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James Madison.

[Detail] James Madison.

Development of Political Parties in the New Nation

The framers of the Constitution did not anticipate political parties, but parties soon developed, over issues that arose during the Washington administration. The Federalist Party, with allegiance to Alexander Hamilton, and the Democratic-Republican Party of Jefferson and Madison were at odds over Hamilton's financial program, agrarian vs. manufacturing interests, and foreign alignments favoring either Britain or France.

Hamilton, as Secretary of the Treasury, had urged the United States to assume the debts that states still carried from the American Revolution. To raise the money to pay those debts, a tax was placed on producers of alcohol. The tax on small producers was higher than on large producers, angering small producers in the western counties of the various states. In 1794, their protests escalated into armed violence. President Washington called up the militia to put down the so-called Whisky Rebellion.

On December 28, 1794, Jefferson wrote to Madison, responding to President Washington's accusation that the Whiskey Rebellion was the work of "democratic societies."

  • To whom was Jefferson referring when he talked about the "Monocrats"? Why do you think he gave them this name?
  • In what sense do you think Jefferson used the word wonderful? What attitude toward President Washington did he express?

The ratification of the Jay Treaty negotiated with Britain was yet another issue that caused friction between the parties. Madison wrote a letter to James Monroe, U.S. minister to France, on March 11, 1795, informing him that the long-awaited Jay Treaty with Britain had arrived but that its contents were unknown except to the President. Search the collection using the keywords Jay Treaty to locate the terms of the treaty signed on November 19, 1794.

Once made public, the treaty provoked considerable hostility. Its supporters believed the treaty, negotiated by John Jay, would prevent war with Britain and improve trade. Detractors, including Madison and Jefferson, thought it aligned the United States too closely with Britain (rather than France) and thus would undermine the values of the new republic. Despite popular criticism, the Senate ratified the treaty on June 24, 1795. Republicans in the House of Representatives, including Madison, attempted to block implementation of the treaty by refusing appropriations. They also sought papers relating to the treaty from the President. Washington exerted "executive prerogative" and refused to send documents to the House of Representatives. Ultimately, the House approved appropriations for enforcing provisions of the treaty.


Madison wrote a letter to Robert Livingston on August 10, 1795, criticizing the treaty. He drafted a letter to an unknown recipient on August 23 that included the first draft of his petition to the Virginia Assembly against the treaty. In a letter to Monroe, written December 20, 1795, Madison provides a detailed summary of events leading to ratification of the Jay Treaty.

  • What were the terms of the Jay Treaty? Why did Republicans oppose the treaty?
  • What precedent did Washington set by refusing to give the House papers relating to the treaty?
  • What were Madison's arguments in opposition to the treaty?

Madison, in a letter to Jefferson, the Republican party's presidential candidate, on December 19, 1796, reported presidential election results indicating that Adams, the Federalists' candidate, would win the election but that his vice presidential candidate Thomas Pinckney would probably rank third. He advised Jefferson to "…prepare yourself, therefore, to be summoned to the place Mr. Adams now fills…On the whole, it seems essential that you should not refuse the station which is likely to be your lot." Madison concluded the letter in cipher, urging Jefferson to accept the vice presidency since he might have some influence over Adams. Madison himself retired from the House of Representatives in 1797.

Party conflicts continued through the Adams administration, especially over issues related to a possible conflict with France and Britain. The French were not happy about the Jay Treaty, seeing it as a rebuff of the Franco-American Alliance. France and Britain were at war, and the French seized a large number of U.S. ships. While Hamilton and others called for war, President Adams sent a delegation to Paris in 1797 to try to negotiate a peace agreement. Three French agents (X, Y, and Z) demanded that the Americans pay a large bribe before French officials would meet with them. When word of this so-called XYZ Affair became public, Americans were outraged. The collection includes documents with information about the affair: Jefferson's letter to Madison on April 6, 1798, and Madison's reply of April 15.

After public furor over the XYZ Affair subsided, Madison wrote to Jefferson that

The management of foreign relations appears to be the most susceptible of abuse of all the trusts committed to a Government

From "James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, May 13, 1798," image 574

When it appeared probable that the United States would be drawn into war, Federalists in Congress secured passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Conduct a full text search for letters relating to these acts and the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions Madison and Jefferson instigated in opposition.

  • How did Republicans respond to the disclosure of the XYZ Affair?
  • How did Madison appraise President Adams' handling of the Affair?
  • What accusations did Madison make in his May 13 letter to Jefferson?
  • Why were Madison and Jefferson so adamantly opposed to the Alien and Sedition Acts?
  • How did events during the Adams Administration further divide the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans?