Known informally as the Jeffersonian Republicans, this group of politicians organized in opposition to the policies of Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton, who favored a strong central government.
Led by Thomas Jefferson, whom they helped elect to the presidency for two terms (1801-1809), the Republicans believed in individual freedoms and the rights of states. They feared that the concentration of federal power under George Washington and John Adams represented a dangerous threat to liberty. In foreign policy, the Republicans favored France, which had supported the Colonies during the Revolution, over Great Britain.
These ideas represented a departure from the policies of the Federalists under the administrations of Washington and Adams. The Federalists had established monetary policies that gave more power to the federal government and had rejected ties with France in favor of closer links to Britain.
During the undeclared war with France at the end of the 1790s, the Federalists clamped down on those who spoke in favor of the France under the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Republicans vigorously opposed this action, regarding it as a dangerous intrusion on the rights of free speech.
Using these issues, as well as the power swung his way by his vice president, Aaron Burr, Republican leader Thomas Jefferson won election to the presidency in 1800. This Republican party, which would hold power until 1825, is the direct ancestor of today's Democratic Party.