreign crisis also presented him with a major test.

In response to Jay’s Treaty, the French government authorized its vessels to attack American shipping. To resolve this, President Adams sent envoys to France in 1797. The French insulted these diplomats. Some officials, whom the Americans code-named X, Y, and Z in their correspondence, hinted that negotiations could begin only after the Americans offered a bribe. When the story became public, this XYZ Affair infuriated American citizens. Dozens of towns wrote addresses to President Adams, pledging him their support against France. Many people seemed eager for war. “Millions for defense,” toasted South Carolina representative Robert Goodloe Harper, “but not one cent for tribute.” 26

By 1798, the people of Charleston watched the ocean’s horizon apprehensively because they feared the arrival of the French navy at any moment. Many people now worried that the same ships that had aided Americans during the Revolutionary War might discharge an invasion force on their shores. Some southerners were sure that this force would consist of Black troops from France’s Caribbean colonies, who would attack the southern states and cause their enslaved laborers to revolt. Many Americans also worried that France had covert agents in the country. In the streets of Charleston, armed bands of young men searched for French disorganizers. Even the little children prepared for the looming conflict by fighting with sticks. 27

Meanwhile, during the crisis, New Englanders were some of the most outspoken opponents of France. In 1798, they found a new reason for Francophobia. An influential Massachusetts minister, Jedidiah Morse, announced to his congregation that the French Revolution had been hatched in a conspiracy led by a mysterious anti-Christian organization called the Illuminati. The story was a hoax, but rumors of Illuminati infiltration spread throughout New England like wildfire, adding a new dimension to the foreign threat. 28

Against this backdrop of fear, the French Quasi-War, as it would come to be known, was fought on the Atlantic, mostly between French naval vessels and American merchant ships. During this crisis, however, anxiety about foreign agents ran high, and members of Congress took action to prevent internal subversion. The most controversial of these steps were the Alien and Sedition Acts. These two laws, passed in 1798, were intended to prevent French agents and sympathizers from compromising America’s resistance, but they also attacked Americans who criticized the president and the Federalist Party.

The Alien Act allowed the federal government to deport foreign nationals, or “aliens,” who seemed to pose a national security threat. Even more dramatically, the Sedition Act allowed the government to prosecute anyone found to be speaking or publishing “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government. 29

These laws were not simply brought on by war hysteria. They reflected common assumptions about the nature of the American Revolution and the limits of liberty. In fact, most of the advocates for the Constitution and the First Amendment accepted that free speech simply meant a lack of prior censorship or restraint, not a guarantee against punishment. According to this logic, “licentious” or unruly speech made society less free, not more. James Wilson, one of the principal architects of the Constitution, argued that “every author is responsible when he attacks the security or welfare of the government.” 30

In 1798, most Federalists were inclined to agree. Under the terms of the Sedition Act, they indicted and prosecuted several Republican printers—and even a Republican congressman who had criticized President Adams. Meanwhile, although the Adams administration never enforced the Alien Act, its passage was enough to convince some foreign nationals to leave the country. For the president and most other Federalists, the Alien and Sedition Acts represented a continuation of a conservative rather than radical American Revolution.

However, the Alien and Sedition Acts caused a backlash in two ways. First, shocked opponents articulated a new and expansive vision for liberty. The New York lawyer Tunis Wortman, for example, demanded an “absolute independence” of the press. 31 Likewise, the Virginia judge George Hay called for “any publication whatever criminal” to be exempt from legal punishment. 32 Many Americans began to argue that free speech meant the ability to say virtually anything without fear of prosecution.

Second, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson helped organize opposition from state governments. Ironically, both of them had expressed support for the principle behind the Sedition Act in previous years. Jefferson, for example, had written to Madison in 1789 that the nation should punish citizens for speaking “false facts” that injured the country. 33 Nevertheless, both men now opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts on constitutional grounds. In 1798, Jefferson made this point in a resolution adopted by the Kentucky state legislature. A short time later, the Virginia legislature adopted a similar document written by Madison.

The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions argued that the national government’s authority was limited to the powers expressly granted by the U.S. Constitution. More importantly, they asserted that the states could declare federal laws unconstitutional. For the time being, these resolutions were simply gestures of defiance. Their bold claim, however, would have important effects in later decades.

In just a few years, many Americans’ feelings toward France had changed dramatically. Far from rejoicing in the “light of freedom,” many Americans now feared the “contagion” of French-style liberty. Debates over the French Revolution in the 1790s gave Americans some of their earliest opportunities to articulate what it meant to be American. Did American national character rest on a radical and universal vision of human liberty? Or was America supposed to be essentially pious and traditional, an outgrowth of Great Britain? They couldn’t agree. It was on this cracked foundation that many conflicts of the nineteenth century would rest.

One reason the debates over the French Revolution became so heated was that Americans were unsure about their own religious future. The Illuminati scare of 1798 was just one manifestation of this fear. Across the United States, a slow but profound shift in attitudes toward religion and government began.

In 1776, none of the American state governments observed the separation of church and state. On the contrary, all thirteen states either had established, official, and tax-supported state churches, or at least required their officeholders to profess a certain faith. Most officials believed this was necessary to protect morality and social order. Over the next six decades, however, that changed. In 1833, the final state, Massachusetts, stopped supporting an official religious denomination. Historians call that gradual process disestablishment .

In many states, the process of disestablishment had started before the creation of the Constitution. South Carolina, for example, had been nominally Anglican before the Revolution, but it had dropped denominational restrictions in its 1778 constitution. Instead, it now allowed any church consisting of at least fifteen adult males to become “incorporated,” or recognized for tax purposes as a state-supported church. Churches needed only to agree to a set of basic Christian theological tenets, which were vague enough that most denominations could support them. 34

South Carolina tried to balance religious freedom with the religious practice that was supposed to be necessary for social order. Officeholders were still expected to be Christians; their oaths were witnessed by God, they were compelled by their religious beliefs to tell the truth, and they were called to live according to the Bible. This list of minimal requirements came to define acceptable Christianity in many states. As new Christian denominations proliferated between 1780 and 1840, however, more and more Christians fell outside this definition.

South Carolina continued its general establishment law until 1790, when a constitutional revision removed the establishment clause and religious restrictions on officeholders. Many other states, though, continued to support an established church well into the nineteenth century. The federal Constitution did not prevent this. The religious freedom clause in the Bill of Rights, during these decades, limited the federal government but not state governments. It was not until 1833 that a state supreme court decision ended Massachusetts’s support for the Congregational Church.

