As one of the original thirteen colonies, Connecticut holds a unique place in the history of democratic government in what became the United States of America. The Puritan Congregationalists who settled New England were well known for their town meetings and representative government. The Fundamental Orders, which formed the first written system of government in Connecticut, were formulated in 1639 by representatives from the towns of Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor. The Orders provided for the creation of a single legislative body known as the General Assembly and outlined the process for the election of magistrates. Of those magistrates, one was elected to serve for a single year as a fairly weak governor, and serving consecutive terms was prohibited. All freemen within the colony had the right to vote in these elections, and paper ballots were used in town meetings to determine the outcome. The Reverend Thomas Hooker presaged the representative nature of the Fundamental Orders by preaching a sermon in which he noted that "the foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people." The Fundamental Orders are the reason why Connecticut is known today as the Constitution State.
The Fundamental Orders were replaced by the colonial charter of 1662; that charter continued to follow the essential character of the Orders. After the Revolution, only Connecticut and Rhode Island continued to operate under their colonial charters. Until a formal state constitution was created in 1818, Connecticut government operated on the basis of the Fundamental Orders. Some things did, however, change in the years during which the charter was in operation. In 1698 the General Assembly was divided into two houses and was composed of 200 representatives, one or two from each of the towns. Elections were held semi-annually in the April and September freemen’s meetings. Any freeman could run for office.
Even though the state government was seemingly democratic in nature, the aristocracy controlled most matters. The colonial charter had created a council of twelve assistants, which served as the upper house of the Assembly, and it retained tight control over governmental matters. As historians have noted, "Its supremacy derived from the continuity of its members in office and the veto they exercised over most of the General Assembly's actions."
Historian Richard Purcell notes that from 1775 to 1818, Connecticut was a state in transition: "The result was the bloodless Revolution of 1818, which gave the state a constitution as democratic as any then in existence." In the midst of these years, the nation witnessed not only a new system of government, with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, but also the rise of a fierce two-party system of Federalists and Republicans, who did battle over what they perceived to by the proper political and economic direction of government. Connecticut became a staunchly Federalist state. Until 1819, every senator and congressman sent to the national Congress belonged to the Federalist Party, and until 1818, every seat in the upper house of the Connecticut Assembly was Federalist. It was not until 1817, with the election of Oliver Wolcott, Jr., that a Republican managed to take control of the governor's office.
The Federalist Party was marked by the more traditional notion of deferential, and aristocratic, beliefs in government. It was assumed that only men of higher standing were fit for office and should control the affairs of government. Federalists feared the "mob" of democracy, which they associated with the rise of Jefferson's Republican Party. Federalists were so firmly entrenched within Connecticut that it was particularly difficult for the Jeffersonians to work their way into the state. Yearly elections took place, but the nominating system was skillfully controlled by the Federalists, who possessed an almost machine-like domination. By 1801 they had passed a "stand up" law, which replaced the written ballots cast in the freemen's meetings with a requirement to raise one's hand or stand up to show a vote. Like other forms of voice voting, this effectively stymied opposition by engendering fear of retribution.
Even as the Republican Party continued to grow and spread throughout the South and Middle Atlantic region, New England—and Connecticut along with it remained almost exclusively Federalist. By 1800, with Jefferson taking over in what many termed a revolution, Federalists clung to power and fought any reforms that might allow broader democracy, and with it the Republican Party, into the state. Still, murmurings continued to grow over the inequity of taxes, the unfair apportionment of seats in the state government, certain election laws, and legislation that favored the Congregational Church, which was supported by tax money. The murmurings grew to open revolt by the second decade of the 1800s, in part because of the Federalist opposition to the War of 1812 and because of the infamous Hartford Convention. The result was the new constitution of 1818. This was the very wedge needed to allow the Democratic-Republicans to compete in the state. Even with that party's entrance, however, the going was slow. The state continued to exhibit its generally more aristocratic leanings and was decidedly against the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency in 1824 and 1828. Even though Gideon Wells had by 1820 established a nascent Democratic Party in Connecticut, Jackson's party and administration did little to attract votes in Connecticut, or in New England more broadly. The Democratic Party viewed Connecticut as populated by opponents and as falling far more in line with the newly developed Whig Party. Indeed, it was not until the mid-1830s to 1840s, well into the evolution of the second American party system, that Democrats managed to compete with Whigs within the state.
- Buell, Richard, Jr. and George J. Willauer.
Original Discontents: Commentaries on the Creation of Connecticut's Constitution of 1818.Hamden, CT: The Acorn Club, 2007.
