Chapter 5: The First American Party System
Today, political parties are an authoritative and essential component of the United States political system. However, it is important to examine how the political parties began and evolved over hundreds of years, since they were first established. In 1794, the major political parties were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. The major difference between these two was that the Federalists favored a strong central government, while the Democratic-Republicans preferred a central government with limited power and more state control. At the time of the election, it seemed that the prominent, distinguished Federalist Party clearly had the upper hand, but in the end the Democratic-Republican candidate ended up winning. Despite the fact that political party system was nowhere as nearly sophisticated as it is today, there were many key factors that contributed to the Democratic-Republican congressional victory in 1794, including the demographics of the city, political party initiatives, and remarkably the yellow fever response.
Many political factions precipitated out of George Washington’s first presidential election and by 1794 these factions were on the brink of establishing themselves as distinct political parties. The two major players, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, sanctioned various methods of cultivating support for their candidate and for their cause. The federal congressional election of 1794 ignited the highest level of political tension in Pennsylvania since the ratification of the United States Constitution, which caused its share of argument and turmoil in 1787. The two candidates, Thomas Fitzsimons and John Swanwick, came from divergent backgrounds and held highly contrasting views on controversial issues. Advocates of each candidate and newspapers fed the population their own agendas and charges to propel their respective candidate to victory. A looming question in the minds of many people was whether political parties would destroy the newly formed union or strengthen it and opinion on the answer was highly divided.
The years from 1789 to 1801 and the events that took place between them were vital in the survival and development of the government of the new nation. The American people had proved to be effective in destroying governments, as seen in the American Revolution and the ultimate destruction of the Articles of Confederation and the test of the nation was if the people could build a new, competent government (93). The 1794 election was tremendously important in that it was part of the shift towards a more democratic government and the citizens of the land feared both an oligarchic-based system and a democratic one.
Although the Federalists controlled much of the public opinion, John Swanwick and the Democratic-Republicans procured the victory. Swanwick controlled the votes of seven of the twelve wards, and collected 56% of the votes...