Kentucky, never having been a territory, broke off from Virginia to become the nation's fifteenth state in 1792. Its first constitution, drafted that year, was soon found unsatisfactory, and a second constitution was framed in 1799. Despite the presence of a few prominent Federalists, Kentucky was a virtual one-party state, with the Jeffersonian Republicans dominating throughout the era of the First Party System. This ostensible political unanimity, however, masked substantial political conflict throughout the state's early history, antagonisms that exploded in the wake of the Panic of 1819.
The first white settlers moved into Kentucky on the eve of the Revolutionary War, and the region remained the westernmost district of Virginia for almost twenty years. After extensive negotiations—including several enabling acts passed by the Virginian Assembly and a seemingly endless series of state conventions convened to discuss the terms of separation and the structure of the proposed state government—Kentucky finally secured its independence from Virginia in 1792.
Late that spring, a state constitutional convention, dominated by the well-connected and aristocratic George Nicholas, convened at Danville and finished its work in less than three weeks. Kentucky's first constitution has often been characterized as a forward-looking product of the democratic frontier, and many of its features do support this view: The document abolished all religious qualifications, incorporated a comprehensive Bill of Rights, prohibited viva voce voting, provided for the annual election of state representatives, and, most notably, granted universal white adult male suffrage. Yet the decision to lift property requirements for voting had as much to do with extraordinary high rates of landlessness and rampant confusion over land titles as it did with democratic enthusiasm; the delegates did not dare disfranchise well over half of the state's population. In fact, a majority of the convention was determined to contain the swiftly moving democratic currents of the early republic, and they leaned heavily on Pennsylvania's 1790 constitution—itself a conservative revision of the state's far more radical 1776 constitution. The document, therefore, created a powerful executive, one chosen by electors every four years and possessed of substantial powers of appointment; a bicameral General Assembly in which the upper house would also be decided by an electoral college; and a nonelective judiciary. Significantly, the constitution gave original and final jurisdiction over land cases to the state supreme court, a provision that the great landowners of Kentucky had advocated for years because it precluded any chance for appeal. Furthermore, conservative elements at the convention turned back an attempt to end slavery in the state and, in fact, secured a positive and explicit protection for slavery, the first such constitutional provision in the nation.
The delegates, apparently not overly confident in their handiwork, included an unusual provision for another constitutional convention seven years hence if "it shall seem expedient." Sure enough, many Kentuckians soon became convinced that fundamental changes to the state's supreme law were not only expedient but necessary. Proposed reforms ranged from the relatively mild suggestion that members of the county courts be prohibited from serving in the legislature to more radical demands for the emancipation of slaves, the abolition of the governorship and the Senate, a complete overhaul of the state's court system, and a renunciation of the separation agreement with Virginia that protected the property rights of nonresident landholders.
And so, in 1799, the state's voters authorized a second state constitutional convention. This time, John Breckinridge, a Virginia-born lawyer soon to be Thomas Jefferson's attorney general, dominated the proceedings in much the same way that Nicholas commanded the first convention. Under Breckinridge's guidance, the conservatives succeeded in curbing the most radical demands for reform: The legislature remained bicameral, the separation agreement with Virginia was upheld, the attempt to reform the judiciary and its control of land titles was turned back, and slavery was once again protected and preserved. Although delegates made some concessions to popular sovereignty (including the direct election of the governor and state senators), they reinstated viva voce voting, preserved the appointment of judges, and made other minor offices, previously elective, appointive. To cap things off, the conservatives included a clause that made further revision of the constitution extremely difficult.
Throughout its first thirty years, Kentucky overwhelmingly supported the Republican Party. In 1798, when Vice President Thomas Jefferson needed a friendly venue to channel anonymously his resolutions condemning the Alien and Sedition Acts, he naturally turned to the legislature of Kentucky. Although a nominal Federalist Party did exist in the state, and a few of its adherents managed to secure election, the Republican Party's dominance was virtually unchallenged.
