New York exerted tremendous influence in the politics of the early republic. Along with Pennsylvania, it was a battleground state, and competition bred innovation. During the 1790s, partisan activists in New York (like those in Pennsylvania) pioneered methods of popular partisan mobilization. After 1820, Empire state pols created the model of the party as a disciplined peacetime army, focused on winning and keeping political power.
The state constitution of 1777 divided state government between a governor with a three-year term, a Senate with staggered four-year terms, and an Assembly that was elected every year. A Council of Revision (consisting of the governor, the chancellor, and the judges of the supreme court) held the power to veto legislation. The governor and both houses of the legislature were elected, along with a lieutenant governor and town clerks, supervisors, assessors, constables, and collectors. All other offices were appointive—most of them by the governor and/or a Council of Appointment, which consisted of the governor and four senators. The constitutional language on appointments was contradictory and a source of fierce partisan conflict. Until 1793 the governor made appointments with the advice and consent of the Council of Appointment; after that date, the Council assumed a "concurrent right" to nominate officers. Adult male freeholders who owned real and personal property worth at least £20 and tenant farmers who paid at least 40 shillings in rent, along with the freemen of Albany and New York, could vote for members of the Assembly. Electing the governor and senators was limited to adult males worth £100. Voting was by paper ballot, but in some areas the political "friends" of great men handed voters colored or intricately folded ballots and watched them deposit those ballots to ensure that they voted properly!
Within this institutional framework, New York political leaders forged a fiercely competitive politics. By 1787, two clear partisan groupings had emerged in state politics: the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the followers of Governor George Clinton. While the former practiced an elitist politics, the latter appealed to the egalitarian yearnings of middling and poor constituents and, by 1800, allied themselves with the national Republican Party. The two parties were evenly matched during the 1790s, when Republicans pioneered techniques of mass political mobilizations: electoral rallies and parades, printed ballots, partisan newspapers and handbills, door-to-door canvassing. Republicans won a commanding majority in state government in 1800 and then quickly split into three competing factions, each centered on a single leader and held together by personal loyalty and patronage: the Clintonians, increasingly led by George Clinton's nephew De Witt; the Burrites, led by Aaron Burr; and the Livingston family.
These factions' squabbling spilled over into the electoral arena with alarming regularity. In 1804, the Burrites broke from the party, running Aaron Burr for governor against the candidate of the Clinton and Livingston factions. The following year, the Clintonians staged a revolt against Governor Morgan Lewis, head of the Livingston faction, and appealed to the Burrites for an alliance. This move split the Burrites, with opponents of the alliance taking the name Martling Men. For their part, the Livingston faction, known as the Quids, forged an alliance with the Federalists. The Clintonians trounced the Quids in the 1807 gubernatorial election, bringing rival tickets (but not internectine struggles) to an end—for a while. In 1812 the Republicans nominated De Witt Clinton for governor, a move that inspired the Burrites to run their own candidate. This ever-shifting factional dance gave New York politicians a well-earned reputation for intrigue. Oliver Wolcott, a New Englander who relocated to the state, wrote that "after living a dozen years in New York, I don't pretend to comprehend their politics. It is a labyrinth of wheels within wheels, and it is understood only by the managers."
The years immediately following the War of 1812 brought important changes to this factional mess. The Livingstons and Burrites lost power. The Federalists, discredited by their behavior during the war, disbanded in 1820. The Bucktails, led by Martin Van Buren, emerged as the sole challengers to the Clintonians. In some respects, the Bucktails were just like the factions they replaced, frequently forging new alliances and changing their policies for tactical advantage. But in important ways they were different. Led by upwardly mobile men of middling origin, they explicitly rejected the personalist politics that had dominated New York since before the Revolution. Rather than basing political allegiances on personal loyalty and patronage, Van Buren envisioned parties as embodiments of competing social interests, held together by principle and policy. Although the Bucktails did not hew to consistent policies or principles until the early 1830s, they did become a disciplined political machine. Activists united behind party candidates and policies, on pain of losing office; Bucktail newspapers and activists propagated a single, clear partisan message. Van Buren's faction gained control of state government in 1820. So effective were the Bucktails in retaining power that their Clintonian enemies dubbed them the Albany Regency.
The Bucktails also proved the champions of a widened popular participation in politics. They dominated the 1821 state constitutional convention, which dramatically expanded the suffrage, increased the number of elective posts, and abolished constitutional checks on the power of elected officials. The new constitution eliminated the Council of Revision, empowering the governor with the legislative veto. It abolished the Council of Appointment, transferring the selection of sheriffs, county clerks, and coroners to the voters, while leaving the election of most state officials in the hands of the legislature. And it eliminated the property qualification for the vote among white men. Beginning in 1822, any white adult male who paid state or county taxes, worked on the public roads, or served in the militia could vote for all elective officers. African American males, however, faced a $250 property qualification for the suffrage.
The Bucktails dominated state politics after 1820. Only in 1824 did the Clintonians, now dubbing themselves the "People's Men," win the governorship and a majority in the legislature. The next year, both factions, shaken by John Quincy Adams's ascension to the presidency, made an alliance behind the presidential ambitions of Andrew Jackson. By 1828 the state's factional conflict turned on national allegiances, with a Jacksonian party opposed by Adams men (also known as National Republicans). The political conflicts of the 1820s led both Clintonians and Bucktails to revive many of the old techniques of popular mobilization pioneered in the 1790s—and to increase their effectiveness through an unprecedented degree of discipline among party cadre. When Martin Van Buren became Andrew Jackson's campaign manager in 1828, the Bucktails' methods and organization provided the core model on which national party politics was built.
- Alexander, DeAlva Stanwood.
Political History of the State of New York. 3 vols.New York: Henry Holt, 1909).
- Benson, Lee.
The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case, 1961; reprint ed. New York: Atheneum, 1964).
- Brooke, John L.
Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson.Chapeh Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
- Cole, Donald B.
Martin Van Buren and the American Political System.Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.
- Countryman, Edward.
"From Revolution to Statehood."In Milton M. Klein, ed., The Empire State: A History of New York.Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001, pp. 229–301.
- Huston, Reeve.
Land and Freedom: Rural Society, Popular Protest, and Party Politics in Antebellum New York.New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Taylor, Alan.
William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic.New York: Knopf, 1995.
- Young, Alfred F.
The Democratic-Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763–1797.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
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.
Assembly: A gathering of persons for the purpose of deliberation and decision; a deliberative body, a legislative council. Please also see House of Representatives.
Oxford English Dictionary
Assembly or General Assembly: the name given to the lower house in New Jersey and New York.
1788 - 1825: New Jersey, New York
Office Scope: State
Role Scope: County