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The Evolution of Early Political Parties: Connecticut, 1750-1818, A Case Study

John James Valente, Jr.

Contents of Curriculum Unit 80.ch.05:


This unit is designed for a three week application in an eighth-grade American history course at Irving Robbins Junior High, Farmington, Connecticut. Although it is created for American history, I see and encourage its application in other courses from grade six through twelve. It would fit nicely into such courses as Civics, American Political Behavior, Family Life, and Language Arts. Its main purpose is three fold: 1) to help students understand the complexities of early political party formation at a local as well as a national level, 2) to show students that an understanding of early political party formation is a useful tool in comprehending our present national political system, and 3) to increase student political awareness and interest in the political system.

My teaching experience at both the junior high and high school levels indicates that students are “turned off” by politics. This student disaffection runs concurrently with growing adult alienation from our political system. This malaise is reflected by reduced voter turnout at both the nation and local level. I believe this disaffection stems from: 1) ignorance of the functions of the political system; 2) a lack of understanding that citizens have political responsibilities and “can make a difference” in shaping society; and 3) a failure to see how the system affects everyman’s daily life. I hope to dissipate some of this disaffection by helping students to become aware of their political heritage, to see historical analogies to the present, and to experience politics at a school and local level.

The unit is designed to challenge the student’s mind through emphasis on the foliowing skills: 1) critical thinking skills of classification, seeing analogies, structure analysis, and operation analysis; and 2) analytical writing skills.1 I believe that students will benefit most from this unit when it is taught at a time when national and/or local politics are in the public eye. For that reason I designed activities which will incorporate a study of school and state, as well as national politics.

In the following pages, I have organized my material into the following sections to facilitate teaching of this unit.

1) Content objectives
2) Historical Narrative on the Evolution of Political Parties in Connecticut
3) Teaching Strategies and Three Examples of Classroom Activities
4) A Selective Teacher/Student Bibliography (Annotated)
5) An Appendix of Teacher Aids

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Content Objectives

At the outset of the unit, students will receive a learning packet which will contain a general explanation of the unit, teacher expectations for content and term recognition, and various readings both primary and secondary on the development of political parties in Connecticut and in the nation as a whole.

A general explanation of the unit will include a rationale for study, and a brief summary of some classroom activities. Students will be expected to address with teacher aid the following content areas: the development of political parties in Connecticut; the lives and writings of early political party leaders most notably Noah Webster, and Joel Barlow; the issues concerning political parties and voters during party formation; and the present day party system. Students will also gain an understanding of some political science terminology and be able to define and differentiate between those terms (Appendix A). Students will be reading and analyzing early political party rhetoric and will be able to differentiate between the writings of different parties. Students will also analyze similar present day party rhetoric through contact with local politicians. Students will in addition be able to diagram in a timeline the Evolution of Political Parties in Connecticut (Appendix B).

Present day political parties as we know them with their “prime time ballyhoo,” packaged “puffs,”’ intensive organization, and declared electorate have existed for a relatively short time.2 To political scientists, a political party is an intensive organization of persons united by certain common political ideologies about the way government should be run.3 The definition of political parties in 1755, was simply a number of persons confederated by a similarity of designs or opinions in opposition to others.4 Political groups of the 18th century do not, therefore, require “intensive organization” or “ideologies about the way government should be run” to be considered political parties. Tehy simply need to be “confederated” or united by similar opinions in “opposition to others.”

If I searched Connecticut history for examples of 20th century political parties I would be guilty of presentism that is, looking for the present in the past. To avoid this historical problem, I will describe the evolution of Connecticut political parties according to the 18th century definition. Use of this definition will provide an accurate view of the 18th century perspective as to when and how political parties developed. The following narrative will include: an overview of the development of political parties in Connecticut from 1750-1818; a comparison of Connecticut party development and national party development; a summary of the lives and writings of Joel Barlow and Noah Webster; and a brief analysis of recent scholarship on the existence of a two party system in the United States. The study will address the following broad questions: How and why did political parties form in Connecticut? How can the lives of Democratic-Republican and Federalist writers illuminate this analysis? and finaly, Why did Connecticut and the rest of the United States form and maintain only two political parties?

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Political Party Formation in Connecticut, 1750-1818

Political parties formed in Connecticut about the mid 18th century as the result of economic, political, and religious conflict and as a reaction to rule by an establishment. The term establishment is used here as an inner circle thought of as holding decisive power in the state.5 Political parties began to organize as a “necessary evil” to defeat their opponents. Rather than allowing their opponents to rule, each party was forced to articulate and accept the belief that their opposition could be loyal to the same government. The process in which political parties became accepted as a “necessary evil” is the focus of this study.

Political parties were deemed as “tools of the devil” by most people of the 18th century western world. In New England they were viewed as instruments of conflict in a society where consensus was revered. This desire for consensus has been labeled by historians as the commonwealth ideal that is “man was to sub-ordinate his selfish interests for the common interests of society.” In practice this ideal fell short of its goal in 18th century Connecticut as conflict arose over the Susquehannah land claims in Pennsylvania and the religious differences created by the Great Awakening. These conflicts of the 1750’s and 1760’s split Connecticut into east and west political divisions. Those east of the Connecticut River were more egalitarian in perspective than those west of the river. Composed of those active in land speculation and those who considered themselves to be New Lights, the people of the east side of the river began to question the legitimacy of civil and religious authorities. These New Lights believed that man could discover God on his own without the aid of some divine intermediary. To the Old Lights this belief was blasphemy. Ministers were God’s appointees here on earth and to discredit their duty was to discredit God Himself! This questioning by the New Lights of the establishment, planted the seed for government designed by men for men rather than government designed by instruments of God’s will (religious and civil authorities.)6 Starting as a seemingly short lived division between families (faction) these divisions grew wider to become party divisions encompassing large numbers of people for long periods of time. This division of political parties between the east and west remained until the period before the American Revolution.7

In the election of 1759, many New Lights were elected to the lower house, which permited political expression of New Light religious views.8 This event reduced the conflict between the two parties until 1766, when party conflict was renewed in reaction to the Stamp Act. New Lights were dead set against the Act, whereas the Old Lights, led by Governor Fitch took a moderate stance and were willing to support the British cause. Fitch was ousted out of office and a New Light was put in his place as Governor.9

