Republicans, led by Madison and Jefferson, were more sympathetic to France than the Federalists and had more faith in democratic self-government. They drew their support from an unusual alliance of wealthy southern planters and ordinary farmers throughout the country. Enthusiasm for the French Revolution increasingly drew urban artisans into Republican ranks as well. Republicans preferred what a New Hampshire editor called the “boisterous sea of liberty” to the “calm of despotism.” They were far more critical than the Federalists of social and economic inequality, and more accepting of broad democratic participation as essential to freedom.
Each emerging party considered itself the representative of the nation and the other an illegitimate “faction.” As early as 1792, Madison composed an imaginary dialogue between spokesmen for the two groups. The Federalist described ordinary people as “stupid, suspicious, licentious” and accused the Republican of being “an accomplice of atheism and anarchy.” The latter called the Federalist an opponent of liberty and “an idolater of tyranny.”
In real life, too, political language became more and more heated. Federalists denounced Republicans as French agents, anarchists, and traitors. Republicans called their opponents monarchists intent on transforming the new national government into a corrupt, British-style aristocracy. Each charged the other with betraying the principles of the War of Independence and of American freedom. Washington himself received mounting abuse. When he left office, a Republican newspaper declared that his name had become synonymous with “political iniquity” and “legalized corruption.” One contemporary complained that the American press, “one of the great safeguards of free government,” had become “the most scurrilous in the civilized world.”