Many political leaders, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, favored disestablishment because they saw the relationship between church and state as a tool of oppression. Jefferson proposed a Statute for Religious Freedom in the Virginia state assembly in 1779, but his bill failed in the overwhelmingly Anglican legislature. Madison proposed it again in 1785, and it defeated a rival bill that would have given equal revenue to all Protestant churches. Instead Virginia would not use public money to support religion. “The Religion then of every man,” Jefferson wrote, “must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.” 35

At the federal level, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 easily agreed that the national government should not have an official religion. This principle was upheld in 1791 when the First Amendment was ratified, with its guarantee of religious liberty. The limits of federal disestablishment, however, required discussion. The federal government, for example, supported Native American missionaries and congressional chaplains. Well into the nineteenth century, debate raged over whether the postal service should operate on Sundays, and whether non-Christians could act as witnesses in federal courts. Americans continued to struggle to understand what it meant for Congress not to “establish” a religion.

The year 1800 brought about a host of changes in government, in particular the first successful and peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another. But the year was important for another reason: the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. (pictured here in 1800) was finally opened to be occupied by the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the courts of the District of Columbia. William Russell Birch, A view of the Capitol of Washington before it was burnt down by the British, c. 1800. Wikimedia, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USCapitol1800.jpg.

The year 1800 brought about a host of changes in government, in particular the first successful and peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another. But the year was important for another reason: the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (pictured here in 1800) was finally opened to be occupied by Congress, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the courts of the District of Columbia. William Russell Birch, A view of the Capitol of Washington before it was burnt down by the British, c. 1800. Wikimedia .

Meanwhile, the Sedition and Alien Acts expired in 1800 and 1801. They had been relatively ineffective at suppressing dissent. On the contrary, they were much more important for the loud reactions they had inspired. They had helped many Americans decide what they didn’t want from their national government.

By 1800, therefore, President Adams had lost the confidence of many Americans. They had let him know it. In 1798, for instance, he had issued a national thanksgiving proclamation. Instead of enjoying a day of celebration and thankfulness, Adams and his family had been forced by rioters to flee the capital city of Philadelphia until the day was over. Conversely, his prickly independence had also put him at odds with Alexander Hamilton, the leader of his own party, who offered him little support. After four years in office, Adams found himself widely reviled.

In the election of 1800, therefore, the Republicans defeated Adams in a bitter and complicated presidential race. During the election, one Federalist newspaper article predicted that a Republican victory would fill America with “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest.” 36 A Republican newspaper, on the other hand, flung sexual slurs against President Adams, saying he had “neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Both sides predicted disaster and possibly war if the other should win. 37

In the end, the contest came down to a tie between two Republicans, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia and Aaron Burr of New York, who each had seventy-three electoral votes. (Adams had sixty-five.) Burr was supposed to be a candidate for vice president, not president, but under the Constitution’s original rules, a tie-breaking vote had to take place in the House of Representatives. It was controlled by Federalists bitter at Jefferson. House members voted dozens of times without breaking the tie. On the thirty-sixth ballot, Thomas Jefferson emerged victorious.

Republicans believed they had saved the United States from grave danger. An assembly of Republicans in New York City called the election a “bloodless revolution.” They thought of their victory as a revolution in part because the Constitution (and eighteenth-century political theory) made no provision for political parties. The Republicans thought they were fighting to rescue the country from an aristocratic takeover, not just taking part in a normal constitutional process.

“Providential Detection,” 1797 via American Antiquarian Society. This image attacks Jefferson’s support of the French Revolution and religious freedom. The letter, “To Mazzei,” refers to a 1796 correspondence that criticized the Federalists and, by association, President Washington.

This image attacks Jefferson’s support of the French Revolution and religious freedom. The letter, “To Mazzei,” refers to a 1796 correspondence that criticized the Federalists and, by association, President Washington. Providential Detection, 1797. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society . Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

In his first inaugural address, however, Thomas Jefferson offered an olive branch to the Federalists. He pledged to follow the will of the American majority, whom he believed were Republicans, but to respect the rights of the Federalist minority. His election set an important precedent. Adams accepted his electoral defeat and left the White House peacefully. “The revolution of 1800,” Jefferson wrote years later, did for American principles what the Revolution of 1776 had done for its structure. But this time, the revolution was accomplished not “by the sword” but “by the rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage of the people.” 38 Four years later, when the Twelfth Amendment changed the rules for presidential elections to prevent future deadlocks, it was designed to accommodate the way political parties worked.

Despite Adams’s and Jefferson’s attempts to tame party politics, though, the tension between federal power and the liberties of states and individuals would exist long into the nineteenth century. And while Jefferson’s administration attempted to decrease federal influence, Chief Justice John Marshall, an Adams appointee, worked to increase the authority of the Supreme Court. These competing agendas clashed most famously in the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison , which Marshall used to establish a major precedent.

The Marbury case seemed insignificant at first. The night before leaving office in early 1801, Adams had appointed several men to serve as justices of the peace in Washington, D.C. By making these “midnight appointments,” Adams had sought to put Federalists into vacant positions at the last minute. On taking office, however, Jefferson and his secretary of state, James Madison, had refused to deliver the federal commissions to the men Adams had appointed. Several of the appointees, including William Marbury, sued the government, and the case was argued before the Supreme Court.

Marshall used Marbury’s case to make a clever ruling. On the issue of the commissions, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Jefferson administration. But Chief Justice Marshall went further in his decision, ruling that the Supreme Court reserved the right to decide whether an act of Congress violated the Constitution. In other words, the court assumed the power of judicial review. This was a major (and lasting) blow to the Republican agenda, especially after 1810, when the Supreme Court extended judicial review to state laws. Jefferson was particularly frustrated by the decision, arguing that the power of judicial review “would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.” 39

A grand debate over political power engulfed the young United States. The Constitution ensured that there would be a strong federal government capable of taxing, waging war, and making law, but it could never resolve the young nation’s many conflicting constituencies. The Whiskey Rebellion proved that the nation could stifle internal dissent but exposed a new threat to liberty. Hamilton’s banking system provided the nation with credit but also constrained frontier farmers. The Constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty conflicted with many popular prerogatives. Dissension only deepened, and as the 1790s progressed, Americans became bitterly divided over political parties and foreign war.

