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The 1806 midterms: Federalist death spiral

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The Jeffersonian Revolution continued in the president’s second midterm. In the modern era, the second midterm for a two term president usually ends in disaster, but not for Jefferson. The opposition Federalists were in a party wide death spiral and the Democratic-Republican agenda remained popular. As a result, the party in power gained seats once again in both houses of congress despite overwhelming majorities.

The United States was predominantly rural in the first decade of the nineteenth century. The Democratic-Republican, or Democratic, Party played to the majority of the country with their agrarian based policies. Conversely, the Federalists appealed to the urban centers, which made them appear elitists that courted big money. By 1806, the Federalist power base had shrunk to New England while the Democrats drew from all quarters of the country.

The Democrats flexed their electoral muscles in every election from 1800-1804. They garnered a super-majority in both houses of congress. Their advantage had grown to such an extent, that electoral additions in 1806 did not seem possible. Despite this, the Democrats managed to gain two additional seats in the House of Representatives. The ruling party swept New Hampshire’s five seats and added one from Massachusetts. On the other side, the Federalists flipped one seat in Maryland and North Carolina and two in Pennsylvania. In the end, the Democrats held a 116-26 edge, or 82% of the seats, in the lower body.

Likewise, the Jeffersonians held a super-majority in the senate. Entering the midterms, the Democrats boasted a 20 seat edge, 27-7, over the Federalists. They added one seat to the majority in 1806. New Hampshire again provided the margin as it did in the house. Nahum Parker replaced George Logan for a 28-6 Democratic advantage in the upper chamber. As a result, the Federalists stood no chance of blocking Democratic Party initiatives for the remainder of Jefferson's term.

Congressional composition represented the agrarian majority in the early nineteenth century. Thomas Jefferson’s party held huge majorities in both houses of congress and managed to add to them in 1806. Generally, the second midterm for a two term president ends in disaster, but the Federalists had been marginalized. In less than a generation, the Federalist Party ceased to exist.

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