The Articles of Confederation, the little discussed original legal framework for the United States, and the current American Constitution represent the early American debate over how the young nation’s government should develop. The Articles, born out of frustration with the British monarchy during the colonial period, had no executive, forced the amendment process for federal laws to be unanimous, required a two-thirds majority for the passage of federal bills, and encouraged a loose association of states. The more stable Constitution consisted of a strong union of Americans who had a strong executive (or president), a simple majority requirement for federal laws, and an easier constitutional amendment process. This fundamental difference in legal approaches became the basis for the first partisan battles of American politics.
The first American party system consisted of the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party. The Federalists were led by John Adams and Alexander Hamilton while the Democratic-Republicans were headed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The points of contention between these two groups was the basic governing philosophy of the federal government, the balance between federal and state power, and how to interpret the constitution. The Federalists, who were still in favor of maintaining relations with the British, wanted a strong central government, had a pessimistic view of pure democracy, and a proactive economic policy (including charter banks and infra structural development).
The Democratic-Republicans, who were in favor of increasing relations with the French, wanted the powers of government to be restricted, state (not federal) dominance in determining economic policy, and a literal interpretation of the Constitution. The “Federalist Papers,” written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, outlined the Federalist agenda and have become a mainstay in political science courses throughout the American university system. However, the Federalists were unable to maintain their integrity and faltered by the 1816 federal elections.
The new nation struggled with early partisanship as well as the usual problems of new statehood. By 1790, the nation was four million strong with problems in building a unique political identity, threats from the British, French, and Spanish (as well as the native people), and a floundering economy heavily dependent on British goods. But the partisanship did not become truly bitter until later elections and the earnest dedication of American politicians early on was beneficial to the American people. The economy was not great but at the very least it was balanced between urban economies of commerce and industry with agriculture acting as a strong component of the western and southern economies. The true strength of America in its early stages, however, was the dedication to the Constitution in spite of threats to its integrity and the lack of comparable experiences in world history to help guide the new nation.