During the ratification debates, Alexander Hamilton had written of the wonders of the Constitution. “A nation, without a national government,” he wrote, would be “an awful spectacle.” But, he added, “the establishment of a Constitution, in time of profound peace, by the voluntary consent of a whole people, is a prodigy,” a miracle that should be witnessed “with trembling anxiety.” 40 Anti-Federalists had grave concerns about the Constitution, but even they could celebrate the idea of national unity. By 1795, even the staunchest critics would have grudgingly agreed with Hamilton’s convictions about the Constitution. Yet these same individuals could also take the cautions in Washington’s 1796 farewell address to heart. “There is an opinion,” Washington wrote, “that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty.” This, he conceded, was probably true, but in a republic, he said, the danger was not too little partisanship, but too much. “A fire not to be quenched,” Washington warned, “it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.” 41

For every parade, thanksgiving proclamation, or grand procession honoring the unity of the nation, there was also some political controversy reminding American citizens of how fragile their union was. And as party differences and regional quarrels tested the federal government, the new nation increasingly explored the limits of its democracy.

1. Hector St. Jean de Crèvecœur describes the American people ,  1782

Hector St. John de Crèvecœur was born in France, but relocated to the colony of New York and married a local woman named Mehitable Tippet. For a period of several years, de Crèvecœur wrote about the people he encountered in North America. The resulting work was widely successful in Europe. In this passage, Crèvecœur attempts to reflect on the difference between life in Europe and life in North America.

2. A Confederation of Native peoples seek peace with the United States, 1786

In 1786, half a year before the Constitutional Convention, a collection of Native American leaders gathered on the banks of the Detroit River to offer a unified message to the Congress of the United States. Despite this proposal, American surveyors, settlers, and others continued to cross the Ohio River.

3. Mary Smith Cranch comments on politics, 1786-87

In the aftermath of the Revolution, politics became a sport consumed by both men and women. In a series of letters sent to her sister, Mary Smith Cranch comments on a series of political events including the lack of support for diplomats, the circulation of paper or hard currency, legal reform, tariffs against imported tea tables, Shays’s rebellion, and the role of women in supporting the nation’s interests.

4. James Madison,  Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments , 1785

Before the American Revolution, Virginia supported local Anglican churches through taxes. After the American Revolution, Virginia had to decide what to do with this policy. Some founding fathers, including Patrick Henry, wanted to equally distribute tax dollars to all churches. In this document, James Madison explains why he did not want any government money to support religious causes in Virginia.

5. George Washington, “Farewell Address,” 1796

George Washington used his final public address as president to warn against what he understood as the two greatest dangers to American prosperity: political parties and foreign wars. Washington urged the American people to avoid political partisanship and entanglements with European wars. 

6. Venture Smith, A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture Smith , 1798

Venture Smith’s autobiography is one of the earliest slave narratives to circulate in the Atlantic World. Slave narratives grew into the most important genre of antislavery literature and bore testimony to the injustices of the slave system. Smith was unusually lucky in that he was able to purchase his freedom, but his story nonetheless reveals the hardships faced by even the most fortunate enslaved men and women.

7. Susannah Rowson,  Charlotte Temple,  1794

In  Charlotte Temple , the first novel written in America, Susannah Rowson offered a cautionary tale of a woman deceived and then abandoned by a roguish man. Americans throughout the new nation read the book with rapt attention and many even traveled to New York City to visit the supposed grave of this fictional character.

8. Constitutional ratification cartoon, 1789

The  Massachusetts Centinel  ran a series of cartoons depicting the ratification of the Constitution.  Each vertical pillar represents a state that has ratified the new government.  In this cartoon, North Carolina’s pillar is being guided into place (it would vote for ratification in November 1789).  Rhode Island’s pillar, however, is crumbling and shows the uncertainty of the vote there.   

9. Anti-Thomas Jefferson Cartoon, 1797

This image attacks Jefferson’s support of the French Revolution and religious freedom.  The Altar to “Gallic Despotism” mocks Jefferson’s allegiance to the French. The letter, “To Mazzei,” refers to a 1796 correspondence that criticized the Federalists and, by association, President Washington. 

This chapter was edited by Tara Strauch, with content contributions by Marco Basile, Nathaniel C. Green, Brenden Kennedy, Spencer McBride, Andrea Nero, Cara Rogers, Tara Strauch, Michael Harrison Taylor, Jordan Taylor, Kevin Wisniewski, and Ben Wright.

Recommended citation: Marco Basile et al., “A New Nation,” Tara Strauch, ed., in The American Yawp , eds. Joseph Locke and Ben Wright (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018).