- Morse, Jarvis Means.
A Neglected Period of Connecticut's History, 1818–1850.New York: Octagon Books, 1978
- Purcell, Richard J.
Connecticut in Transition: 1775–1818.Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1963.
The Federalist Party
The Federalist Party was dominated by a man who never actually ran for public office in the United States - Alexander Hamilton. "Alexander Hamilton was, writes Marcus Cunliffe, 'the executive head with the most urgent program to implement, with the sharpest ideas of what he meant to do and with the boldest desire to shape the national government accordingly.' In less than two years he presented three reports, defining a federal economic program which forced a major debate not only on the details of the program but on the purpose for which the union has been formed. Hamilton's own sense of purpose was clear; he would count the revolution for independence a success only if it were followed by the creation of a prosperous commerical nation, comparable, perhaps even competitive, in power and in energy, with its European counterparts." (fn: Marcus Cunliffe, The Nation Takes Shape, 1789-1837, (Chicago, 1959), 23.) (Linda K. Kerber, 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. 11)
"Federalists created their political program out of a political vision. They had shared in the revolutionaries' dream of a Republic of Virtue, and they emerged from a successful war against empire to search for guarantees that the republican experiment would not collapse." (Kerber, p. 3)
"The Federalist political demand was for a competent government, one responsible for the destiny of the nation and with the power to direct what that destiny would be. What was missing in postwar America, they repeatedly complained in a large variety of contexts, was order, predictability, stability. A competent government would guarantee the prosperity and external security of the nation; a government of countervailing balances was less likely to be threatened by temporary lapses in civic virtue, while remaining strictly accountable to the public will." (Kerber, p. 4)
"So long as Federalists controlled and staffed the agencies of the national government, the need to formulate alternate mechanisms for party decision making was veiled; with a Federalist in the White House, Federalists in the Cabinet, and Federalist majorities in Congress, the very institutional agencies of the government would themselves be the mechanism of party. Federal patronage could be used to bind party workers to the Federalist 'interest.' 'The reason of allowing Congress to appoint its own officers of the Customs, collectors of the taxes and military officers of every rank,' Hamilton said, 'is to create in the interior of each State, a mass of influence in favor of the Federal Government.' (fn: Alexander Hamilton, 1782, quoted in Lisle A. Rose, Prologue to Democracy: The Federalists in the South, 1789-1800, (Lexington, Kentucky, 1968), 3.) Federalists though of themselves as a government, not as a party; their history in the 1790's would be the history of alignments within the government, rather than of extrernal alignments which sought to influence the machinery of government." (Kerber, p. 10)
"Major national issues invigorated the process of party formation; as state groups came, slowly and hesitantly, to resemble each other. The issues on which pro-administration and anti-administration positions might be assumed increased in number and in obvious significance; the polarity of the parties became clearer." (Kerber, p. 11)
"As Adams' presidential decisions sequentially created a definition of the administration's goals as clear as Hamilton's funding program had once done, the range of political ideology which called itself Federalist simply became too broad to the party successfully to cast over it a unifying umbrella. Federalists were unified in their response to the XYZ Affair, and in their support of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which passed as party measures in the Fifth Congress, but in little else. The distance between Adams and Hamilton - in political philosophy, in willingness to contemplate war with France, in willingness to manipulate public opinion - was unbridgable; Hamilton's ill-tempered anti-Adams pamphlet of 1800 would be confirmation of a long-established distaste." (Kerber, p. 14)
"One result of the war was to add to Federalist strength and party cohesion. There were several varieties of Federalist congressional opinion on the war: most believed that the Republicans had fomented hard feeling with England so that their party could pose as defende of American honor; many believed that in the aftermath of what they were sure to be an unsuccessful war the Republicans would fall from power and Federalists would be returned to office . . . Regardless of the region from which they came, Federalists voted against the war with virtual unanimity." (Kerber, p. 24)
"As an anti-war party, Federalists retained their identity as an opposition well past wartime into a period that is usually known as the Era of Good Feelings and assumed to be the occasion of a one party system. In 1816, Federalists 'controlled the state governments of Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts; they cast between forty percent and fifty percent of the popular votes in New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont...Such wide support did not simply vanish...' (fn: Shaw Livermore, Jr. The Twilight of Federalism: The Disintegration of the Federalist Party 1815-1830, (Princeton, 1962), 265.) Rather, that support remained available, and people continued to attempt to make careers as Federalists (though, probably fewer initiated new careers as Federalists). Because men like Rufus King and Harrison Gray Otis retained their partisan identity intact, when real issues surfaced, like the Missouri debates of 1820, a 'formed opposition' still remained to respond to a moral cause and to oppose what they still thought of as a 'Virginia system.' Each of the candidates, including Jackson in the disputed election of 1824 had Federalist supporters, and their presence made a difference; Shaw Livermore argues that the central 'corrupt bargain' was not Adams' with Clay, but Adams' promise of patronage to Federalists which caused Webster to deliver the crucial Federalist votes that swung the election. If the war had increased Federalist strength, it also, paradoxically, had operated to decrease it, for prominent Federalists rallied to a beleaguered government in the name of unity and patriotism. These wartime republicans included no less intense Federalists than Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut and William Plumer of New Hampshire, both of whom went on to become Republican governors of their respective states, and in their careers thus provide emblems for the beginning of a one party period, and the slow breakdown of the first party system." (Kerber, p. 24)
"The dreams of the Revolution had been liberty and order, freedom and power; in seeking to make these dreams permanent, to institutionalize some things means to lose others. The Federalists, the first to be challenged by power, would experience these contradictions most sharply; a party that could include John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Noah Webster, would be its own oxymoron. In the end the party perished out of internal contradiction and external rival, but the individuals who staffed it continued on to staff its succesors." (Kerber, p, 25)
- 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.
