A Revolutionary and Unique System

Alexander Hamilton. By: Franklin Simmons.

The Federalists, in overseeing the creation of the modern political system, culminating in the Constitution, had inadvertently changed not only the structure of government but also the trajectory of American politics.

Throughout the debates surrounding the Constitution, the Federalists had effectively adopted many of the beliefs of their adversaries, the Antifederalists, and used those beliefs to the Federalists’ advantage. See Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 562. As Gordon Wood explained, “The result was the beginning of a hiatus in American politics between ideology and motives that was never again closed. By using the most popular and democratic rhetoric available to explain and justify their aristocratic system, the Federalists helped to foreclose the development of an American intellectual tradition in which differing ideas of politics would be intimately and genuinely related to differing social interests.” Id.

In this way, the Federalists had effectively created an American political theory that had not existed before, implementing many of the principles emerging during the Revolution, but the Federalists had also impoverished “later American political thought.” Id. The Federalists had incorporated so many of the political ideas formulated during the colonial era, which were disorganized and not captured fully in any of the state governments. See id. at 564. Only after the Federalists had put these pieces in place did they realize “just how revolutionary and how unique the new system they had created was.” Id.

As Gordon Wood explained in The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, the Federalists had implemented a system of politics that has largely remained unchanged. There would not be a party system where the political parties were keenly focused on having a linear agenda, promoting only the ideas of the social interests underlying their politics. Rather, political parties would resort to tactics such as tapping into populist tendencies and taking other parties’ resonating ideas and making them their own.

To thank the Federalists and remember their efforts in formulating a successful, if not slightly aristocratic, form of government is only recognizing part of the Federalists’ work. The Federalists had fundamentally changed how a government would operate, and more than that, the Federalists ensured that political parties would be crafty, malleable, and responsive to the people’s interests.

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