When political alignments first emerged in George Washington's administration, opposing factions were led by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. In the basic disagreement over the nature and functions of government and of society, the Jeffersonians advocated a society based on the small farmer; they opposed strong centralized government and were suspicious of urban commercial interests. Their ideals—opposed to those of the Federalist party—came to be known as Jeffersonian democracy, based in large part on faith in the virtue and ability of the common man and the limitation of the powers of the federal government. This group of Anti-Federalists, who called themselves Republicans or Democratic Republicans (the name was not fixed as Democratic until 1828), supported many of the ideals of the French Revolution and opposed close relations with Great Britain.
Led by Jefferson and his ally James Madison, the group had become a nationwide party by 1800, winning the support of Aaron Burr and George Clinton in New York, of Benjamin Rush and Albert Gallatin in Pennsylvania, and of most influential politicians in the South. Jefferson became President in 1800 in an election that has often been called a turning point in American history. With this election emerged an alliance between Southern agrarians and Northern city dwellers, an alliance that grew to be the dominating coalition of the party. With Madison and James Monroe succeeding Jefferson, the party's "Virginia dynasty" held the presidency until 1824.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.