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Map of Tennessee

The state of Tennessee originally was the western district of North Carolina. It formally separated from the mother state in 1790, at which time it became the federal Territory South of the River Ohio. In 1795 territorial Governor William Blount called for a constitutional convention, and on February 6, 1796, the convention unanimously approved a document and submitted it to the government in Philadelphia. The House of Representatives subsequently supported Tennessee's bid for statehood, but Senate Federalists disliked the constitution for a number of reasons. A conference committee managed to resolve major differences, however, and Congress formally recognized the state of Tennessee in May 1796.

The 1796 constitution comprised eleven articles, the eleventh being a declaration of rights that included free navigation of the Mississippi River. Both the executive and the judiciary were firmly under the control of the bicameral General Assembly. In terms of democratic practices, the constitution gave the right to vote to all freemen over twenty-one and did not impose any explicit racial restrictions, which meant that Tennessee's miniscule but growing free black population had the franchise as well. The constitution also provided for a written ballot and apportioned representation on the basis of taxable inhabitants. Elections for both governor and the General Assembly were held once every two years.

Tennessee was universally Jeffersonian by 1796, but that fact masks significant political complexity. During Tennessee's territorial phase, a small clique of surveyors and speculators had controlled government institutions. They used land accumulation to establish themselves, and they maintained political control because no formal mechanism existed for ordinary settlers to undermine their authority. At the turn of the nineteenth century, however, a burst of militia elections gave ordinary Tennesseans access to positions of community importance. These elections also established a precedent for political opposition. Soon the elite had to construct broad constituencies in an increasingly vibrant popular democracy.

This shifting political culture coincided with remarkable economic and demographic development, particularly in the region surrounding Nashville. Between 1796 and 1801 the population there grew 200 percent, and by 1815 many of the 292,590 residents were committed to cotton and tobacco cultivation. Commercial agriculture in turn created a mercantile class that integrated "Middle" Tennessee into a global economy. Yet competition associated with this economy created unforeseen popular divisions. Even as planting and merchant interests looked to the government to expedite commercial growth, ordinary farmers believed that limited land accessibility and excessive debt threatened their stability. They therefore used the political sphere to contest more expansive definitions of progress. These debates helped establish "party" interests out of the universal Jeffersonian political culture, and such divisions were solidified through the panic of 1819.

Middle Tennessee's development stood in sharp contrast to that of the eastern district, which was bounded by the Appalachian Mountains in the east and Cumberland Plateau in the west, and where the soil was generally too poor for significant commercial farming. The region's more self-contained existence made for less dynamic economic development between 1787 and 1825, an issue noted by early nineteenth-century leaders of both regions.

Bibliography

  • Abernethy, Thomas Perkins. From Frontier to Plantation in Tennessee: A Study in Frontier Democracy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1932.
  • Cumfer, Cynthia. Separate Peoples, One Land: The Minds of Cherokees, Blacks and Whites on the Tennessee Frontier. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
  • Finger, John R. Tennessee Frontiers: Three Regions in Transition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.
  • Ray, Kristofer. Middle Tennessee, 1775–1825: Progress and Popular Democracy on the Southwestern Frontier. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2007.
  • Remini, Robert. Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767–1821. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.
  • The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
  • Tennessee Documentary History 1796-1850

Republican

What is today referred to as the Democratic Republican Party did not exist as such under that name.

"The party name which the Jeffersonians used most commonly in self-designation was Republican. Since nearly all Americans professed to be supporters of a republic, Federalists were reluctant to allow their opponents the advantage of this name, preferring to label them as Antifederalists, Jacobins, disorganizers, or, at best, Democrats." (Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., History of U.S. Political Parties Volume I: 1789-1860: From Factions to Parties. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. New York, 1973, Chelsea House Publisher. p. 240.)