By 1770 the issue of British support further divided Connecticut beyond the New and Old Light parties. The issue of religion was aubordinated, and new parties were created. Those who supported the British became know as Tories, and those who were against the British were known as Whigs. As 1774 approached, the British tightened control over the colonies, and some Tories became Whigs. The Whigs easily defeated their opponents in 1774. Sparked with the enthusiasm of the election, the Whigs set out to organize resistence to the Coercive Acts and to convert remaining Tories. It was the New Light party of the early 1750’s and the Whig party were the first parties imbued with a strain of anti-establishment sentiment (ex Connecticut toward the clergy, the Old Lights, and the (British)10 Netween 1780 and 1800, there were numerous cases of anti-establishment politics which generally centered on issues of nationalism, exclusiveness, the limits of democracy, and the religious establishment.11

There was in 1780-1790 a new type of political opposition different from earlier parties prior to the Revolution. This opposition directed itself not to the king or the Connecticut Old Light government, but rather to the state and Continental government. The political split also had a different origin. Rather than born out of religious divisions and manifested in a geographical split, political parties were separated more by occupation than by religion. The decade of the 1780’s pitted farmers against merchants and shippers.12

State government had to increase its taxes to pay the war debt in the years following the Revolution. This increased taxation bothered farmers in Connecticut just as it was to later bother farmers in Massachusetts. In Nassachusetts their anger found a release in Shay’s Rebellion. Connecticut farmers were, fortunately, better able to channel their anger through the legislature than were their Massachusetts counterparts. In the early years of the decade farmers articulated their discontent to the legislature. They argued that since taxation was based on land, and since merchants and shippers owned little land, any increase in tax amounts would surely hurt the farmer. Furthermore, they asserted that merchants and shippers had prospered in the war and were more capable of handling tax increases than the poor farmers.

Nearly the whole of the public burden lie on the farmer; the laboring part of the people, and the merchant trader, the manufacturer, and others of faculty who are the most opulent go in manner free.13

This economic discontent of farmers was directed to the establishment of society in a post war era. Their feelings of discontent formulated the basis for an anti-establishment party. Feelings of dissatisfaction were somewhat dissipated in 1783 when a predominately agricultural lower house abated land taxes. Although anger was relaxed, the situation was still unsolved and many farmers believed they had been cheated.

Two issues which furthered the anti-establishment’s discontent and expressed their fear of nationalism and exclusiveness were the impost and the commutation. The impost was a tax initiated by the Continental government to tax imported goods. The tax was defeated by the agrarian legislature on the belief that much of the money would be used to support the officers of an “exclusive” organization the Continental army. Parochial minded anti-establishment men, furthermore, would not stand for such an action which appeared to put the authority of the Continental government over that of the state. Similar dissatisfaction brewed over the commutation which was a Continental act to pay veteran officers of the Revolution one half of their pay for five years as a pension. Hany veteran officers belonged to the Society of the Cinncinatti a society of officers who had served at least three years in the Revolution. This society “reeked” of exclusiveness and “turned off” the anti-establishment party to the commutation. Farmers were so angered by this act that they mobbed William Judd as he returned to Farmington with his pension from the commutation act. Eventually, anti-establishment forces held a convention in Middletown, organized, and later defeated Connecticut support for the act.

As the decade passed the anti-establishment party believed that their right to representation was being undermined by the establishment. This belief was justified as the Council tried to limit the number of deputies in the lower house from two to one per town. Once again, the anti-establishment party was successful in defeating this action.

Anti-establishment party members were satisfied with a tight, close-knit community and insisted that a provincial outlook was best. For these reasons they were unwilling to accept any nationalist sentiments. Indicative of this position was their refusal to both send delegates to revise the Articles of Confederation, and to ratify the Constitution. These policies forced the anti-establishment to lose its support in the lower house. Nonetheless, the anti-establishment’s party sentiments of anti-nationalism, anti-exclusiveness and fears of limits put on democracy persisted throughout the state. After the Constitution was ratified, the anti-establishment party became reticent and later changed its direction of attack.14

In the 1790’s the Anti-establishment party centered its attack on the Congregational clergy in Connecticut. Federalists had taken over the majority of the seats in the house by 1791, due to thy reticence of the anti-establishment (now called anti-Federalist party). As the dominant party, Federalists initiated two acts which strengthened the relationship between church and state; the Certification Act and Appropiation Act. The Certification Act, argued Federalists, was designed to make it easier for dissenters to register and be exempt from the ecclesiastical tithe by simply signing in at the Justice of Peace. Before this act was passed, dissenters could register with the minister of their church. Anti-Federalists knew this was a ploy to reduce the nunber of dissenters in the state and lower the exemptions from tithes. Justices of the Peace were Federalist appointed and would control who would be able to sign in and who would not be able to sign in. Anti-Federalists organized their discontented in a society called the “Nocturnal Society of the Stelligeri.” The name was given to them by Federalists because the group met in the evening after the regular legislative session. Such an uproar was created by the issue and the Stelligeri’s statements that the Certification Act was repealed. The Appropiation Act was created to channel money received from the sale of state owned lands in Pennsylvania for support of the clergy. Once again the Stelligeri’s efforts defeated the act.

The organization of the anti-Federalists grew to such an extent that by 1800 over 100 committees of anti-establishment strength wore formed. This organization and its leaders were to be named Democratic-Republicans. Although there is no definite link between the rank and file of the anti-Federalists and the Democratic Republicans, most leaders of the anti-Federalists became leaders of the Domocratic-Republicans.15

While political parties were developing in Connecticut they were abhorred. Some contemporaries even denied the existence of any parties in Connecticut prior to 1800. As we have seen they existed in some cases both in name and in definition. Nonetheless, attackes were waged against the creation of parties. Noah Webster, stated in 1797:

Never let us exchange our civil and religious institutions for the wild theories of crazy projectors; or the sober industriousness, moral habits of our country for experiments in atheism and lawless dcmocracy. Experience is a safe pilot, but experiment is a dangerous ocean full of rocks and shoals. Why get foreign politics divide us into partymen?

Webster, a Federalist, was afraid that party politics would soon be taking over the political system of the United States. He believed that Americans like Tom Jefferson were being influenced by French events and parties. Acceptance of such philosophies would ruin the unity created by the Constitution. Consensus, Webster believed, would be subverted by conflict instigated by political parties. To Webster and other Federalists of early 19th century Connecticut, conflict could only destroy a society. Federalists believed that they must defend their ideal of consensus against any encroachments.