Recommended Reading

  • Allgor, Catherine.  Parlor Politics: In which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government.  Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000.
  • Appleby, Joyce.  Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans . Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2001.
  • Bartolini-Tuazon, Kathleen.  For Fear of an Elective King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789 . Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014.
  • Beeman, Richard, Stephen Botein, and Edward C. Carter II eds.  Beyond Confederation: Origins of the Constitution and American National Identity.  Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
  • Bilder, Mary Sarah.  Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention . Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.
  • Bouton, Terry. “A Road Closed: Rural Insurgency in Post-Independence Pennsylvania,”  Journal of American History  87:3 (December 2000): 855-887.
  • Cunningham, Noble E.  The Jeffersonian Republicans: The Formation of Party Organization, 1789-1801.  Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.
  • Dunn, Susan.  Jefferson’s Second Revolution: The Election of 1800 and the Triumph of Republicanism . Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
  • Edling, Max.  A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State . New York: Oxford University Press, 2003
  • Gordon-Reed, Annette.  The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family . New York: W. W. Norton, 2008.
  • Halperin, Terri Diane.  The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798: Testing the Constitution . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016.
  • Holton, Woody.  Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution . 1st edition. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.
  • Kierner, Cynthia A.  Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
  • Maier, Pauline.  Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.
  • Papenfuse, Eric Robert. “Unleashing the ‘Wildness’: The Mobilization of Grassroots Antifederalism in Maryland,”  Journal of the Early Republic  16:1 (Spring 1996): 73-106.
  • Pasley, Jeffrey L.  The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy . Lawrence: The University of Kansas Press, 2013.
  • Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. “Dis-Covering the Subject of the ‘Great Constitutional Discussion,’ 1786-1789,”  Journal of American History  79:3 (December 1992): 841-873
  • Taylor, Alan.  William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic . Reprint edition. New York: Vintage, 1996.
  • Rakove, Jack N.  Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution . New York: Vintage Books, 1996.
  • Salmon, Marylynn.  Women and the Law of Property in Early America . Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
  • Sharp, James Roger.  American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.
  • Slaughter, Thomas P.  The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Waldstreicher, David.  In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes : The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820 . Chapel Hill : Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Wood, Gordon.  Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Zagarri, Rosemarie.  Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.
  • Allgor, Catherine. Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000.
  • Appleby, Joyce. Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2001.
  • Bartolini-Tuazon, Kathleen. For Fear of an Elective King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014.
  • Beeman, Richard, Stephen Botein, and Edward C. Carter II, eds. Beyond Confederation: Origins of the Constitution and American National Identity. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
  • Bilder, Mary Sarah. Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.
  • Bouton, Terry. “A Road Closed: Rural Insurgency in Post-Independence Pennsylvania.” Journal of American History 87, no. 3 (December 2000): 855–887.
  • Cunningham, Noble E. The Jeffersonian Republicans: The Formation of Party Organization, 1789–1801. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.
  • Dunn, Susan. Jefferson’s Second Revolution: The Election of 1800 and the Triumph of Republicanism. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
  • Edling, Max. A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Gordon-Reed, Annette. The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. New York: Norton, 2008.
  • Halperin, Terri Diane. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798: Testing the Constitution. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016.
  • Holton, Woody. Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.
  • Kierner, Cynthia A. Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
  • Maier, Pauline. Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010.
  • Papenfuse, Eric Robert. “Unleashing the ‘Wildness’: The Mobilization of Grassroots Antifederalism in Maryland.” Journal of the Early Republic 16, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 73–106.
  • Pasley, Jeffrey L. The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2013.
  • Rakove, Jack N. Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.
  • Salmon, Marylynn. Women and the Law of Property in Early America . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
  • Sharp, James Roger. American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993.
  • Slaughter, Thomas P. The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
  • Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. “Dis-Covering the Subject of the ‘Great Constitutional Discussion,’ 1786–1789.” Journal of American History 79, no. 3 (December 1992): 841–873.
  • Taylor, Alan. William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic. New York: Vintage, 1996.
  • Waldstreicher, David. In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes : The Making of American Nationalism, 1776–1820. Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Wood, Gordon. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Zagarri, Rosemarie. Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007
  • Francis Hopkinson, An Account of the Grand Federal Procession, Philadelphia, July 4, 1788 (Philadelphia: Carey, 1788). [ ↩ ]
  • George Washington, Thanksgiving Proclamation , October, 3, 1789; Fed. Reg., Presidential Proclamations, 1791–1991. [ ↩ ]
  • Hampshire Gazette (CT), September 13, 1786. [ ↩ ]
  • James Madison, The Federalist Papers , (New York: Signet Classics, 2003), no. 63. [ ↩ ]
  • Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007), 8–9. [ ↩ ]
  • Madison took an active role during the convention. He also did more than anyone else to shape historians’ understandings of the convention by taking meticulous notes. Many of the quotes included here come from Madison’s notes. To learn more about this important document, read Mary Sarah Bilder, Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015). [ ↩ ]
  • Virginia (Randolph) Plan as Amended (National Archives Microfilm Publication M866, 1 roll); The Official Records of the Constitutional Convention; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1774–1789, Record Group 360; National Archives. [ ↩ ]
  • Richard Beeman, Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (New York: Random House, 2009), 114. [ ↩ ]
  • Herbert J. Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For: The Political Thought of the Opponents of the Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 16. [ ↩ ]
  • Ray Raphael, Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive (New York: Knopf, 2012), 50. See also Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon, For Fear of an Elected King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014). [ ↩ ]
  • David J. Siemers, Ratifying the Republic: Antifederalists and Federalists in Constitutional Time (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002). [ ↩ ]
  • Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers , ed. Ian Shapiro (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009). [ ↩ ]
  • Pauline Maier, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010), 225–237. [ ↩ ]
  • David Waldstreicher, Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification (New York: Hill and Wang, 2009). [ ↩ ]
  • Carson Holloway, Hamilton Versus Jefferson in the Washington Administration: Completing the Founding or Betraying the Founding? (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015). [ ↩ ]
  • Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 1 , ed. Henry Cabot Lodge, ed. (New York: Putnam, 1904), 70, 408. [ ↩ ]
  • Alexander Hamilton, Report on Manufactures (New York: Childs and Swaine, 1791). [ ↩ ]
  • James H. Hutson, ed., Supplement to Max Farrand’s the Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987), 119. [ ↩ ]
  • Hamilton, Report on Manufactures ). [ ↩ ]
  • Richard Sylla, “National Foundations: Public Credit, the National Bank, and Securities Markets,” in Founding Choices: American Economic Policy in the 1790s , ed. Douglas A. Irwin and Richard Sylla (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 68. [ ↩ ]
  • Thomas P. Slaughter, The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [ ↩ ]
  • “Proclamation of Neutrality, 1793,” in A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents Prepared Under the Direction of the Joint Committee on printing, of the House and Senate Pursuant to an Act of the Fifty-Second Congress of the United States (New York: Bureau of National Literature, 1897). [ ↩ ]
  • United States, Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, signed at London November 19, 1794 , Submitted to the Senate June 8, Resolution of Advice and Consent, on condition, June 24, 1795. Ratified by the United States August 14, 1795. Ratified by Great Britain October 28, 1795. Ratifications exchanged at London October 28, 1795. Proclaimed February 29, 1796. [ ↩ ]
  • Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders Worldview (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 18. [ ↩ ]
  • From Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 3 January 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-25-02-0016 , last modified June 29, 2015; The Papers of Thomas Jefferson , vol. 25, 1 January–10 May 1793 , ed. John Catanzariti (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 14–17. [ ↩ ]
  • Robert Goodloe Harper, June 18, 1798, quoted in American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia), June 20, 1798. [ ↩ ]
  • Robert J. Alderson Jr., This Bright Era of Happy Revolutions: French Consul Michel-Ange-Bernard Mangourit and International Republicanism in Charleston, 1792–1794 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008). [ ↩ ]
  • Rachel Hope Cleves, The Reign of Terror in America: Visions of Violence from Anti-Jacobinism to Antislavery (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 47. [ ↩ ]
  • Alien Act, July 6, 1798, and An Act in Addition to the Act, Entitled “An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes Against the United States,” July 14, 1798; Fifth Congress; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions; General Records of the United States Government; Record Group 11; National Archives. [ ↩ ]
  • James Wilson, Congressional Debate, December 1, 1787, in Jonathan Elliot, ed., The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787 , Vol. 2 (New York: s.n., 1888) 448–450. [ ↩ ]
  • Tunis Wortman, A Treatise Concerning Political Enquiry, and the Liberty of the Press (New York: Forman, 1800), 181. [ ↩ ]
  • George Hay, An Essay on the Liberty of the Press (Philadelphia: s.n., 1799), 43. [ ↩ ]
  • Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, August 28, 1789, from The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes , Federal Edition, ed. Paul Leicester Ford. http://www.loc.gov/resource/mtj1.011_0853_0861 [ ↩ ]
  • Francis Newton Thorpe, ed., The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies Now or Heretofore Forming the United States of America Compiled and Edited Under the Act of Congress of June 30, 1906 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1909). [ ↩ ]
  • Thomas Jefferson, An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom , 16 January 1786, Manuscript, Records of the General Assembly, Enrolled Bills, Record Group 78, Library of Virginia. [ ↩ ]
  • Catherine Allgor, Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000), 14. [ ↩ ]
  • James T. Callender, The Prospect Before Us (Richmond: s.n., 1800). [ ↩ ]
  • Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, September 6, 1819, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson , 20 vols., ed. Albert Ellery Bergh (Washington, DC: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, 1903), 142. [ ↩ ]
  • Harold H. Bruff, Untrodden Ground: How Presidents Interpret the Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 65. [ ↩ ]
  • Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers (New York: Signet Classics, 2003), no. 85. [ ↩ ]
  • George Washington, Farewell Address, Annals of Congress , 4th Congress, 2869–2870. [ ↩ ]

