The Election of 1796: The Federalists vs. Democratic Republicans

Hello and welcome to another edition of the presidential election articles and today will be focusing on the 1796 election; George Washington is leaving after two successful terms and the political woes that’ve been building up for years are now taking center stage in the first ever contested presidential election in U.S. History.

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Washington Bids Farewell

After giving his famous farewell address to the American People, George Washington steps down after eight solid years that have seen him and his allies create a blueprint for the nation while also setting the foundation for many political roles within the executive branch.

While Washington’s time in office did see a period of unity for the new country at least for the most part, the storm clouds of political partisanship have already began despite the president’s warnings against them and by 1796 the Federalist Party and Democratic Republicans have been preparing themselves for this moment.

Now, let’s take a look the two political parties that are involved in this election as well as their ideologies and the candidates who are running to become the new Commander-in-Chief.

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The Federalists 

The first political party will be focusing on are the Federalist Party who are the incumbents so to speak as many of the party’s key figures like John Adams and Alexander Hamilton held high positions in Washington’s adminstration.

Members of the Federalist Party believe in the policies of a strong federal government and economic growth through a national bank and this ideology that has been seen for much of late 1780’s to early 1790’s thanks to the aforementioned Hamilton being the Secretary of the Tresurary in the Washington adminsration.

As the first contested election in 1796 begins, all of the candidates running in this race are pretty much running their own campaigns even though they all belong to one of the two political parties.

The Federalists candidates running in this election were:

  • John Adams: Incumbent Vice President
  • Charles Pinckney: U.S. Minster of France
  • Samuel Johnston: Former Senator and Governor of North Carolina
  • John Jay: Governor of New York
  • Oliver Ellsworth: Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Thomas Pinckney: Governor of South Carolina
  • James Irdell: The Associate Justice from North Carolina

Now let’s take a look at the Democratic Republicans…

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Democratic Republicans 

On the opposite side you have the Anti-Federalists also known as the Democratic Republicans which was created by then Congressmen James Madison and Washington’s former Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson who believed that the federal government should have a limited role in power while also opposing the idea of a national bank; They also believed in the ideas of expanding America’s Influence and agrarianism (aka small farming) while also supporting the French Revolution which had previously occurred in 1792.

Speaking of 1792, that was the year in which Washington was persuaded to run for a second term and Thomas Jefferson was going to run for the Vice Presidency in order to unseat John Adams, but that was prevented by way of the constitution saying that voters couldn’t elect two people who come from the same place as both Jefferson and Washington hailed from Virginia.

The candidates running for the presidency and vice presidency for the Democratic Republicans are:

  • Thomas Jefferson: Former Secretary of State
  • Aaron Burr: Senator of New York
  • George Clinton: Former Governor of New York
  • Samuel Adams: Governor of Massachusetts and cousin of John Adams
  • John Henry: Senator from Maryland

While all of the candidates on both sides were looking to become President and or Vice President, most of their support was towards John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who seemed to be the front runners for their respective parties.

Now as we get underway with the election, let’s discuss some of the attacks that both sides are using against each other…

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Political Attacks 

Most people tend to believe that the elections back in the day were more civil than the politics were have today but that simply isn’t the case as this election proves that negativity and mudslinging have been a part of politics for a very long time.

The Federalists are making claims that the Democratic Republicans and Jefferson especially were too supportive of France even going so far as to favor the violence that’s taking place within the French Revolution. There also attacking Jefferson’s views on religion claiming that he was an Atheist, which wouldn’t go over well with many religious voters in some very important swing states.

The Democratic Republicans for their part are hitting back with claims that the Federalist were cozying up to Great Britain and there are also using Jay’s Treaty which eased tensions with Britain and the United States to back up these ideas that the Federalists will turn the United States into a monarchy or aristocracy like much like Britain.

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Hamilton’s Plan  

Before we get into the results of this election, we need to bring up another person who will play a key role in this election and that would be none other than Alexander Hamilton.

Despite being a member of the Federalist Party, Alexander Hamilton had concocted a plan that would’ve denied John Adams the opportunity to become president as some political disagreements were dividing both Hamilton and Adams.

Hamilton’s plan was to persuade enough voters to cast their votes not for Adams but for Jefferson, with the hope that Jefferson would get enough votes to become the vice president thereby denying John Adams the chance to keep his old job. Not only that but the other part of this plan would see fellow Federalist, Thomas Pinckney got enough votes to become the president since some Democratic Republicans liked Pinckney and felt that he could be the one to keep the two political parties from further dividing themselves and the country as a whole.

In other words, this would prevent Adams from winning while also making sure that some mutual bipartisanship could be reached between the two political parties…But did the plan work? Well for that answer, let’s look at the results and see how everything turned out.

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The Electoral Results & the 12th Amendment

By the time all of the votes are counted for, John Adams emerged as the winner with 71 electoral votes making him the first vice president to become president in U.S. history.

Thomas Jefferson walks away with 68 electoral votes leaving him in second place which means that Hamilton got his wish…sort of; You see back in those days the runner up in the election would become the vice president and with Jefferson in second place in the election this now meant that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson will be working to together as president and vice presidnet for the next four years…which is going to be an absolute disaster.

Thomas Pinckney came in third with 59 electoral votes, Aaron Burr came in fourth receiving 30 electoral votes and all the other candidates either got 15 or least votes.

Because of the results of this election, the 12th Amendment would soon be ratified into the constitution to prevent something like this from happening again, however that ratification wouldn’t happen until 1804, so we have time for one more election where the results will be heavily scrutinized, but more on that in the next article.

So that was the election of 1796, a controversial finish that will see two men from two different political parties working side-by-side for four years, but the madness is only going to get crazier by the time we head into the election of 1800.

Be sure to come back in two weeks for the next presidential election, but if you are interested in learning more about U.S. political history on this site, be sure to check the links below to read more about that:

The Election of 1792: Washington Wins A Second Term:

The Election Of 1792: Washington Gets A Second Term | Lace ‘Em Up (

The Election of 1788-89: The Election That Started It All:

The Election Of 1788-89: The Election That Started It All | Lace ‘Em Up (

If you like this kind of content, be sure to leave your thoughts down below in the comment section and be sure to follow Lace ‘Em Up on Twitter @laceemupoffice and you can follow me also on Twitter @hakeemfullerton and I’ll see you in the next article.

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