But however monolithic Kentucky's political structure may have been, by no means did this translate into political consensus. Several issues proved to be immensely contentious in the state's early years: the establishment of a state circuit court system in 1803, the creation and spread of a banking system in the first two decades of the nineteenth century, and the controversy in 1817 over whether the death of a sitting governor necessitated a new election. One traveler in 1807 amused himself in a Lexington coffee house by perusing "the wonderful mass of political contradiction to be found in forty different newspapers, where scarcely any two editors coincided in opinion."
But it was the financial ruin that descended upon the country in 1819 that triggered early Kentucky's most divisive and vehement political conflict. In the wake of bank failures, sheriff's sales, and ruinous deflation, the state's citizens demanded that the state government alleviate their suffering. By 1821 the General Assembly had constructed a relief system that allowed debtors to postpone repayment of debt, created a Commonwealth's Bank that generously lent paper money, and mandated that any property sold under execution must bring three-quarters of its pre-depression value. An Anti-Relief faction appeared almost immediately, vehemently insisting that the state and federal constitutions prohibited such legislation. After the state courts struck down major portions of the relief system in 1823 and 1824, the General Assembly responded by actually attempting to abolish the state high court (the Court of Appeals) and establish a new court more to their liking. It was, as it turned out, a bridge too far, for in the next year's elections, the "Old Court" Anti-Relief candidates decisively defeated the "New Court" pro-relief slate. In early 1827, the new legislature restored the original court, thus bringing to an end the state's notorious Relief War. In the 1830s, Kentucky reverted to its traditional one-party status, as the Whig Party came to dominate the state's politics for another generation.
- Aron, Steven.
How the West Was Lost: The Transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Boone to Henry Clay.Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
- Coward, Joan Wells.
Kentucky in the New Republic: The Process of Constitution Making.Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1979.
- Ellis, Richard.
The Jeffersonian Crisis: Courts and Politics in the Young Republic.New York: Norton, 1971.
- Friend, Craig Thompson.
Along the Maysville Road: The Early American Republic in the Trans-Appalachian West.Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2005.
- Harrison, Lowell H.
Kentucky's Road to Statehood.Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992.
- Tachau, Mary K. Bonsteel.
Federal Courts in the Early Republic: Kentucky 1789-1816.Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978.
- Teute, Fredrika Johanna.
Land, Liberty, and Labor in the Post-Revolutionary Era: Kentucky as the Promised Land.Ph.D. dissertation, Johns Hopkins University, 1988.
- Watlington, Patricia.
The Partisan Spirit: Kentucky Politics, 1779–1792.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972.
- Young, Bennett H.
History and Texts of the Three Constitutions of Kentucky.Louisville, KY: Courier Journal Job Printing Co., 1890.
- First American West
- Kentucky Historical Society
- Filson Club Historical Society
- Kentucky Virtual Library
- Kentuckiana Digital Library
- Moments in Kentucky Legislative History The Old Court / New Court Struggle
- Moments in Kentucky Legislative History The Boundary
- Moments in Kentucky Legislative History The Dueling Oath
- Moments in Kentucky Legislative History Housekeeping
- Moments in Kentucky Legislative History Henry Clay and Homespun cloth
- Moments in Kentucky Legislative History Kentucky Resolutions
- Moments in Kentucky Legislative History First Session
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.
An official appointed to govern a province, country, town, etc. Now used as the official title of the representative of the Crown in a British colony or dependency; also of the executive head of each of the United States.
Oxford English Dictionary
Historical Note: In many state (Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, North Caorlina, South Carolina, Virginia) this was a position elected by the State Legislature rather than by popular vote. In the New England states, the election of the Governor required a majority vote and if no majority was achieved then the Governor was elected by the State Legislature.
Historical Note: Prior to the 1792 revisions to its state constitution, the title of the executive head of New Hampshire was "President".
1787-1824: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia
Office Scope: State
Role Scope: State