federalist papers thomas jefferson

  • History Classics
  • Your Profile
  • Find History on Facebook (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on Twitter (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on YouTube (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on Instagram (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on TikTok (Opens in a new window)
  • This Day In History
  • History Podcasts
  • History Vault

Federalist Party

By: History.com Editors

Updated: June 21, 2023 | Original: November 9, 2009

circa 1795: The 1st President of the United States, George Washington (1732 - 1799) in consultation with members of his first cabinet; Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (seated), later the 3rd President and Secretary of the Treasury and co-author of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton.

The Federalist Party originated in opposition to the Democratic-Republican Party in America during President George Washington’s first administration. Known for their support of a strong national government, the Federalists emphasized commercial and diplomatic harmony with Britain following the signing of the 1794 Jay Treaty. The party split over negotiations with France during President John Adams’s administration, though it remained a political force until its members passed into the Democratic and the Whig parties in the 1820s. Despite its dissolution, the party made a lasting impact by laying the foundations of a national economy, creating a national judicial system and formulating principles of foreign policy.

Early Years

The Federalist Party was one of the first two political parties in the United States. It originated, as did the opposing Democratic-Republican Party, within the executive and congressional branches of government during George Washington ’s first administration (1789-1793), and it dominated the government until the defeat of President John Adams for reelection in 1800.

Thereafter, the party unsuccessfully contested the presidency through 1816 and remained a political force in some states until the 1820s. Its members then passed into both the Democratic and the Whig parties.

Federalist Party Leaders

Although Washington disdained factions and disclaimed party adherence, he is generally taken to have been, by policy and inclination, a Federalist, and thus its greatest figure.

Influential public leaders who accepted the Federalist label included John Adams, Alexander Hamilton , John Jay , Rufus King , John Marshall , Timothy Pickering and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney . All had agitated for a new and more effective constitution in 1787 and supported the publication of the influential Federalist Papers .

Yet, because many members of the Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had also championed the Constitution, the Federalist Party cannot be considered the lineal descendant of the pro-Constitution, or ‘federalist,’ grouping of the 1780s. Instead, like its opposition, the party emerged in the 1790s under new conditions and around new issues.

The party drew its early support from those who—for ideological and other reasons—wished to strengthen national instead of state power. Until its defeat in the presidential election of 1800, its style was elitist, and its leaders scorned democracy, widespread suffrage, and open elections.

Its backing centered in the commercial Northeast, whose economy and public order had been threatened by the failings of the Confederation government before 1788. Although the party enjoyed considerable influence in Virginia , North Carolina and the area around Charleston, South Carolina , it failed to attract plantation owners and yeoman farmers in the South and West. Its inability to broaden its geographic and social appeal eventually did it in.

Hamilton and the Bank of the United States

Originally a coalition of like-minded men, the party became publicly well-defined only in 1795. After Washington’s inauguration in 1789, Congress and members of the president’s cabinet debated proposals of Alexander Hamilton (first secretary of the treasury) that the national government assume the debts of the states, repay the national debt at par rather than at its depressed market value, and charter a national bank, the Bank of the United States .

Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Congressman James Madison rallied opposition to Hamilton’s plan. Yet not until Congress debated the ratification and implementation of the Jay Treaty with Great Britain did two political parties clearly emerge, with the Federalists under Hamilton’s leadership.

Federalist policies thenceforth emphasized commercial and diplomatic harmony with Britain, domestic order and stability and a strong national government under powerful executive and judicial branches. Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796, prepared with Hamilton’s assistance, can be read as a classic text of partisan Federalism as well as a great state paper.

John Adams, Washington’s vice president, succeeded the first president as an avowed Federalist, thus becoming the first person to attain the chief magistracy under partisan colors. Inaugurated in 1797, Adams tried to maintain his predecessor’s cabinet and policies. He engaged the nation in an undeclared naval war with France, and after the Federalists gained control of both houses of Congress in the 1798 election, backed the infamous and Federalist-inspired Alien and Sedition Acts .

In addition to a widespread public outcry against those laws, which restricted freedom of speech and freedom of the press , Adams met with mounting attacks, especially from the Hamiltonian faction of his own party, against his military priorities. When Adams, as much to deflect mounting Democratic-Republican opposition as to end a war, opened diplomatic negotiations with France in 1799 and reorganized the cabinet under his own control, the Hamiltonians broke with him.

Although his actions strengthened the Federalist position in the presidential election of 1800, they were not enough to gain his reelection. His party irreparably split. Adams, on his way to retirement, was nevertheless able to conclude peace with France and to secure the appointment of moderate Federalist John Marshall as chief justice of the Supreme Court . Long after the Federalist Party was dead, Marshall enshrined its principles in constitutional law.

Regional Factions

In the minority, Federalists, at last, accepted the necessity of creating a system of organized, disciplined state party organizations and adopting democratic electoral tactics. Because their greatest strength lay in Massachusetts , Connecticut and Delaware , the Federalists also assumed the aspects of a regional minority.