In the early 19th century. Democratic-Republicans were concerned with issues that were very similar to those of the Anti-Federalists. Democratic-Republicans were different in that they were to become more nationalistic than Anti-Federalists. Sentiments of anti-establishment and egalitarianism persisted in the Democratic-Republican party. Anticlericalism increased as an important issue by the efforts of the Democratic-Republicans and later by the Toleration party.

In 1800, Democratic-Republicans practiced intynsive campaigning through use of electionmen, local town committees, and newspaper publicity. The former two were almost unkown in 18th century politics. Newspaper publicity was handled by the New London Bee and the Connecticut Mercury. In the campaigns of early 1800’s, Republicans often attacked Federalists with the following incisive criticism, (for other political vitriol see Appendix C):

They are in power and possession we need our whole force to oust them. They have privileged themselves and their party have made taxation extremely unequal have been intollerant to all but one religious persuasion have deprived Republicans of Every right have insulted and persecuted them, are now glorying in their ability to bid legislative defiance to the general government.17

The campaigning of the Democratic-Republicans in 1800 caught the Federalists by surprise. In Congressional nominations William Hart and Gideon Granger, both Democratic-Republicans, received 14th and 18th positions respectively. Such a good showing for a first attempt left Federalist Governor Trumbull shaking in his boots. The Federalist press organized in the Courant retorted with a “reign of terror” on all Republican editors. By December of 1800 the assembly again had “democratic” members. The Federalists continued to organize their strength through the clergy, judges, and legislature.

A Democratic-Republican gather ing in Wallingford on March 11, 1801, celebrating the Jefferson/Burr victory inaugurated the 1801 campaign. At the gathering, Abraham Bishop made Our Clergy to the Bib1e.” The speech articulated the anit-clerical sentiment of the Democratic-Republicans. To the Democratic-Republicans, the Congregational clergy had been too involved in politics, particularly, Federalist politics. Democratic-Republicans feared the Federalist “political parsons” who inculcated the minds of their congregations with views on the right party to vote for. Angered that the clergy ran the schools, payed no taxes, and helped in elections, DemocraticRepublicans set out to attack this group. Bishop’s address also attacked the state’s lack of a constitution. He argued that the state lacked a written document which would defend liberties and define rights. Both the issue of the clergy and of the constitution were not to be resolved until 1818. The rally ended with toasts given to Republican leaders and to “the destruction of a political ministry and a state church.” Federalists who had heard of this and similar gatherings accused Democratic-Republicans of promiscuity, “adultry, incest, dissipation and debauchery.” “Scarce a fine woman was seen . . . Will no young mind be corrupted by such festivals?”18

Jefferson’s election was helpful to the Connecticut Organization of Democratic-Republicans. In the spring of 1801, DemocraticRepublicans put up their first candidate for the polition of Governor. Though they did not prevail there, one sixth of the seats in the house were now Democratic-Republican. Patronage given by Jefferson enabled many important Democratic-Republicans to receive high paying jobs.19 As examples: Gideon Granger was made U. S. Postmaster General for a salary of $3,000.00, Alexander Wolcott was made Middletown collector for $3,000.00, Abraham Bishop was made “collector of Fees” for $3,600.00 and Joel Barlow received a foreign mission to France. Although patronage helped the Democratic-Republican organization, it also fueled the Federalist fires of attack. Federalists discredited the Republicans as a “set of office holders and office seekers . . . using every possible exertion to destroy this state.”20

Two major issues which would continue to have an impact on politics in the early 19th century were the “stand up” law and Connecticut’s lack of a constitution. The “stand up” law, created by the Federalist legislature, removed the ballot for nomination in town meetings and put in its place a vote by standing. The Federalists argued that such a law made town meeting voting more efficient. The Democratic-Republicans argued that the “stand up” law intimidated voters to the Federalist cause, because a man would have to stand up in front not only of his peers, but also his employer, creditors and others, and be seen when voting. It was not until the convention of 1818 that the law was repealed. The lack of a Constitution drew more political criticism than the “stand up” law. Federalists strongly believed that Connecticut did have a constitution; the Charter of 1662 and its statutes. They held that the written constitution that the Democratic-Republicans demanded was only necessary when rights and privileges were to be obtained from a tyrant. Democratic-Republicans on the other hand, believed that the lack of a Constitution had two major effects: 1) it left justice and the law to the interpretation of Federalist judges who would interpret statutes to the benefit of their party, and 2) it allowed government to be concentrated in the hands of an aristocratic Council. Furthermore, many Democratic-Republicans, among them John Leland (a Baptist elder) believed that a written Constitution was the only hope for disestablishment of the Congregational Church. With Leland’s aid many Baptists entered the Democratic-Republican fold to fulfill their desire for a state constitution. In 1804, Abraham Bishop, in an address at the statehouse reiterated all these Republican concerns and added that a popularly constituted government would not permit tampering with elections by the legislature and would allow districting of the state an aid to the minority party. In his statement, Bishop urged that a Constitutional Convention be called and that the Constitution issue be made part of the Democratic-Republican platform. The latter was done immediately, but the former was not to be realized until 1818. Other issues which were included in that platform were, suffrage extension, reform of taxation of the land, the extravagance of local Federalist governments, and the unnecessary political influence of the lawyers and clergy.

During the period between 1804-1806, the constitution issue was heavily debated between the parties. Federalists went so far as to remove from office judges who had agreed with the Republican assertion that there was no constitution. In particular, William Judd was removed from office for his beliefs and became a martyr for the Democratic-Republican cause.21

Many historians claim that political parties were formed around issues which concerned foreign affairs. These historians mark the date of party formation circa 1796 after the Franco-British wars. Merchants and commercial farmers of New England, according to these historians, were most inclined to be Hamiltonian Federalists because of their desire for a centrally controlled program of economic advancement which included trade with and support of the British. DemocraticRepublicans sided with the French and their Revolutionary cause for obtaining liberty. Although foreign affairs had some influence upon party divisions, it did not, as this study points out, start them in Connecticut. Parties were rooted in Connecticut well before the American Revolution. One foreign affairs issue which did divide the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists was the Jeffersonian embargo of 1807.22

The Jeffersonian embargo hit Connecticut hard in 1808. It hurt shipping, farming and manufacturing. It was a credit to Democratic-Repubiican organization that many votes were not lost to Federalists. Democratic-Republicans tried, with good success, to get people to support the National government. In February, 1809, however, Governor Trumbull declared the embargo unconstitutional and put state allegiance ahead of national allegiance. Trumbull argued that if the Democratic-Republicans can say that Connecticut does not have a constitution then he could question the interpretation of the national constitution.

