In the later years of the Articles of Confederation there was much agitation for a stronger federal union, which was crowned with success when the Constitutional Convention drew up the Constitution of the United States. The men who favored the strong union and who fought for the adoption of the Constitution by the various states were called Federalists, a term made famous in that meaning by the Federalist Papers (see Federalist, The) of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.
After the Constitution was adopted and the new government was established under the presidency of George Washington, political division appeared within the cabinet, the opposing groups being headed by Alexander Hamilton and by Thomas Jefferson. The party that emerged to champion Hamilton's views was the Federalist party. Its opponents, at first called Anti-Federalists, drew together into a Jeffersonian party; first called the Republicans and later the Democratic Republicans, they eventually became known as the Democratic party. Party politics had not yet crystallized when John Adams was elected President, but the choice of Adams was, nevertheless, a modest Federalist victory.
The Federalists were conservatives; they favored a strong centralized government, encouragement of industries, attention to the needs of the great merchants and landowners, and establishment of a well-ordered society. In foreign affairs they were pro-British, while the Jeffersonians were pro-French. The members of the Federalist party were mostly wealthy merchants, big property owners in the North, and conservative small farmers and businessmen. Geographically, they were concentrated in New England, with a strong element in the Middle Atlantic states.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.