Ignoring ideological consistency and a traditional commitment to strong national power, they opposed Jefferson’s popular Louisiana Purchase of 1803 as too costly—and too threatening to northern influence in government. Largely as a result, the party continued to lose power at the national level. It carried only Connecticut, Delaware and parts of Maryland against Jefferson in 1804.

That defeat, the party’s increasing regional isolation and Hamilton’s untimely death at the hands of Aaron Burr that same year threatened the party’s very existence. Yet strong, widespread opposition to Jefferson’s ill-conceived Embargo of 1807 revived it.

In the 1808 presidential election against Madison, the Federalist candidate, Charles C. Pinckney, carried Delaware, parts of Maryland and North Carolina, and all of New England except Vermont . The declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812 brought New York , New Jersey , and more of Maryland into the Federalist fold, although these states were not enough to gain the party the presidency.

But Federalist obstruction of the war effort seriously undercut its newfound popularity, and the Hartford Convention of 1814 won for it, however unjustly, the stigma of secession and treason. The party under Rufus King carried only Connecticut, Massachusetts and Delaware in the election of 1816.

Decline of the Federalist Party

Although it lingered on in these states, the party never regained its national following, and by the end of the War of 1812 , it was dead. Its inability to accommodate early enough a rising, popular democratic spirit, often strongest in towns and cities, was its undoing.

Its emphasis upon banking, commerce and national institutions, although fitting for the young nation, nevertheless made it unpopular among the majority of Americans who, as people of the soil, remained wary of government influence.

Yet the Federalist Party's contributions to the nation were extensive. Its principles gave structure to the new government. Its leaders laid the foundations of a national economy, created and staffed a national judicial system and enunciated enduring principles of American foreign policy.

The Federalist and the Republican Party. PBS: American Experience . Federalists. The First Amendment Encyclopedia. Middle Tennessee State University . Timeline of the Federalist Party. Michigan State University .

federalist papers thomas jefferson

HISTORY Vault: The American Revolution

Stream American Revolution documentaries and your favorite HISTORY series, commercial-free.

federalist papers thomas jefferson

Founders Online --> [ Back to normal view ]

Quick links.

  • About Founders Online
  • Major Funders
  • Search Help
  • How to Use This Site
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Teaching Resources

About the Papers of Thomas Jefferson

Begun in 1943 as a partnership between Princeton University and Princeton University Press, the Papers of Thomas Jefferson was the first modern historical documentary edition. The project includes not only the letters and other documents that Jefferson wrote, but also those he received. Founding editor Julian P. Boyd designed an edition that would provide accurate texts with accompanying historical context. With the publication of the first volume in 1950 and the first volume of the Retirement Series in 2004, these volumes print, summarize, note, or otherwise account for virtually every document Jefferson wrote and received. Today, the project regularly publishes two volumes a year under the leadership of General Editor James P. McClure at Princeton University and J. Jefferson Looney, the Daniel P. Jordan Editor of the Jefferson Retirement Series at Monticello. A team of historians at each location transcribes, verifies, annotates, and indexes documents copied from over nine hundred repositories and collections worldwide, maintaining the high standards crafted by Boyd and continued by his successors Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, and Barbara B. Oberg. The edition includes a topically arranged Second Series of volumes arranged by topic, one title of which, Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826, edited by James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, is available through Founders Online. Distinguished advisory committees assist both the Princeton group and the editors at Monticello .

The Jefferson Papers at Princeton received its initial funding from the New York Times. Since then, support has been provided by Princeton University, private donors, major foundations, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Retirement Series, sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and located at Monticello, began with a generous grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and has been supported by leading gifts from Richard Gilder, Mrs. Martin S. Davis, and Thomas A. Saunders III, as well as subsequent generous gifts from Janemarie D. and Donald A. King, Jr., Alice Handy and Peter Stoudt, Harlan Crow, Mr. and Mrs. E. Charles Longley, Jr., and the Abby S. and Howard P. Milstein Foundation.

The volumes published by Princeton University Press provide the foundation of the Jefferson electronic edition sponsored by the University of Virginia Press and appearing through Founders Online. For more information, visit the websites for the  main series  and the  Retirement Series .

See a complete list of Jefferson Papers volumes included in Founders Online, with links to the documents.

The letterpress edition of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson is available from Princeton University Press .

Copyright © by Princeton University Press. All rights reserved.

Teaching American History

Introduction to the Antifederalists

Why the name antifederalist.

Who were the Antifederalists and what did they stand for? The name, Antifederalists, captures both an attachment to certain political principles as well as standing in favor and against trends that were appearing in late 18th century America. It will help in our understanding of who the Antifederalists were to know that in 1787, the word “federal” had two meanings. One was universal, or based in principle, and the other was particular and specific to the American situation.

The first meaning of “federal” stood for a set of governmental principles that was understood over the centuries to be in opposition to national or consolidated principles. Thus the Articles of Confederation was understood to be a federal arrangement: Congress was limited to powers expressly granted, the states qua states were represented equally regardless of the size of their population, and the amending of the document required the unanimous consent of the state legislatures. A national or consolidated arrangement by contrast suggested a considerable relaxing of the constraints on what the union could and could not do along with a conscious diminution in the centrality of the states in the structure of the arrangement as well as the alteration of the binding document.

The second meaning of “federal” had a particular American character. In the 1780s, those folks who wanted a firmer and more connected union became known as federal men. People like George Washington, Gouverneur Morris, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and James Wilson were known as federal men who wanted a firmer federal, or even national, union. And those people like Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, George Clinton, Melancton Smith, and Roger Sherman, who opposed or who raised doubts about the merits of a firmer and more energetic union acquired the name of antifederal men who opposed an inclination to strengthen the ties of Union with a focus on centralized direction.

In the rough and tumble of American politics, the name by which one is known is often not of one’s own doing. The Antifederalists would have preferred to be known as democratic republicans or federal republicans, but they acquired the name antifederal, or Anti-federal, or Antifederal as a result of the particular events of American history. If we turn to principles to define what they stood for, the content of their position was what was known in history as an attachment to federal principles: a commitment to local government and limited general government, frequent elections and rotation in office, and to writing things down because our liberties are safer as a result.

Put differently, the actual name “Antifederalists” did not exist before 1782. It is a 1780s American contribution to the enduring American issue of what should government do, which level of government should do it, and which branch of which level should do it. This “problem in nomenclature” has led scholars over the ages to suggest, we think unfortunately, that the pro-constitutional nationalists like Madison and Hamilton actually consciously “stole” the name Federalist for propaganda purposes to improve their chances of persuading the electorate and the delegates to the ratifying conventions to adopt the Constitution. Rhetoric, both on behalf of, and in favor of the restraint of, the role of the federal government, is built into the very fabric of the American system. And the controversy over the name “Antifederalist” reflects that inherent quarrel.

