Who Were the Federalists?
The Federalists were a highly influential group of passionate political activists around the time of the creation of the United States Constitution. Their views on the need for a more powerful centralized government and their debates with Anti-Federalists would help shape the document and the government system.
Founding father Alexander Hamilton was as seminal figure during this period of American history, so was he a Federalist, how strong were his beliefs, and how influential was he in creating the constitution?
Was Alexander Hamilton a Federalist?
Yes. Not only was Hamilton a Federalist, but he was also one of the most significant figures in creating the Federalist Party and championing some of the federalist ideals for the US Constitution.
He was one of many delegates to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and used his platform to help shape the document as best he could. When the ratification process stalled, he worked hard to bring uncertain Anti-Federalists onto his side. His success helped give the new Federalist Party some short-lived success.
What Did the Federalists Want?
The beliefs and aims of the Federalists were pretty straightforward. They wanted a new system with a much greater emphasis on centralized government and less power given to state government. They also favored the indirect election of official and long-term times for those in power. This was a controversial ideal as there were fears over disproportionate levels of power for the few in charge at a higher level.
Enter the Anti-Federalists, who were concerned about the potential influence of a smaller group of officials in centralized government over both smaller state governments and the people of those states. They feared a growing divide between the elite classes and the general public, especially with the idea of long terms and electing from within.
Away from the core ideas of the system of government, the two sides also clashed on ideas about foreign policy and economics. The Federalists tended to side with the British in foreign affairs and wanted to model their government on the British system. The Anti-Federalists sided with the French and saw them as allies following the Revolutionary War.
The Creation of a New Government System and Constitution in Philadelphia
When the United States declared independence from Great Britain in 1776, there was a need for a form of constitution to determine how they would run the country and deal with critical national matters. The Articles of Confederation were created, but it was soon agreed that they were far from ideal. Campaigners such as Hamilton called for a new approach to better serve the country.
In 1787, there was a consensus that something had to change, and the Constitutional Convention took place in Philadelphia. Here delegates from all states were invited to debate new terms and make improvements. After months of discussion, the United States Constitution was drafted and presented to Congress.
However, the process of creating this new document was not easy. There were strong opinions on both the Federalist and Anti-Federalist sides about what the constitution should say and how to structure the government. They fought over the powers of the centralized system and the impact on state government as it was at the time. This is where Hamilton showed his true colors as a passionate Federalist.
While he wasn’t responsible for drafting the document, Hamilton was one of the three delegates from New York, and he took advantage of his platform. His views were deemed as extreme because of the level of power given to the central government and the idea of life terms for elected senators. The Federalists were later convinced to tone things down and agree to the system of checks and balances with the three-branch government system.
Hamilton Helped the Ratification Process in Key States
For the new Constitution of the United States to be approved, it had to be ratified by the appropriate majority of states. The problem was that many delegates in important areas weren’t keen on the propositions. These Anti-Federalist delegates worried about the impact of the new approach on their state’s government and its lower-class citizens. So, it was up to Federalists like Hamilton to sway them and gain those all-important signatures.
New York and the Bill Of Rights
Hamilton played an important role in talks with state officials and delegates and worked hard on negotiations. Because there were multiple delegates present for all the attending states, there were often differences of opinion. Hamilton experienced this himself with his home state of New York. Naturally, he was quick to add his signature to the document, but the terms didn’t convince the other delegates.
There were many contentious issues to deal with, but one of the most important was the lack of a Bill of Rights. This obstacle threatened the passage of the constitution the most – to the point that the Federalists had to give in and promise a Bill of Rights via constitutional amendments in the future. Once this was agreed, many delegates agreed to sign.
The Federalists did not support the Bill of Rights because they simply didn’t feel that it was necessary for the country. In their eyes, the implied rights given in the constitution were enough to protect the people. The Anti-Federalists disagreed and felt that a further Bill of Rights was essential for protecting the people from an unjustly powerful centralized government system.
Virginia and the Nation’s Capital
Then there was the issue in Virginia. Here, delegates were uncertain about signing the constitution for similar reasons regarding the rights of the people and the impact of a strong centralized government. However, there was another bargaining chip here that Hamilton and his allies could work with.
Virginian delegates were concerned about creating a new national capital in New York. The Federalists agreed with the administration of George Washington to create a new location on the Potomac River. The location appeased the Virginians, they signed the document, and the state capital later moved to what is now Washington, D.C.
The Federalist Papers
Another important part of this process, especially in New York, was the creation of the Federalist Papers. The continued concerns about Federalist plans and their impact on the nation led to the publication of a series of essays in popular newspapers. The main aim of this serialized venture was to convince the people that the Federalist approach was best for the nation.
There were 85 papers in total, and eventually, they helped tip the balance in favor of signing the constitution. However, one of the last talked about the reasons why there was no need for a Bill of Rights. As mentioned above, this was an issue that the Anti-Federalists were strongly opposed to, and this paper didn’t help win everyone over.
At the time, the identity of the authors was unknown. There was simply the pen name of Publius. However, upon Hamilton’s death, it was revealed that he was one of three men writing these essays. Hamilton was responsible for around two-thirds of them. The other two authors were James Madison and John Jay. Although it is seen as a collective effort, it was Hamilton’s creation, and he appears to have been in charge of the creative process.
The Federalist Party
The success of the Constitutional Convention and the ratification of the document paved the way for a version of federal government the Federalists had in mind. Some went on to work with the Washington administration and help shape this new centralized system. Hamilton was one of those, having been appointed as Washington’s treasurer. This increased power and sense of justification led to further political ambitions and the creation of the Federalist Party.
Washington himself was non-partisan as a leader, but tensions continued between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists over certain laws and aspects of government control. The Federalist Party would grow and eventually bring James Madison to the presidency. The Anti-Federalists created the Republican party with Thomas Jefferson as their leader.
The Federalists Owed Their Success to Hamilton
The Federalist Party didn’t stay in power for long, and the movement began to fade away after Hamilton’s death. Still, the group of passionate advocates that created it was highly influential for that short period of American history. The Federalists were extreme in their views and too focused on centralized power to remain successful. Yet, Hamilton and his associates’ negotiation and literary skills helped them bring about the constitution’s ratification and set up the basis of the current system.
In short, Hamilton wasn’t just a keen Federalist. He was one of the most vocal and active members of the group, and without him, the constitution could have been a lot different. Had he survived that fatal duel, maybe they would have held on a little longer.