The Commonwealth of Virginia rebelled from England and created its own constitution in 1776 as an independent state. This document was written primarily by James Mason and was basically a bill of rights rather than a detailed framework of government. When Virginia joined first other colonies, under the Articles of Confederation, and then the United States, under our present Constitution, its government functioned much as it had as a colony. It had a legislature, but that body and the county courts were dominated by an elite of what one historian has called "Gentlemen Freeholders." This colonial gentry was made up of men who had a good deal of land and twenty or more slaves. Yet the right to vote was much more widely enjoyed than in England. Although governors were appointed by the imperial government before the Revolution, there were popular elections for the House of Burgesses.
Thus colonial Virginians (at least, many of the white landholding men) were used to elections, and these were several-day events that were quite public and rather intensely social. From 1776 until 1850, the government of Virginia continued to function on its original principles, and the Virginia constitution was not significantly changed. Thomas Jefferson early had called for a revision of the constitution of the commonwealth. His most extensive analysis was in “Notes on the State of Virginia,” published in the 1780s. Most historians are also familiar with a well-known letter written just a year before his death when constitutional reform was being debated.
The Old Dominion (as Virginia was often called) during the period of the elections being presented here had a governor and his counsel elected by the legislature. The legislature was bicameral, and both houses were popularly elected by the freeholders—essentially white men who held a respectable amount of land or, after the legislature changed the law in 1785, lived in town and owned a house.
In the 1820s the movement for reform grew. There were a number of demands to democratize the government, by electing the governor popularly, for example, or by building a hierarchy of republics from the local level up (Jefferson’s favorite idea). Even so, the famous collection of prominent Virginian statesmen, including ex-presidents, senators, congressmen and even the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, made very little change in the suffrage, admitting only "householders." The governor's council was eliminated, but the number of elective offices was not expanded. The unequal system of representation in the legislature was addressed by a compromise giving more seats to the west—mostly the Shenandoah Valley—without creating a rational plan for the future.
During this period, Virginians could vote for their legislators, congressmen, and electors in the presidential elections. They voted yearly in the spring for legislators, every two years for their members of Congress, and every four years for presidential electors. At first they voted for the electors themselves, because they were not willing to say whom they might vote for. The freeholders voted at the polling place closest to their home—a polling place that was often a court house but sometimes a local store. These Virginians voted viva voce, so we have poll books in some counties for some elections to supplement the statistics taken mostly from newspapers.
- Dabney, Virginius.
Virginia: The New Dominion(1971)
- Heinemann, Ronald L., John G. Kolp, Anthony S. Parent Jr., and William G. Shade,
Old Dominion, New Commonwealth: A History of Virginia, 1607-2007(2007).
- Salmon, Emily J., and Edward D.C. Campbell, Jr., eds.
The Hornbook of Virginia history: A Ready-Reference Guide to the Old Dominion's People, Places, and Past 4th edition.(1994)
- Official State of Virginia Site
- Library of Virginia
- Virginia Historical Society
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)
- 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:
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.
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.
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.