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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.


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:


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.


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.