Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Young, Alfred F., 1925-2012||Evans, Emory G.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of History


Political parties--Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania--Politics and government--1775-1865


In a series of essays some fifty years ago, Charles A. Beard proposed that the "origins of Jeffersonian Democracy" are to be found in the continuing conflict between "capitalistic and agrarian interests," fundamentally the same division that existed over the adoption of the Constitution. The Federalists, Beard maintained, who included security-holding merchants, traders, shippers, and manufacturers, were the immediate beneficiaries of the Constitution. They were opposed by landed agrarian interests who did not derive the same benefits. Hamiltonian finance, he argued, represented a direct bid for support to the government of capitalistic interests in the seaboard towns. It was these measures which resulted in the first opposition to the establishment of the new government. The Bank issue in particular, he concluded, led to party lines being more clearly drawn while economics of Jay's Treaty in 1795-96 led to the first Federalist party defection. This study tests the validity of Beard's thesis of party development, by examining the response of the Merchant-Republicans of one city, Philadelphia, to Hamiltonian finance between 1789-1794. A very active merchant wing in Philadelphia, together with members of the professional classes, controlled the destiny of the city's Republican party. The ethnic, religious, and political background of merchants was examined to see if a causal pattern existed. It is contended that the Democratic Republican movement in Philadelphia, and more especially "Merchant-Republicanism" was a product of Hamiltonian finance. Merchant defection from the Federalist party was due more to these issues than to the crisis in foreign affairs in 1794-1796. The issues of the 1790's were old ones; therefore, existing differences to state issues in Pennsylvania help explain the city's response to national politics. The recent scholarship of Harry M. Tinkcom and Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., on the Republican party, it is suggested, warrants revision. They assumed that what happened on the national level meant the same thing at the local and state levels, without actually examining local politics. Findings show that Beard's construction and definition of party conflict along the lines of "capitalism vs. agrarianism" to be based on incomplete evidence; there was no compact mass of capitalistic interests. His interpretation was oversimplified in explaining party development in Philadelphia; parties were far more complex and less homogeneous. The Republican party cut across conventional lines of economic, occupational, ethnic, and religious groupings. Beard failed to comprehend merchant defection which was fostered by the Hamilton programs of funding, banking, and the excise tax. A large percentage of Republican merchants were Irish or Scotch-Irish, and some were Quakers. Politically, "Jeffersonian Merchants" were motivated by their whig traditions and general anti-British feelings, but they were extremely active, appearing on the committees and as the party's candidates for state and national office. Lastly, Beard's contention that the mechanics played a small role in party development has been proven to be groundless. It is hoped that this study will help fill the gaps left in local urban studies, and contribute to clearing up some of the mysteries behind the origins of early national political parties.


Includes bibliographical references.||Pages out of order: pages v-xviii are after page xix.


xix, 285 pages




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