As the Democratic national government grew stronger, the Federalists of Connecticut became more parochial in outlook. It was ironic that a group who had long carried the banner of national unity was now in the 1810’s groping towards state-rights. Indicative of this tendency towards parochialism was the rule of Governor Roger Griswold. In 1811, the Democratic-Republicans had a difficult time finding a candidate who would accept the nomination. After some delay they decided to accept Roger Griswold, a moderate Federalist, as the opponent to the incumbent Governor Treadwell. The Democratic-Republicans accepted Griswold because he showed little interest in religion. Griswold won the election, and the Democratic-Republicans hoped, until the outbreak of the War of 1812, to influence him. Griswold believed, as did many other Federalists, that the war was Mr. Madison’s war and Connecticut men need not be concerned with it.

Under the next Governor, the famous Federalist-dominated Hartford Convention was called to consider measures of Connecticut public safety in the war. Convention rhetoric was deeply reminiscent of the parochial sentiments of the anti-establishment party of the 1780’s. The Convention resolved that it was against a national draft, taxation for a militia, and in favor of the following amendments to the Constitution: two-thirds of a vote by Congress necessary to declare war, legislate embargo, and admit new states; limit the president to a single term; sucessive presidents must come from different states; no roreigner should be allowed in office; and the southern states should not count blacks for representation. The Convention did send its message to Washington but by the time it arrived the war was over.23

The parochialism expressed by the Federalists in 1815 and the anti-establishment party of the late l8th century is, I believe, a reaction to a loss of national power. As each side saw that their lifestyle was undermined by an opponent with a national perspective they became defensive and turned into themselves and to their immediate locality. Traditional values were revered and intensely sought after as part of a defensive reaction, and the state government became the ultimate source of authority as the party turned into itself.

In 1815, the battle for governor pitted Elizur Boardman (an Episcopalian) and John Cotton Smith (Federalist). The campaign was fierce as each side stressed party loyalty. The type of political struggle that went on in these early years was intense, each side hoped to destroy the opponent. It took a number of years before each side realized that two parties could exist in relative harmony. This intensive struggle brought out the vote and made Connecticut a politically active state. At the end of the 1815 campaign, Elizur Boardman lost very narrowly to Smith. Federalists began to realize that their days were numbered.

Up until 1816, the Episcopalians had been the only dissenting religion willing to support the Federalists. Convinced by the growing legitinacy of the Democratic-Republicans, the Episcopalians joined their ranks and helped form the American Toleration and Reform party. The party’s main goals were the disestablishment of the Congregational church, creation of a state constitution, and a lessening of the suffrage requirements. Oliver Wolcott and Jared Ingersoll were put up as the party’s candidates in 1816. Wolcott, once hated by the Republicans as a Federalist was accepted as a result of his pro-administration stand on the war of 1812. Federalists put up Smith and Goddard with a platform that was exceedingly defensive in tone and antinational in character. The results of the election were close. Smith won the Governor’s polition, but Ingersoll (the Tolerationist) took the lieutenant governor’s polition. In a sweeping victory, eightyfive Tolerationists were elected to the lower house that year.

With a strong Tolerationist house and a Tolerationist lieutenant governor the Federalists decided to “give in” on some issues. In one particular instance Federalists decided to give state money collected by the state from the sale of Western Pennsylvania lands to dissenting churches. Although the action was designed to placate the interests of the Tolerationists, few Tolerationists as well as Federalists were pleased. Tolerationists would not be happy until disestablishment was accomplished.

In 1817, Wolcott was elected by a small margin over Smith, At hearing of this news many Federalists left politics or the state altogether. Noah Webster, for instance, left for New Hampshire and lost interest in politics. The Tolerationists still believed, however, that Wolcott was not to be given full faith. In September, 1817 he proved their fears correct when he began to stress his nonpartisanship. Wolcott was a shrewd politician whose intent was to unify both parties with efforts at compromise and nonpartisanship. These compromises dismayed the Tolerationists because they did not disestablish the church, or create a constitution. Wolcott planned, instead, to: 1) make judgeships a lifetime nonpartisan position; 2) exempt manufacturing workers from the poll tax and military service; and 3) retain the collection of tithes. Many Tolerationists could not accept Wolcott’s moderate nonpartisan politics. A Constitutional Convention became a serious consideration. The Tolerationist town of Cheshire started the ball rolling for the convention when they selected delegates. Most towns followed suit.

All seemed lost for the Federalists by 1818. They did not propose a Federalist candidate, and for the first time in Connecticut history an Episcopalian had given the Election Day address. Many Federalists were even willing to consider the need for a Constitution. The Convention was called in Hartford “to remove the disgrace created by the earlier Federalist Hartford Convention.” 24 After three weeks of deliberation the Convention reached a set of compromises which seemed to please most political views. These are some of the major resolves of the Convention: the old rights of the towns were guaranteed, representation stayed the same, the disestablishment of the church was completed, there was no display of anticlericalism, and the powers of the government were divided and worded in a simple manner so that little interpretation would have to be made by the courts. The action of these compromises may seem like simple politica to us looking at them from the 20th century, but they were difficult to make. The acceptance of compromise gave both poligical parties hope of existence, for some part of each side of their views remained intact. Never before in Connecticut’s history had such a compromise been wrought through the uses of party politics. Parties could now exist side by side without the fervent belief that the opponent must be destroyed.

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It took quite some time for Connecticut to reach that point of political acceptance. Political leaders formed parties early on in the mid l8th century as a result of economic, political and religioua conflict and as a reaction to rule by an establishment. It was hard for the colonists to form and accept political parties. At first they began to attack their opponents with the hope of destroying them. To survive the conflict each party gradually took on the practices and philosophies of their opponents. For instance, Federalists by 1818 began to campaign like Jeffersonians, soliciting for votes, a practice unheard of in Federalist circles in 1788. Similarly, Federalists by 1810, took on the state-rights position they despised in 1788. Democratic-Republicans, on the other hand, offered patronage positions in the early 1800’s as they attacked Federalists for doing the same. Once these practices were accepted it made it easier for the groups to compromise. Ths compromise produced the acceptance of two political parties. Such a system, contrary to the belief of our founding fathers produced consensus politics which did reflect the needs of the commonwealth.