Matching up the Antifederalist essays with The Federalist essays

There were no three Antifederalists who got together in New York, or Richmond, and said, “Let’s write 85 essays in which we argue that the Constitution should be either rejected or modified before adoption.” Thus, in contrast to the pro-Constitution advocates, there is no one book—like The Federalist (Papers) —to which the modern reader can turn to and say, “Here’s The Antifederalist (Papers).” Their work is vast and varied and, for the most part, uncoordinated.

There is thus a sense in which The Federalist makes our understanding of the American Founding relatively easy: here is the one place to go to get the authoritative account of the Constitution . One purpose of this website is to recover the arguments of the opposition. This recovery is based on a) a conversation that took place over several years and in which no blood was spilled, and b) the views of the Antifederalists, which are deeply embodied in the Constitution and the American tradition. The Antifederalists, as we argue in the section on the Antifederalist Legacy, are still very much alive and well in 21st century America.

An attempt to create an imaginary The Antifederalist Papers , to put along side The Federalist Papers for comparison purposes, is actually doing two contrary things: a) creating an impression that this specific Federalist paper matches up with that specific Antifederalist paper and b) capturing the worthwhile and accurate fact that a conversation of vital importance took place and both sides did address the concerns of the other side. The Timeline encourages the reader to see the following interplay: the pro-constitutional Caesar essays were responded to by the Antifederalist Brutus and Cato essays and these in turn were responded to with the launching of the essays by Publius that became The Federalist Papers in 1788. And this sort of interplay continues throughout the ratification process.

In certain places, as we show in the Brutus entries in the Essential Antifederalist section , one can certainly match up several Antifederalist essays with essential essays in The Federalist . The Antifederalists, as Herbert Storing has correctly suggested, criticized the Constitution and The Federalist criticized the Antifederalists. It makes sense, on the whole, however, to argue that the conversation took place at the founding at a thematic level rather than try to portray a conversation that took place at an individual specific essay-by-specific-essay level.

As the Timeline indicates, the Antifederalists were active in their opposition to the adoption of the Constitution even before the signing on September 17, 1787. And by November and December, they were actually winning the out-of-doors debate at least in terms of the sheer number of newspapers who carried their message in the key states of Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia. And if we take a look the Six Stages of Ratification , we can see the impact of their pamphlet war on the selection of the delegates in these three key states.

Three Kinds of Antifederalists

There are three kinds of Antifederalists, but each voice is an important one in the creation and adoption of the Constitution and the subsequent unfolding of American politics. For a more detailed analysis of the coherence and relevance of the Antifederalists, see the link entitled The Legacy of the Antifederalists .

1. Those Concerned with the Virginia Plan

The first kind is represented by politicians such as Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut. They entered the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia with a suspicious disposition toward the Virginia Plan and its attempt to give sweeping powers to Congress and to reduce the role of the states in the new American system. This first group achieved considerable success in modifying this national plan back in the direction of federal principles. Thus, in the final document, the powers of Congress are listed, each state is represented equally in the Senate and composed of Senators elected by the state legislatures, the president is to be elected by a majority of the people plus a majority of the states, the Constitution is to be ratified by the people of nine states, and the Constitution is to amended by 2/3 of the House plus 2/3 of the Senate plus 3/4 of the state legislatures. Put differently, Sherman and Ellsworth secured the federal principles in the very Constitution itself and thus the Constitution is actually partly national and partly federal. In the end, Sherman and Ellsworth supported the adoption of the Constitution and thus secured the presence of the Antifederalist position in the American tradition.

2. Those Concerned With Consolidation

The second kind of Antifederalist is one who was not privy to the debate in Philadelphia, and has some deep concerns about the POTENTIALITY of the Constitution to lead to the concentration of power in the new government. We are talking about people such as Melancton Smith, Abraham Yates (Brutus), and George Clinton in New York, Richard Henry Lee (Federal Farmer) in Virginia, Samuel Bryant (Centinel) in Pennsylvania, and John Winthrop (Agrippa) in Massachusetts. They warned that without certain amendments, including a bill of rights that stated clearly what the new government could and could not do, the new Constitution had the POTENTIALITY to generate a consolidated government over a large territory in which one of the branches of government—the Presidency and the Judiciary were the leading candidates—would come to dominate. They warned that the partly national and partly federal Constitution would veer naturally in the direction of wholly national unless certain precautions were put in place to secure the partly-national and partly-federal arrangement. These Antifederalists are the ones we have included in our selection of the Essential Antifederalists on this website. Although we have to knit together their position from a number of sources, and although the Constitution was unconditionally ratified, their views entered the amended Constitution by way of James Madison and the First Congress.

3. Those Who Were Satisfied with the Articles of Confederation

The third and final group of Antifederalists was those who wanted as little deviation from the Articles as possible and saw the partly-national and partly-federal compromise as totally unsustainable. The arrangement was doomed to produce a wholly national outcome unless radical amendments were secured that altered and abolished the very structure and powers that the Framers took four months to erect. Ratifying delegates like Patrick Henry come to mind; he deliberately made a nuisance of himself at the Virginia Ratifying Convention disrupting the orderly process of debates at will.

George Mason and Elbridge Gerry also come to mind. They started off as warm supporters of a stronger national government but within twelve months had become open opponents of even the friendly amendments proposed by the second type of Antifederalist. Within this third type of Antifederalist, we would also include Philadelphia delegates Luther Martin, John Lansing, Robert Yates, and John Mercer. We have not included them in the Essential Antifederalist listings . Their legacy, as we have tried to capture in The Antifederalist Legacy, is probably to be found in the Calhoun movement in favor of secession from the American founding.

So I would argue, in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, that while The Federalist Papers are among the best essays ever written on representative government, they would not be as good as they are, or as many essays as there are, if it were not for the persistent critique of the Antifederalists who helped define the American conversation over what should government do, which level of government should do it, and which branch of that level of government should do it. Those questions are what the Essential Antifederalists bring to the conversation.