- The Revolution of American Conservatism: The Federalist Party in the Era of Jeffersonian Democracy. David Hackett Fischer. New York, 1965, Harper and Row.
- The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800. Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick. New York, 1993, Oxford University Press.
The Federalists were referred to by many monikers over the years by newspapers.
- In 1809, The Concord Gazette refers to the Federalist Ticket as the American Ticket.
- Beginning in 1810, the Newburyport Herald (MA), began referring to Federalists as the American Party (as opposed to the "French" Party, who were Republicans). This continued in the 1811 elections.
The Aurora, based in Philadelphia, the most well-known Republican newspaper of the era (see American Aurora: A Democratic-Republican Returns by Richard N. Rosenfeld.) in the February 11, 1800 issue referred to Mr. Holmes, the losing candidate for the Special Election for the Philadelphia County seat in the House of Representatives as an "anti-republican".
The October 7, 1799 issue of the Maryland Herald (Easton) referred to the Federalist ticket of Talbot County as Federal Republicans. It would continue to be used intermittently throughout the next 20 years. Newspapers that used this term included the Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia) and Philadelphia Gazette in 1800, the Newport Mercury in 1808, the New Bedford Mercury in 1810, the True American (Philadelphia) in 1812, the Northumberland Republican (Sunbury) in 1815, the United States Gazette (Philadelphia) in 1816 and the Union (Philadelphia) in 1821 and 1822.
Friends of Peace / Peace / Peace Ticket:
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 to 1815 a number of newspapers referred to the Federalists as the Peace Party (or Peacemaker Party, as the Merrimack Intelligencer (Haverhill) of March 19, 1814 used), as the Peace Ticket or as the Friends of Peace due to their opposition of the War of 1812 (many of these same newspapers referred to the Republicans as the War Party). This use occurred all through at least August of 1815, with the Raleigh Minerva of August 18, 1815 referring to the Federalist candidates as Peace candidates.
These newspapers include the Columbian Centinel (Boston), Merrimack Intelligencer (Haverhill), Providence Gazette, the New York Evening Post, the New York Spectator, the Commercial Advertiser (New York), Northern Whig (Hudson), the Broome County Patriot (Chenango Point), the Independent American (Ballston Spa), the Baltimore Patriot, the Alexandria Gazette, Poulson's, Middlesex Gazette (Middletown), the Political and Commercial Register (Philadelphia), Freeman's Journal (Philadelphia), the Carlisle Herald, Northampton Farmer, Intelligencer and Weekly Advertiser (Lancaster), National Intelligencer (Washington), The Federal Republican (New Bern), the Raleigh Minerva, The Star (Raleigh) and Charleston Courier.
The New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth) took the opposite side, listing the Federalists in the March 16, 1813 edition as "Advocates of Dishonorable Peace and Submission."
"The Tyranny of Printers": Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic. Jeffrey L. Pasley. Charlottesville, 2001, University Press of Virginia.
Council of Assistants
The upper body of the Connecticut General Assembly dating back to 1698. It had twelve positions that were elected statewide. It continued until the implementation of the Connecticut Constitution in 1818. Please also see State Senate.
1790 - 1818: Connecticut
Office Scope: State
Role Scope: State