Connecticut in a National Perspective

Political parties formed in Connecticut in a manner similar to the national experience. Parties throughout the country, as in Connecticut, divided over issues of religion, economics, and government by an establishment. For instance, most conflicts which polarized lower house members in the state government in the years preceeding the Constitution centered on religious issues instigated by the Great Awakening.25 Economic conflict persisted in many states over property taxation. Anti-establishment politics existed in America as early as the formation of first governments. Virginia, for instance, divided its two houses between those who were thought of as “in” and those “out” of power.

Connecticut parties formed early in American history, but took a longer time to achieve acceptance than those in other states not until after the Convention of 1818. This slowness to accept political parties might be explained by Connecticut’s abundance of political conservatives and strength of religious orthodoxy. One historian has attributed this conservatism to Connecticut’a tremendous out-migration.26 The Turnerian thesis would hold that this exodus permeitted conservatism because most of the dissidents left the state. For a full discussion of the Turner Thesis and its application to Connecticut, see Unit VI in this volume. Whatever the cause, Connecticut did have many articulate conservatives like Noah Webster and Timothy Dwight who continually preached against the horrors of political parties. The profuse existence of this negative philosophy may have deterred party formation and acceptance in Connecticut.

On both the national level and in Connecticut, parties were not created to destroy the government. As parties developed, although they were hell bent to destroy one another, they remained loyal to the country. This political anomaly, which is radically different from most world experiences, can, I think be explained by this country’s intense hatred for political parties. Although other countries had a similar distrust for parties, they did not have an intense hatred for them. Political philosophy was to subordinate conflict for the common good in America. In reality, this philosophy broke down early in America, but it was not forgotten. Rather than subvert their consensus ideal, Americans created political parties which would allow loyal conflict to exist. Besides allowing the ideal to exist, loyal opposition serves two important functions for the American political system: 1) it encourages people to remain fairly active in politics because it provides them with a stable outlet for their political desires, 2) it removes the possibility of political stagnation by one party or one form of government because it always suggests a conflict or an alternative.

Why Two Parties?

Recent scholarship on the existence of political parties in America has touched upon another anomaly typical in the American experience the existence of two parties. V. O. Key and Frank Sorauf submit that there is no one factor which has predisposed America to be a two party society. Some factors do, however, support the existence of a twoparty system more than others. In summary there are four major factors which seem to explain the existence of two parties in America: 1) our English background gave the colonists intellectual baggage which supports the continual existence of two parties, Whigs and Tories. Even in Connecticut colonists began to divide into groups of what they considered to be Whigs and Tories in the 1760’s and 1770’s. 2) Institutional factors which necessitate an election won by the majority vote of the people supports the existence of two parties. It is far easier for a majority vote to be agreed upon when two parties are involved than when more than two are involved. 3) The existence of single member districts forces the winning of only one party. 4) Social factors influence the existence of two parties. In a society with marred or hidden class consciousness the stakes in politics are smaller and the kinds of tolerance, compromise and confession necessary for a two party system to exist are easily attainable.27

Study of Joel Barlow and Noah Webster

One way of understanding the complexities of party development is to study some of the writings and lives of some of the party’s members. In Connecticut there were a variety of writers who produced party polemic. Among them are Noah Webster, Timothy Dwight, Roger Griswold (Federalists); Joel Barlow, Emphraim Kirby, and Abraham Bishop (Democratic-Republicans). All of them present articulate views of party development and differences. Although literature from each party was tainted with anti-party philosophy, the most harsh anti-party sentiments were expressed by Federalists. Democratic-Republicans, on the other hand, tended to emphasize egalitarianism, and were more tolerant of parties. This section sketches an outline of the lives of Moah Webster and Joel Barlow in an attempt to illuminate the contemporary political philosophies in early America. Joel Barlow was selected for two reasons: 1) he changed his partisanship during his life, and 2) he is known as one of the most influential American liberals of the years between the end of the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Noah Webster was selected for his intense conservative Federalist philosophies about political parties. Both men will reflect what it was like to be caught in the nexus of early political parties.

Noah Webster (1758-1843)

Noah Webster is probably remembered more for his dictionary than for his political philosophies. Nonetheless, Webster did write many political statements which were taken as views of the Federalist party.

Webster was born in what is now West Martford on October 16th, 1758, and attended Yale from 1774-1778. During his school days, Webster, a fervent patriot, set off to fight at Saratoga but was dismayed when the battle wss finished before he got there. It was not until 1785 that Webster wrote his first political pamphlet “Sketches of American Foreign Policy,” which helped shape the developing principles of the Constitution. Webster maintained throughout his life that he abhorred parties and was a non-partisan-though moat considered him to be a Federalist. Geroge Washington, was to Webster, the symbol of true Americanism.28

In his History of Political Parties (1843) (see section in Appendix D) Webster concisely articulates the Federalist abhorrance of political parties and fear of the Democratic-Republicans. The work, he said, was written to “record my testimony against the audacious practice of publishing misrepresentationa for party purposea. In short, this practice frustrates the great object of a rePublican government, by subjecting our citizens to the sway of some petty oligarchy, changeable every four years.” Webster lays the blame for political party development on the structure of the Constitution and on the desires of selfish men.

Joel Barlow (1754-1812)

Joel Barlow was a Connecticut born poet, writer, and diplomat who was considered one of the most influential American liberals between the Revolution and the War of 1812. Between 1783 and 1787 Barlow was a member of the Hartford Wits a group of Yale poets who were motivated not only by a love of literature but also by their Revolutionary past. Their goal was to initiate a national literature that would reflect American principles and accomplishments. Their work praised the institutions of the United States and the cause of human rights while attacking the beliefs of the anti-establishment (Anti-Federalists). Barlow was a true Federalist who had a deep desire for national unity. According to Barlow this desire could be fulfilled through the publication of literature which glorified the American past and brought hope to its future. One auch work published by Barlow was Vision of Columbus (1787), a nine book epic in which an angel exhibits America to Columbus as the harbinger of universal peace. The work received acclaim, though much of it was uncritical.