Receive resources and noteworthy updates.

federalist papers thomas jefferson

IMAGES

  1. Jefferson's Notations in The Federalist Papers

    federalist papers thomas jefferson

  2. Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827, Available Online, PDF

    federalist papers thomas jefferson

  3. Federalist Papers

    federalist papers thomas jefferson

  4. Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827, Available Online, PDF

    federalist papers thomas jefferson

  5. The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton

    federalist papers thomas jefferson

  6. Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827, Available Online

    federalist papers thomas jefferson

VIDEO

  1. Documenting The Illuminati

  2. A brief selections of quotations from Thomas Jefferson’s papers at the Library of Congress

  3. "The Eugene Team"

  4. The 1800 #presidential election

COMMENTS

  1. Establishing A Federal Republic

    Thomas Jefferson's annotated copy of the Federalist Papers. Thomas Jefferson called the collected essays written by Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), James Madison, and John Jay (1745-1829), the "best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written." ... Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated third president of the United ...

  2. Federalist Papers: Summary, Authors & Impact

    The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays written in the 1780s in support of the proposed U.S. Constitution and the strong federal government it advocated. In October 1787, the first in a ...

  3. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson

    The Papers of Thomas Jefferson editorial project at Princeton University is preparing a comprehensive scholarly edition of documents written or received by Thomas Jefferson. The edition's publisher is Princeton University Press. Content of the volumes is also available in digital format within the Rotunda imprint of the University of Virginia ...

  4. The Federalist Papers

    The Federalist Papers is a collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay under the collective pseudonym "Publius" to promote the ratification of the Constitution of the United States.The collection was commonly known as The Federalist until the name The Federalist Papers emerged in the twentieth century. ...

  5. Thomas Jefferson's opposition to the Federalists, 1810

    Thomas Jefferson's opposition to the Federalists, 1810 | | The Federalist Party evolved from the core of Federalists, like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, who wrote and defended the US Constitution in 1787-1788. The political party advocated a strong central government and supported a liberal construction of the Constitution. John Adams, elected in 1796, served as the only ...

  6. Jefferson, Thomas

    Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, is an ironic political figure in the development of American federalism.Though Jefferson favored a stricter interpretation of the Constitution than his Federalist predecessors, his presidency dramatically expanded the powers of that office and the national government as a whole.. Jefferson was one of the chief architects of state ...

  7. The Federalist Papers (article)

    The Federalist was originally planned to be a series of essays for publication in New York City newspapers, but ultimately expanded into a collection of 85 essays, which were published as two volumes in March and May 1788. They did not become known as "The Federalist Papers" until the 20th century. The essays were aimed at convincing opponents of the US Constitution to ratify it so that it ...

  8. Digital History

    Thomas Jefferson regarded the Federalist Papers as the best source of information on "the genuine meaning" of the U.S. Constitution. At the time the Federalist Papers were written, it was not sure that the states would ratify the Constitution. Nine states had ratified the document, but two of the larger states, Virginia and New York, had not.

  9. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson

    A comprehensive edition of the papers of Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826), third President of the United States. Jefferson was a lawyer, delegate to the Virginia House of Burgesses, and landowner, before beginning his political career in 1775. At age 33, he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.

  10. The Federalist Papers

    Thomas Jefferson described The Federalist Papers as "the best commentary on the principles of government, which ever was written.". In this free ten-lecture course you will gain a deeper understanding of the purpose and structure of the American Founding by studying the arguments of America's most influential Founders.

  11. Federalist papers

    The Federalist. The Federalist (1788), a book-form publication of 77 of the 85 Federalist essays. Federalist papers, series of 85 essays on the proposed new Constitution of the United States and on the nature of republican government, published between 1787 and 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in an effort to persuade New ...

  12. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson

    To learn more about the Constitution — the people, the events, the landmark cases — order a copy of "The U.S. Constitution & Fascinating Facts About It" today! Call to order: 1-800-887-6661 or order pocket constitution books online. The official letters and documents of Third United States (US) President Thomas Jefferson.

  13. American Founders: A Guide to Their Online Papers and Publications

    Thomas Jefferson's copy of the first complete edition of The Federalist in book form (1788), which previously belonged to Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton and then to her sister Angelica Schuyler Church. In two volumes; for link to the second volume, scroll down the page. ... The Family Letters portion of this online collection from the Papers of ...

  14. The Founding Fathers Feared Political Factions Would Tear the Nation

    James Madison, who worked with Hamilton to defend the new Constitution to the public in the Federalist Papers, ... But Thomas Jefferson, ...

  15. 6. A New Nation

    However, Washington chose Thomas Jefferson to be his secretary of state, and Jefferson was committed to restricting federal power and preserving an economy based on agriculture. Almost from the beginning, Washington struggled to reconcile the Federalist and Republican (or Democratic-Republican) factions within his own administration. 15

  16. Federalist Party: Leaders, Beliefs & Definition

    Yet, because many members of the Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had also championed the Constitution, the Federalist Party cannot be considered the lineal ...

  17. The Federalist Papers

    Thomas Jefferson hailed The Federalist Papers as the best commentary ever written about the principles of government. Milestones in political science and enduring classics of political philosophy, these articles are essential reading for students, lawyers, politicians, and those with an interest in the foundation of U.S. government and law. ...

  18. About the Papers of Thomas Jefferson

    Founders Online: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Adams Papers. Franklin Papers. Hamilton Papers. Jay Papers. Madison Papers. Washington Papers. About the Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Begun in 1943 as a partnership between Princeton University and Princeton University Press, the Papers of Thomas Jefferson was the first modern historical ...

  19. Amdt1.7.1 Historical Background on Free Speech Clause

    Writing to Madison in 1788, Jefferson stated: A declaration that the Federal Government will never restrain the presses from printing anything they please, will not take away the liability of the printers for false facts printed. 13 Papers of Thomas Jefferson 442 (J. Boyd ed., 1955).

  20. Ch. 7: The Debate over Ratification

    Publius (James Madison), Federalist 10, November 22, 1787; Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, "If we cannot secure all our rights, let us secure what we can," October 1788-March 1789 (Robert Yates), Brutus I, October 18, 1787 1. . . We have felt the feebleness of the ties by which these United-States are held together, and the want of ...

  21. Did the Founding Fathers believe that states had the right to secede?

    It was discussed in the Federalist Papers as a primary threat to the welfare of the individual states which made up the union. On one side of the Argument you have primarily Thomas Jefferson and his allies including George Mason, Patrick Henry, and Madison. On the Other Side you have primarily George Washington, supported by all three of the ...

  22. Introduction to the Antifederalists

    So I would argue, in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, that while The Federalist Papers are among the best essays ever written on representative government, they would not be as good as they are, or as many essays as there are, if it were not for the persistent critique of the Antifederalists who helped define the American ...