"No precise date can be given for the establishment of the Republican party, for it did not spring suddenly into being, and even those leaders most intimately involved in its formation were not fully aware of what they were creating. The beginnings of what in course of time became the Republican party can be found in the Second Congress in the congressional faction that contemporaries referred to as the 'republican interest.' . . . An examination of roll calls during the Second Congress indicates that a voting bloc was forming around Madison in opposition to another bloc that united in support of Hamilton's program. While only about half of the membership of the House could be identified with one or the other of these factions, two such groups had not been observable in the First Congress." (Cunningham, p. 241)

"As members of Congress defended their legislative records and sought reelection, they took to the electorate the issues and the disputes that had divided Congress, and they tended in their campaigns for reelection to impart to the voters something of the partisanship that was developing in Congress. Thus, the party divisions in Congress filtered down to the voters through the electoral process, and voters came to align along the lines that divisions in Congress had marked out. In this process the congressional factions acquired the mass followings in the county necessary to transform them from capital factions into national political parties." (Cunningham, p. 244)

Though Thomas Jefferson was seen as the primary leader of the emerging Republican Party, his retirement in 1793 would force that mantle back upon James Madison. "Contemporaries referred to 'Madison's party,' and, when Jefferson was put forward for the presidency in 1796, he was recognized as the candidate of Madison's party. Adams's supporters warned that 'the measures of Madison and Gallatin will be the measures of the executive' if Jefferson were elected. Under Madison's leadership, the Republican party in Congress moved from a role characterized largely by opposition to administration measures, mostly Hamiltonian inspired, to one of offering policy alternatives and proposing Republican programs." (Cunningham, p. 246)

"As the country became dangerously polarized, the Federalists, in 1798 with the passage of the Alien and Sedition Laws, used the full power of the government in an effort to destroy their opponents, whom they saw as subversive. The Republicans, forced to do battle for their very survival, were compelled to change their strategy radically. Prior to 1798 they had optimistically believed that the people would repudiate leaders who supported antirepublican measures hostile to the general good of society. By 1798, however, the Federalists' electoral successes and their hold on the federal government seemed to belie that belief. Therefore, the Republicans shifted their focus of attention from the national to the state level. And by emphasizing a more overtly, self-consciously sectional, political enclave strategy, they left the clear implication that state secession and the breakup of the union might follow if the federal government refused to modify its policies and actions to make them more acceptable to opponents, especially Southerners." (American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. James Roger Sharp. New Haven, 1993, Yale University Press. p. 12)

"On the national level, Republican members of Congress through their informal associations in the national capital formed the basic national party structure. Many of them lodged together in boarding houses or dined together in small groups where there were ample opportunities to plot party tactics. They kept in close touch with political leaders and party organizations in their home states. In 1800, Republican members introduced what was to become the most important element of national party machinery and the most powerful device for the maintenance of congressional influence of the leadership of the party: the congressional nominating caucus." (Cunningham, p. 252)

"The coming to power of the Jeffersonians in 1801 marked the beginning of the Republican era that saw the presidency passed from Jefferson to Madison to Monroe. When the Virginia dynasty came to an end in 1825, the presidential office went to a former Federalist who had become a Republican while Jefferson was president. But, although John Quincy Adams was a Republican, the presidential election of 1824 shattered the Republican party and destroyed the congressional nominating caucus which had given direction to the party's national structure since 1800. Adams's presidency was a period of restructuring of parties - a transitional period from the first party system of the Federalists and the Jeffersonians to the second party system of the age of Jackson." (Cunningham, p. 258-259).

"During the period from its rise in the 1790's to its breakup in the 1820's, the Jeffersonian Republican party made contributions of major significance to the development of the american political system. It demonstrated that a political party could be successfully organized in opposition to an administration in power in the national government, win control over that government, and produce orderly changes through the party process. In challenging the Federalist power, Republicans were innovative in building party machinery, organizing poltical campaigns, employing a party press, and devising campaign techniques to stimulate voter interest in elections and support of republican candidates at the polls. In the process, it became acceptable for candidates to campaign for office and for their partisans to organize campaign committees, distribute campaign literature, see that voters get to the polls, and adopt other practices which, though subsequently familiar features of american political campaigns, previously had been widely regarded with suspicion and distrust. Many of the methods of campaigning and the techniques of party organization, introduced by the Jeffersonian Republicans, while falling into disuse by the end of the Republican era, would be revived by the Jacksonians. In taking office in 1801, the Jeffersonians led the nation through the first transfer of political power in the national government from one party to another; and Jefferson demonstrated that the president could be both the head of his party and the leader of the nation." (Cunningham, p. 271)

Additional Sources:

  • History of U.S. Political Parties Volume I: 1789-1860: From Factions to Parties. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. New York, 1973, Chelsea House Publisher.
  • American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. James Roger Sharp. New Haven, 1993, Yale University Press.
  • Partisanship and the Birth of America's Second Party, 1796-1800: "Stop the Wheels of Government". Matthew Q. Dawson. Westwood, CT, 2000, Greenwood Press.
  • Party of the People: A History of the Democrats. Jules Witcover. New York, 2003, Random House

Beginning in 1799, many Federalist papers began to refer to the Republican Party as Democrats or the Democratic Party. This continued throughout the first quarter of the 18th Century until what is currently known as the Democratic Party emerged among the followers of Andrew Jackson in the 1828 Presidential Election.