Barlow’s perochial American perspective widened when he moved to France in 1788 to work for the Soioto Land Company. While in France he made little money for the land speculation company, but made a great deal for himself. Between 1790 and 1792 he lived in London and set his literary sights on an attack an the established church, feudal property rights, and monarchism in his pamphlet Advice to the Privileged Orders (1792). In that same year Barlow changed his partisanship to Democratic-Republican. Barlow changed parties for two reasons: 1) he agreed with the Democratic-Republican sympathies for the French Revolution, and 2) he believed that the Federalists of 1792 were not the same party as they were in 1788, but has become monarchists and apologists for the decadent British cause.29

At the prodding of Thomas Jefferson, a close friend, Barlow began to work on a history of the United States in 1810 which would “serve as an antidote to the Federalist history now in print.” By the time of his death, Barlow had finished only three small sections of the work. (See in Appendix E). The work well articulates the Republican spirit of the time. In the first section Berlow attacks the Federalists of 1810 as hypocrites to their name. To Barlow the Democratic-Republicans had become the true Federalists of 1788. In section two of the work Barlow demonstrates the Democratic-Republican propensity to accept experiment in govornment. Federalists, on the other hand, as we had seen through Webster prefer experience over experiment.30

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Classroom Strategies and Classroom Activities

This section will briefly outline how I intend to get this material across to students. The plans included here ambitiously cover, for some teachers and students, too much in a short period of time; teachers are advised to use their own discretion and the understanding of their students to shape the unit to fit their needs. After a weekly outline of plans, I provide a set of three sample classroom activities.

Week 1 After the distribution of packet material, students will begin to discover the precise meaning of “political party.” They will, in small discussion groups, address the questions of “what is a political party? What are some of its characteristics? What are some of its characteristics? What are its purposes?” After a consensus is achieved as to a class definition, I will have them read an 18th century definition and ask if there is may difference between their definition and the one of the 18th century. After students have formulated two distinct definitions they will be asked to write an essay which shows the difference between these definitions.

After the formulation of a conceptual framework, I will teach material on the evolution of Connecticut political parties. Students will engage in readings and analyze Noah Webster’s “History of Political Parties” (small sections). Webater clearly articulates a typical 18th century hatred for political parties. Students will be presented with an enigma “If famous people like Noah Webster hated politicsl parties, why do you think they developed?” Once early national Connecticut history has been studied, students will begin study of the lives and writings of Noah Webster and Joel Barlow. Joel Barlow. Joel Barlow will provide good sumary of 18th and early 19th century anti-establishment statements. Students will search local newspapers for evidence of anti-establishment statements in local or national present day campaigns.

Week 2 Students will continue work on early Connecticut political leaders. They will engage in a debate of Federalist versus DemocraticRepublican after an orientation to and readings on issues which divided the early Connecticut electorate. Students will then be introduced to early methods of party orginization and publicity. Students will be asked to create a Federalist and Democratic-Republican newspaper which “puffs” some Connecticut candidate. Students will search local newspapers for present day examples of political “puffs.”

Week 3 Students will study political rhetoric from 1800-1818. Students will be asked to address the question “What are the differences and/or similarities between rhetoric of the earlier time period and the later time period?” Local politicians will be asked to address the class on their political viewpoints and on the differences between the two parties and on 20th century political issues. Students will be asked to draw analogies from past study of Connecticut political parties and issues. Students will study recent student council elections and try to draw parallel themes with national, local or historical party politics.

Classroom Activities

1) Objective: Students will be able to present orally both sides of a hypothetical debate between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans concerning issues of the early 19th century in Connecticut.
Activity After students are presented with substantive material on issues dividing Connecticut in the early 19th century, have students clasaify which issues are of most concern to what party. After classifying have students write the party stance for each issue. Have students divide issues politics. Have students select by “stand up” voting the issue to be first debated. Select four debaters, a time keeper, and a room of judges. (Activity assumes previous debate orientation.)
2) Objective: Students will be able to make analogies between present and past historical parties of Connecticut.
Activity After students have a good working knowledge of the history of Connecticut parties, have students begin to search present day newspapers, magazines, etc. for recurrent themes that precipitated the development of parties. e.g., anti-establishment, economic conflict, religious issues, etc. Make sure students take good notes on this material. Have them prove in a good argumentative essay that an analogy can be made between a party of the past and one of the present. Be sure to instruct students that analogies need supporting evidence from each era.
3) Objective: Students will be able to analyize the political rhetoric of early political writers of the 19th century.
Activity Have stsdenta read either Barlow’s work or Webster’s in a small group with assigned tasks. Tell all students they are to be able to understand the document they are reading and they are to be able to formulate as a group a one sentence summay of it. Have one student of each group be responsible for dictionary aid, have another take notes, and a third read. After students have summarized the work, ask them to read biographical material on Barlow or Webster. Ask students to address this question: “How are the authors’ lives reflected in their writings?”

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Political Party (20th-century definition)

Political Party (18th-century definition)


Deference Politics




Toleration Party

Constitutional Convention of 1818

Commonwealth Ideal




Anti-establishment party

Political Alienation

Voter Alignment

Party System




Political Puff

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Parties Issues
1750-60s Faction Based Politics
1763 New vs Old Lights Religion
Great Awakening Land Claims
1770s Whigs vs Tories British Rule
1780s Anti-Establishment vs Taxation
Establishment Nationalism
1790s Anti Federalists vs Federalists Clericalism
1800 Democratic-
Republicans vs Certification
1808 Embargo
1812 War
1815 Clericalism
1817 Tolerationist vs Federalists Constitution

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Timothy Pickering to C. C. Pinckney May 25th, 1800
Indignation and disgust,—these are and long have been my feelings towards Mr. Adams: disgust at his intolerable vanity; indignation for the disgrace and mischief which his conduct has brought on the cause of Federalism and the country . . . If you were to scan his actions minutely, you would find them influenced by selfishness, ambition and revenge; that his heart is cankered with envy, and deficient in sincerity; that he is blind, stone blind, to his own faults and failings, and incapable of discerning the vices and defects of his family connections.

Pickering to Rufus King March 4, 1804
I am disgusted with the men who now rule, and with their measures. At some manifestations of their malignancy, I am shocked. The cowardly wretch at their head, while, like a Parisian revolutionary monster, prating about humanity, would feel an infernal pleasure in the utter destruction of his opponents.

