The American Gazette

Commonsense political and social commentary from "Flyover Country"

Location: Rural Michigan, United States

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Will the Modern Democratic Party go the Way of The Federalists?

The modern Democratic party is on a collusion course with history. Failing to understand history and the character of the American people, they may very well go the way of the one time powerful Federalist party. The parties name will likely remain the same, but without some true soul searching of what the party can deliver to the American people, their power and influence may very well wane to the point that they are todays Federalists.

It is not that todays Democratics have similiar politics, though there are some. It is primarily that the party is making some of the same missteps of the Federalists.

The Federalists rose as one of the first political parties in the world along with their opposition, the Democratic Republican's in the early days of the Republic. It was the Federalists lead in great part by Alexander Hamilton that pressed for a new Constitution and a strong Federal Government to replace the weak Confederation Government. The Federalists recognized that in order for the United States to be a viable country a strong central government was necessary. Not actually recognized as a party yet, those who were like minded regarding central government worked together to not only get the Constitution ratified, they worked diligently to place power from the states into the Federal government during George Washington's first term. It was during that first term that the beginnings of each new political party can be seen. The Federalists with Hamilton as its head and the Democratic Republicans with Thomas Jefferson as the head of that faction.

We owe much of the function and form of American government to the Federalists of that time. They strengthened the country with the policies that came about allowing a central government to have the necessary authority to shape a new country. By the late 1790's however the party began to emerge under new issues and new conditions.

The party drew it's main strength for ideological and sometimes other reasons, from those who wished to have a very strong central government. Like todays Democratic party it's main backers came from the commercial Northeast. While the party strengthened the central government, something that many on the opposition understood as necessary, the style of the Federalists was often elitist and there was a fear of too much power in the hands of the people. The murderous excesses of the French Revolution served to increase that fear and to harden some into the belief that the Federal Government must not allow too much power to those that were considered uneducated and unschooled.

Though the Federalists did have some strong backing in area's of Virginia and in North Carolina it was not enough to win John Adams a second term. The parties inability to broaden its social appeal and geograpic base is in great part what did the party in.

That inability was based directly on the party being unable to change with the times. It's earlier policies of strong central government brought the young country stability and helped steer us politically through the turmoil generated by the French Revolution. However the very success of their policies also led the leaders of the party to fail to understand the needs and considerations of yeoman farmers not only in the south but also in the rural areas of other states.

After John Adams was elected and the Federalists gained control of both houses of Congress, Adams signed into law the ill advised Alien and Sedition Act. Done while under the threat of war with France and designed to further strengthen the Federal Government, it was also intended to quell political opposition being led by Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Republicans who favored France and not Britian in the war that France had declared on European countries following their Revolution. Fearing the often popular support of the American people for France, it was thought it was possible for mob violence to break out in America as it had France. Not an unreasonable fear given the times and the fact that Jacobin clubs were being formed in various cities across the United States.

However, the heavy hand of the Federalists in implementing the Alien and Sedition Act drove many Americans who were outside of the political elite into the arms of Jeffersons Democratic Republicans. The last of these acts declared that any treasonous act including the publication of "any false, scandalous and malicious writing," was a high misdemeanor. Punishable by fine and imprisionment. This legislation led to the arrest of twenty five men, most of them editors of Repulican newspapers, and forcing the newspapers out of business.

One of those arrested was the grandson of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin Bache. Editor of the Aurora, a Democratic Republican paper. Charged with libeling President Adams the arrest resulted in an overwhelming outcry from the American people against all of the Alien and Sedition Acts, and likely led near directly to the election of Thomas Jefferson. A heavy handed Federal Government dictating what one should not only say but think is never going to win popular support, highlighted even at this early date.

Now in a minority the partys strength was primarily in the northeast states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware. The south was lost. The ill conceived trade embargo of 1807 by Thomas Jefferson revived the party for a short time, but again it's main strength was in the northeast bringing in New York, New Jersey and parts of Maryland during the 1808 Presidental election of 1808, the only southern state that went to the Federalists was North Carolina. Unable to gain enough votes the election went to Madison.

During Madison's Presidency the War of 1812 broke out. Widely unpopular in the Commercial Northeast the Federalist party held a convention in Hartford 1814. The meetings were held in secret. The New England states had refused to surrender their state militias to national service, even when New England was threatened with invasion. Prior to the convention Federalist extremists had contemplated making a separate peace between New England and Great Britian. A proposel to secede from the union was discussed but rejected. The vast majority of Americans saw this activity as treasonous, and the convention as well as the Federalists became the object of ridicule.

The early Federalist party policies though fitting for a young nation in tenurous times, the party inability to accommandate rising popular democratic spirit made the party unpopular with the majority of Americans, coupled with its obstruction and near treasonous activity during the War of 1812 sealed the Federalists fate. Though it lingered on for a few more years by 1820 the party was dead.

The policies of the Federalists during Washingtons and Adams administrations set the foundation for the government of this country. Yet its inability to hear and listen to those outside of its party geographic base made the party irrelevent in continuing American history. The comparison to the Modern Democratic Party should not be missed. Todays Democrats find their base of support primarily in the northeast, are often seen as the party of elites by middle class Americans, and the party has been obstructionist in the ongoing War on Terrorism. Let us not forget the recent yammerings of those who identify themselves as Democrats stating they should secede from the union or perhaps better yet move.

If the Democratic party is unable to tune itself into the "yeoman" of today, it is likely they will find themselves the irrelevent opposition party for many years to come. The rise of the modern Democratic party can be traced back to FDR who put into place necessary policies that were of great import to the country at the time, but if unable to move with the new times and new needs it becomes like the Federalist party of old. The Republican party did the same at one time and banished itself from American life for many years.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of it all is that the American people understand our needs and the needs of the country much quicker and easier than do political parties or their leaders. As a country we should marvel at the genius of the Constitutional Republican government hammered out by the founders. With its complicated checks and balances it keeps the follies of extreme party and extreme leaders from doing harm to the country and its people precisely by giving ultimate power to the people of this country.

Time will tell if the Democrats know their history or not.



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