Parties and Political Careers in New York, 1777-1821

Benjamin Rohr, University of Chicago
Marissa Combs, University of Chicago

Building a true party system requires integrating the local into the national. On July 26, 1788, New York ratified the American constitution, launching New York’s political elites into a newly created national polity. Only twelve years later, two political parties—the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans—had taken shape that permeated all levels of government. This paper investigates how the state- and then national-level party system was able to extend into localities. It does so through an analysis of political careers. To what extent were the different levels of government integrated through stable flows of elites from the local to the national level (and back)? To what extend were federal office holders embedded locally through offices at the town or county level? Which local offices were springboards to other types of political service, and how did holding a state or federal office affect local careers? We first reconstruct the political opportunity structure by investigating patterns in how political elites moved through public offices. Combining the New York Civil List and the Minutes of the Council of Appointment, a source that to the best of our knowledge has not yet been studied systematically, we are able to create a new database of all legislative, judicial, and military offices—both elective and appointive—from the town to the county, state and federal level between 1777 and 1821. We complement this with data from the A New Nation Votes database, which includes information on unsuccessful candidacies. We then focus on a subset of these elites—legislative officers at the state or federal level between 1788 and 1801—and add information on occupation and party affiliation. This allows us to investigate who constituted the political elite and how the search for offices is connected to the emergence of the Federalist and Republican parties.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 108. Parties & Coalitions in US Politics