Governeur Morris to Moss Kent January 15, 1815
You will have seen that the Hartford Convention have been prudent. Their doings bring to mind one of La Fontaine’s fables. A Council of rats being convoked to devise measures of defence against feline depredations, a sleek young member was much applauded for proposing to tie a bell round puss’s neck, which giving reasonable notice of her approach, would enable every one to take care of himself. Before the question was put, an old rat (addressing the chair) said, “I too, sir, entirely approve of our young friend’s proposal, but wish, before I vote, to know who will fasten the bell.”

Documents take from

Henry Adams (ed.) Documents Relating to New England Federalism, 1800-1815, New York, Burt Franklin, 1877.

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A Federalist View of the Origins of Political Parties



The origin of the two great political parties which have agitated the United states for half a century; the causes which have produced and sustained them; and their injurious effects upon public measures—are subjects of deep interest to the citizens of our confederacy. As it has fallen to my lot to be well acquainted with the origin and history of these parties, it may be interesting to the present generation, most of whom have been born since they originated, to see a brief narrative of facts relating to their origin, their respective motives and measures of policy, and to their influence in disturbing public harmony, embarrassing our national councils, and interrupting the prosperity of the country.

The division of the citizens of the United States into two political parties originated in principle or honest views; at least with a great portion of those citizens; but when formed these parties were converted into the instruments of personal ambition.

The principal cause of the parties now existing in this country, and one which will endure as long as the constitution, is the election of the chief magistrate. The power of the president to appoint most of the officers of government, and to remove them at pleasure, gives to him, and to the candidates for that office, almost unlimited influence, and means of corruption; and we are not to suppose that such means will be neglected. While these powers are vested in that magistrate, our country will never cease to be harassed with scrambling for offices, and violent political agitations. And if corruption is used, it is the corruption of the citizens on whom depends the election of the president; and the chief magistrate, elected by a party, will usually or always be the president of a party, rather than of the nation.

Parties, to some extent, will exist in all free governments; but in this country, the constitution, the fundamental form of government, is adapted to call them into existence, and perpetuate them. The powers of the president for appointing and removing officers, are sources of endless contentions in election; contentions which will produce every species of corruption, sometimes violence, and always instability of public measures. With these provisions in the constitution, such evils can no more be prevented by prohibitions and penalties, than the laws of gravity can be suspended by human power. In this assertion, I am warranted by the whole tenor of the divine oracles, in the description of the character of man; by the history of mankind from Adam to this day, every chapter of which verifies the Scriptures; and by the observations of every man who has lived half a century. The reason is obvious; government is restraint; but our constitution, instead of restraining the selfishness and ambition of men, those unconquerable passions which occasion the principal political disorders, presents the most powerful motives to excite them into action. The emoluments of office operate as bounties to excite and encourage factions.

These are some of the principal causes which rend our nation into irreconcilable parties, frustrating all efforts at union, and with the collision of interests growing out of the diffent circumstances of the states, defeat all attempts to establish a permanent system of laws and measures of general utility, which are demanded by all our national interests.

Thus it happens that some of the provisions of the constitution, intended to be the principal means of securing popular rights, on republican principles, become the instruments of interminable discord.

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The Republican Perspective on the Evolution of Political Parties

When the federal constitution of the United States had been framed by a National Convention and proposed to the consideration of the people, its adoption became an object of deep solicitude to those who understood it, and of real interest to the world at large. It was recommended by a majority of our enlightened citizens, though it was opposed by a minority respectable both for their numbers and talents. Its merits were at that time u(n)folded and the arguments for its ratification inforced with singular energy in a set of papers called The Federalist, first published in New York in the year 1788.

The title of that memorable and meritorious work gave name at the time to a numerous portion of our leading men who declared themselves friends to the constitution. While they were denominated federal, it seemed natural to fix upon their opponents an opposite appellation; and those who voted against the adoption of the constitution were called antifederal.

Such was the state of parties, and such the names by which they were designated, during the discussions on the question of ratifying the constitution. Nor did they materially change for two or three years after it had recieved the sanction of the people and had begun its operation in the hands of the national government.

It is no part of my present object to develop that interesting and instructive portion of our history which followed those events and occupied the last ten years of the eighteenth century. It is well known that during that period the word federalist underwent a total change of meaning in its sectarian use, as applied to a political party in this country. Instead of designating a friend to our federal system, which naturally supposes a republican, it now designates a monarchist; a doubtful friend if not an enemy of republican principles, and of all representative government.

By monarchist however I do not necessarily mean royalist, or the adherent of a kingly goverment exclusively. Monarchia, unum imperium, signifies one integral dominion. In this country it would signify an amalgamation of the several states into one great state; which great state, administered by a single magistrate, whatever were his title, would be a monarchy, in the sense in which I use the word.

I must also apprise the reader that I am far from ascribing any dishonest views to the monarchists of of the United States. I consider them as sincere in acting from their opinions as I wish them to consider me in announcing my own in the course of these essays. They doubtless believe that a monarchy is the best form of government. I believe a federal and representative system the best, especially for this country. Let us however live in good fellowship, and in the free exchange of opinions; it is a commerce that may be advantageous to both parties.

Many of the old antifederal men, without changing their principles have changed their denomination, and now call themselves federalists; while most of the genuine federalists of 1788 (who are still the same, being friends of the federal constitution) are no longer called by that name. These call themselves republicans; their opposers stile them democrats.

Names are of so much importance in political discussion that it is doubtless to be regretted that the republicans ever consented to give up their ancient denomination of federalists. To them it exclusively belonged and was appropriated; to them in its true sense it still belongs; they have uniformly supported the federal constitution under all the shocks it has recieved from its enemies who have usurbed its name. It is probable that the danger to which the cause of liberty has been exposed in this country has been greatly owing to this deceptive denomination of parties. The name of federalism was inviting, it was analogous to our situation; it was constitutional and patriotic. The effect therefore of yielding it up to be exclusively assumed by the secret friends of monarchy was powerful; it drew after them for a while a majority of the citizens of the United States. And there is no wonder that in this case it should take the great mass of the people several years to learn to discriminate between men and things, and to find out the true object their leaders were driving at, so as to leave them to the natural strength of their own little party.

In fact the delusion is not yet destroyed. A vast plurality of those who still vote with the monarchists under their federal disguise, are in reality true republicans; and they would have always remained with us, had we retained our original and true denomination, which our oppenents have usurped.

