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In the long history of the United States, only one president, George Washington, did not represent a political party.

The Constitution that Washington helped draft in 1787, the Constitution our government still operates under today, makes no mention of political parties, and it clearly did not anticipate them. As originally ratified, the United States Constitution declared that the second-place vote getter in the presidential election would serve as vice president. It was not until 1804, with the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment, that this changed.

Political parties as we know them today began to take shape while Washington was in office. By 1793 or 1794 there was an emerging split between two distinct visions for the future of the country. Groups calling themselves Democratic Republican Societies began to appear in cities around the nation. They would form the nucleus of a formal, concerted opposition party, something that frightened many people, including Washington. 

Forming Parties

Only after Great Britain and revolutionary France went to war in 1793 did the Democratic Republican party really begin to form itself as a true opposition party in American politics, against what would become known as the Federalist Party. Some ongoing debates over domestic issues, like the creation of a national bank and other economic policies, became intertwined with divisive foreign-policy questions, such as whether the United States should enter the war on the side of the French Republic.

Explore the political rivalry between Jefferson and Hamilton

Washington and His Cabinet, from left to right: George Washington, Henry Knox, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and Edmund Randolph. Published by Currier & Ives, c. 1876. Library of Congress.

Washington's Role

Washington remained above the fray; he wanted to be a president of all the American citizens. The most important reason was he believed unity, not division, was necessary for a democratic republic to survive. Washington believed that political parties would divide and destroy the young United States.

His thought, in what became known as the Farewell Address in 1796, is clear: "the spirit of party"

serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.

Throughout his political life, and until his death in 1799, George Washington was confident that the country could and should function without the existence of political parties.

Learn More about the First President

Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, c. 1798, MVLA, H-4/A-B, Gift of Caroline H. Richardson, 1904.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson questioned Hamilton's plan for funding and considered the Bank of the United States unconstitutional. He also supported an alliance with France against Hamilton who favored closer ties with Great Britain. Jefferson also believed Federalists were bent on restoring a monarchy in the United States.

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Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton was appointed secretary of the treasury and sought to create a stable financial foundation for the nation and increase the power of the central government. Hamilton’s opponents, led by Jefferson and Madison, believed his policies dangerously empowered the central government and favored the rich over yeoman farmers. 

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10 Facts about President Washington's Election

On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the first president. The path to the presidency, and the task of leading a new nation, was uncharted territory for which there was no precedent

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An Imperfect Election

Two centuries ago, citizens of the new United States were quite uncertain of the outcome during the first election in 1789. Everyone expected George Washington to win the election, but an equally important question remained unanswered: would he accept the job?

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The First Cabinet

George Washington's cabinet, the country's first, only included four members: the secretary of state, secretary of treasury, secretary of war, and the attorney general.

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Washington's Farewell Address

Washington warned the nation of political parties in his Farewell Address, published in newspapers across the country in 1796. He feared that partisanship would lead to a “spirit of revenge” in which party members would not govern for the good of the people, but for power.

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