Republicans were also called by a variety of different terms in various newspapers throughout the period:

Anti-Federalist:

Though the Anti-Federalists were not quite the exact same group as the Republicans as they would develop after 1792, there were still some of those who referred to them as such. The term was used by the following newspapers in the following elections:

  • Porcupine's Gazette (Philadelphia). October 22, 1798. Pennsylvania 1798 Assembly, Chester County.
  • Virginia Gazette (Richmond). April 30, 1799. Virginia 1799 House of Delegates, New Kent County.
  • The Virginia Federalist (Richmond). April 26, 1800. Virginia 1800 House of Delegates, Norfolk County.
  • Virginia Gazette (Richmond). May 12, 1802. Virginia 1802 House of Delegates, Bedford County.
  • Virginia Gazette (Richmond). May 12, 1802. Virginia 1802 House of Delegates, Pittsylvania County.
  • The Salem Gazette. May 17, 1805. Massachusetts 1805 House of Representatives, Salem.

Democratic Republican:

Though the term is commonly used today to distinguish the Jeffersonian Republicans from the later Republican Party and because so many of those among the Jeffersonian Republicans eventually became Jacksonian Democrats, this term was extremely rare during the actual period. It was used by the Readinger Adler in the October 27, 1818 edition recording the 1818 county elections in Pennsylvania.

French / War / Warhawk / Jacobin:

Starting in 1798, various Federalist newspapers would refer to Republicans as Jacobins. ("In Newbern district the contest lay between two federalists -- No Jacobin had the effrontery to offer himself." United States Gazette. September 1, 1798.) These references continued through until at least 1810. ("From the Cooperstown Federalist: The election in this County has terminated in favor of the Jacobin Ticket for Assembly. An important revolution has been effected by the most shameful artifices. Never before were the jacobin ranks so completely formed and thoroughly drilled for action. We hope next week to be able to lay before our readers a correct statement of votes, and to exhibit to the world a picture of depravity in the conduct of some of the inspectors of the election which has no parallel." The American (Herkimer). May 3, 1810.)

Beginning in 1810, the Newburyport Herald (MA), began referring to Republicans as the French Party (as opposed to the "American" Party, who were Federalists). This continued in the 1811 elections.

Beginning in 1812 ("In laying before our readers the above Canvass of this county, a few remarks become necessary, to refute the Assertion of the war party, that the Friends of Peace are decreasing in this country." Northern Whig (Hudson). May 11, 1812.) and continuing through 1813 and 1814 a number of newspapers were referring to the Republicans as the War Party (or Warhawk Party, as the Merrimack Intelligencer (Haverhill) of March 19, 1814 used) due to their support of the Madison administration and the War of 1812 (most of these same papers referred to the Federalists as the Peace Party). These newspapers include the Trenton Federalist, the Columbian Centinel (Boston), the Northern Whig (Hudson), the Independent American (Ballston Spa), the Broome County Patriot (Chenango Point), the New York Spectator, the Commercial Advertiser (New York), the New York Evening Post, the Albany Gazette, the Political and Commercial Register (Philadelphia), the Merrimack Intelligencer (Haverhill), The Federal Republican (New Bern), the Freeman's Journal (Philadelphia), Alexandria Gazette, Poulson's, Middlesex Gazette (Middletown), the Raleigh Minerva and The Star (Raleigh).

Jackson / Jacksonian:

With the Presidential election of 1824 split among four candidates who were, ostensibly, members of the same political party, the divisions among the Republican Party began to be apparent.

The phrase "Jackson" or "Jacksonian" candidate was used in nearly every state election in Georgia in 1824 to distinguish between those were were supporters of Andrew Jackson as opposed to the supporters of William H. Crawford. The Maryland Republican (Annapolis) and the Federal Gazette (Baltimore) used the term "Jacksonian" in the Cecil County elections of 1824 (as opposed to "Adamite" or "Crawfordite") and the Allegheny and Butler county election in Pennsylvania in 1824.

Whig:

The New Hampshire Gazette of March 5, 1816 would refer to the Republican ticket as the Whig Ticket and as being in favor of Peace and Commerce.