Would it be advisable at this day for the republicans to resume their rights in this respect, and take back the name they never ought to have resigned.20 (P)erhaps not; but I have a reason which I hope will be satisfactory for resuming it myself, as a writer on this occasion. Being a genuine federalist of the school of 1788 I am going to invite the attention of my countrymen to a few essays on the present and approaching condition of the United States, considered in their federal capacity.

My predecessor the Federalist of 1788 showed the importance of adopting the constitution; my object is to show the importance of preserving it. I shall endeavor to do this in as clear and concise a manner as the disultory nature of newspaper discussion will admit, by dividing the general subject into something like the following sections. 1 The nature of our political system considered under its two great characteristic features, representation and federalunion. It’s capacity of extension, of affording protection to the citizens, of protecting itself, of encouraging the development of the human faculties and virtues of communicating by the influence of example its own pacific principles to other nations, and civilization to other governments. 2 The best means of ameliorating our political system. Exterior defence—interior improvements—arts and sciences—education—new settlements—how far our federal system may be extended geographically—how far its administration may be improved— what are the dangers that now threaten it, or will assail it hereafter.21

Many subordinate topics will necessarily branch out from these general heads. A wide range should be indulged in the history of other goverments and the progress of the social arts within those ages to which our histories reach, as well as a view of the capacity of the same social arts for farther advancement. So that the prospect in which we expatiate may be duly compared with the retrospect, in which there is no deception.

My attachment to the leading principles of our present constitution, it will be percieved, arises to enthusiasm. I have not eloquence enough to impart this enthusiasm to the reader; but I hope to engage him to form some estimate of so important an object, and to search with candor the means of preserving if not improving it.

I apprehend no immediate danger of a dismemberment of the empire from the audacity of a few daring adventurers whose views are understood.22 But I would guard against such attempts in future by the best of possible precautions, by making it more and more the interest of every description of citizens to cherish the federal union, and by enabling them more and more to descern that interest.

It is easy to percieve an immense weight of duty lying upon the present generation. It is not difficult to foresee the fatal result of negligence, should it be indulged; nor to anticipate the fruits of timely wisdom and a well directed attention to the unspeakable advantages that providence has placed within our power.

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1. Wesley R. Sager and Eugene Marr, Cognitive Skills Manual (Riverside, Ct., 1978).
2. A “declared electorate” is a group of voters who are willing to declarw their partisanship through voter registration.
3. Robert K. Carr, Marvin H. Bernstein, et. al., Essentials of American Democracy (Hinsdale, Illinois, 1973).
4. Jackson Turner Main, Political Parties Before the Constitution (Williamsburg, Virginia, 1973).
5. Webster’s New World Dictionary (New York, 1975).
6. Richard J. Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee, Character and the Social Order in Connecticut 1690-1765 (New York, 1970).
7. Oscar Zeichner, Connecticut’s Years of Controversy 1750-1776 (Richmond, Virginia, 1948).
8. Edmond Morgan, Biography of Erza Stiles (Chicago, )
9. Zeichner.
10. Ibid.
11. Bonnie Bromberger Collier, “ Connecticut’s Handing Order end its Political Opposition, 1785-1800.” Unpublished Master’s Thesis, University of
12. Ibid.
13. Connecticut Gazette, 1787, Ibid.
14. Collier, op. cit.
15. Ibid.
16. Noah Webster, Ibid.
17. Journal, Feb. 24, 1803 in The Public Records of the State of Connecticut, Volumme XI ed. by Christopher Collier (Hartford, 1967). p. xxi
18. Courant, Mar. 16, 23, 30, April 6, 1803, Ibid.
19. Richard Purcell, Connecticut in Transition, 1775-1818 Wesleyan, 1963.
20. Courant in Ibid.
21. Purcell.
22. Federalists, Republicans and Foreign Entanglements 1789-1815. ed. Robert McColley (Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1969).
23. Purcell.
24. Courant, 1818 in Purcell.
25. Main.
26. Lois Kimbull Nathews, The Expansion of New England, The
Spread of New England Settlements and Institutions to the Mississippi River, 1620-1865, (New York 1902).
27. V. C. Key, Jr., Politics, Parties, and Pressure Groups (New York, 1964). and Frank Sorauf, Political Parties in the American System (Boston, 1964).
28. John Morgan, Noah Webster (New York, 1975).
29. James Woodress, Yankee’s Odyssey: Life of Joel Barlow (Philadelphis, 1958).
30. Christine Lizanich, “The Harch of Government; Joel Barlow’s Unwritten History of the United States,” William and Mary Quarterly, 1975.

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A Selective Annotated Bibliography

+Banner, James. To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and The Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts (1782-1815) New York: Knopf. 1970. The most up to date work on party politics in Massachusetts, has a useful appendix which includes Connecticut statistics.

+ Collier, Bonnie. Unpublished Master’s Thesis. 1969 Fine treatment of the years between 1783-1800. Counters current scholarship on the lull of Party activity in the years following the Revolutionary War.

* Collier, Christopher. Bloody Country Narrative follows pioneers from Connecticut to the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania. Studies the problem of Federalism.

* Collier, Christopher. Winter Hero. Attempts to reveal the options available to abused citizens in a democratic regime.

++ Cuningham, Noble. The Jeffersonain Republicans: 1789-1801 Chapel Hill, North Carolina: North Carolina Press, 1963. Gives a good analysis of the rise of the Democratic-Republicans in a national perspective with emphasis on the role of the Press.

++ Formisano, Ronald. “Deferential Participant Politics.” American Political Science Review. June 1974. Incisive work which outlines the type of deference Politics existent in the early 19th century.

+ Hofstader, Richard. The Idea of a Party System. New York: Vintage Books. 1968.

+ Main, Jackson Turner. Political Parties Before the Constitution. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press. 1973. In a study of legislative voting patterns before the Revolution he finds early party divisions between localists and Cosmopolitans. Most states of the time are extensively treated.

+ Public Records of the State of Connecticut, Volume XI, ed. by Christopher Collier, Hartford. Connecticut State Library. 1967. In the introduction Collier gives a good discussion of party issues and development from 1800-1802.

+ Purcell, Richard. Connecticut in Transition 1775-1818. Wesleyan: Wesleyan Press. 1963.

+ Zeichner, Oscar. Connecticut’s Years of Controversy 1750-1776. Richmond, Virginia: William Byrd Press. 1946.

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