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The 1802 midterms: Federalist disaster

Speaker of the House Nathaniel Macon served from 1801-1807.
Speaker of the House Nathaniel Macon served from 1801-1807.
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The Democratic-Republicans won a sweeping victory over the Federalists in the 1800 elections. Thomas Jefferson assumed the presidency and his party grabbed power in both houses of congress. Little did anyone realize, but the Federalist Party was gasping for air. The party’s embrace of the Alien and Sedition Acts combined with a younger, more libertarian electorate undercut its base of support. The 1802 off year elections continued the Federalist slide into the abyss.

The Constitution requires a decennial census take place. The first census in 1790 recorded nearly 4 million Americans. The population grew by 1.4 million by 1800, which represents a 35% increase over 10 years. That would be the equivalent of nearly 100 million people today. Most of these new citizens resided in rural areas and states that leaned Democratic.

The Democratic-Republican Party was the forerunner of today’s Democrats. They advocated smaller government and supported agrarian interests. On the other hand, the Federalists believed in an activist government in the economic realm. The Federalist message was beginning to fall on deaf ears as the population expanded and the country grew more distrustful of centralized government.

The population increase led to 36 new house seats. As a result, both parties gained seats in the House of Representatives. However, the Federalists were skunked in the polling while the Democrats found themselves with a supermajority. The opposition added exactly one seat to increase their representation to 39. Meanwhile, the party in power increased their majority with 35 additional seats. The Democrats gained four or more seats in New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Kentucky. No Democratic state delegation witnessed a decrease in members. Federalist gains were offset by losses elsewhere. In the end, Jefferson’s party held a 103-39 advantage in the House of Representatives after the midterms.

Success in the house translated to the senate. State legislatures picked U.S. Senators at this time and they truly represented the people in 1802. The Democrats held a slim 17-15 edge in the upper chamber entering the midterms. One year later, their lead increased to 25-9. It was lonely to be a Federalist in Washington D.C.

The Democratic-Republicans, or Democrats, won a sweeping midterm election victory in 1802. They created supermajorities in both houses of congress. Meanwhile, the Federalist Party began to slip into irrelevance and extinction. They overreached with the Alien and Sedition Acts, lost the 1800 election, and then lost the battle for the hearts and minds of younger and rural Americans. The decline continued into the 1804 election as a wildly successful President Jefferson sought re-election and the Federalist leader lost his life.