You are on page 1of 7

A Brief History of American Political Parties

John A. Smith

New Hampshire College

Today, the United States is a country nation divided. Both analysts and politicians alike

reference Thethe "blue state" and "red state" divide. is illustrated in the media all the time, referenced

by analysts and politicians alike. Present-day America is one of the few democracies where a multi-

party system does not thrive. The current Democratic and Republican two-party system has been a

reality since the mid-1850s. Before these two parties even existed, there were other parties in power.

The purpose of this paper is to inform the reader of the establishment of political parties in America and

explain how the United States developed a two-party political system. became a two-party system.

Political parties are organizational structuresorganizations that work to elect candidates to

various political offices. These organizationsThe parties are supposed to represent the interests, values

and concerns of their members. Allegiance depends largely on one's economic situation, religion, race,

region, and education, as well as other factors. The A political party is supposed to form propose

policiesy proposals based on a set of ideas that its members agree to. The party acts to select nominates

candidates for office and supports its candidates' through campaigns.

One notable American politician opposed to political parties was the first president of the

United States. George Washington famously warned against political parties in his farewell address:

“ It serves to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration....agitates the

Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one....against opens the door to foreign influence and corruption...thus the policy and the will of

one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.” Comment [K1]: Consider paraphrasing here
rather than using a long quote, or revise it so that it
has fewer ellipses. If you decide to keep the full
quote, it should be a block quote instead.
Another Founding Father, James Madison, warned against political parties in Federalist Paper

#10. Madison refers to political parties throughout the paper as “factions.”. He writes:

“A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other

points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously

contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes

have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties,

inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and

oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. Comment [K2]: This should be a block quote as
well. Again, you should consider paraphrasing.

Whether or not the Founding Fathers liked it (which they did not)Although the Founders

opposed political parties, parties have nonetheless political parties have been a part of United States

history since before the Constitution was even ratified. Federalists and Anti-Federalists clashed over the

role of the central federal government. Led by the likes of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison,

Federalists supported a strong central government. During Washington's administration, the Federalists

assumed national and state debts and created a central bank.

On the other side were the Anti-Federalists, who opposed the expansion of federal power.

People like Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of

the United States, feared that the states would lose too much of their power to the federal government.

Many Anti-Federalists also argued that the Constitution itself was ilegalillegal under the Aarticles of


In the end, the Federalists won the debate. Nine states needed to ratify the Constitution before it

could take effect. Lingering concerns about the power of the federal government were eased only by

the promise of amending the Constitution once it passed, known as the Bill of Rights. These Bill of

Rights protected protects one's rights to freedom of speech, the press, and religion, and prevention
offorbids cruel and unusual punishment, among other rightss. After the Constitution and its

amendments were ratified, the Anti-Federalist Party dissolved, with many of its members joining what

would become the Federalists' main rival.

As Thomas Jefferson had led the Anti-Federalist opposition, Jefferson would also lead the

opposition to George Washington's vice president. John Adams was a Federalist and the heir apparent

to Washington. According to the textbook, Adams “feared 'excessive' democracy.”. Jefferson supported

the expansion of democracy at home and the French Revolution abroad. Under Thomas Jefferson, the

Jeffersonian Republican Party was founded (it is also known as the Democratic-Republican Party).

Jefferson lost 71 electoral votes to 68 electoral votes in what was the first election in American

history where two major political parties were represented in a presidential election. John Adams

seceded succeeded George Washington, and as provided by the Constitution at the time, Thomas

Jefferson became vice president. Adams' presidency was plagued with suppression of political dissent.

The Congress passed the Sedition Act, which was viewed as a threat to political opposition.

Just four years after Adams had narrowly defeated Jefferson in the Electoral College, he faced a

challenging re-election. Not only did Adams lose the election, he trailed behind both Thomas Jefferson

and Aaron Burr, who tied Adams with 73 electoral votes each. The House of Representatives decided

the election, ten votes to four, giving the presidency to Jefferson. The Jeffersonian Republicans took

control of the House and Senate as well. Following Jefferson's presidency were James Madison and

James Monroe, two more Jeffersonian Republicans. No Federalist candidate for president would be

elected again after this time period.

The period between the end of the Adams presidency and the mid-1820s was dominated by the

Jeffersonian Republicans. By 1824, however, John Quincy Adams was elected president under the

National Republican Party, breaking the Jeffersonian Republican hold on power. However, he did not

win a majority of the votes. In fact, Andrew Jackson won both the popular vote and electoral

collegeElectoral College, but because none of the four candidates for president had a majority in the
electoral collegeElectoral College, the House of Representatives decided the election, giving their

support to Adams.

Andrew Jackson vowed to run again after his loss in 1824. Jackson resigned from his seat in the

Senate, representing Tennessee, to focus on defeating Adams. He built grassroots support through

campaign events, easily defeating Adams in 1828. Jackson won with nearly 650,000 votes, or 56

percent of the popular vote, 647,286 votes. The Jeffersonian Republican Party would transformed into

the Democratic Party by the time that Andrew Jackson takes took control of the White House. The

Democratic Party is the oldest American political party still in existence today.

In the election of 1832, the Democratic Party tried to democratize the political process in of

selecting a president. In previous elections, candidates were chosen by Congressional caucuses. The

Democratic Party introduced the party convention, thereby giving “the people” a voice in selecting


The first third party in America was the Anti-Masonic Party. It began when a New York

Freemason went missing after he was preparing to reveal the inner workings of the secret order. The Comment [K3]: Consider changing this to
"society" so as not to confuse the reader.

press of the time caught on, and newspapers (such as the Anti-Masonic Enquirer) were created, helping

elect Anti-Masonic candidates to the New York legislature. This led to the nomination in 1832 of

William Wirt, a Freemason himself, to oppose President Jackson. Wirt won only one state: Vermont.

and The party would survive only until 1834. Its members united with former National Republicans Comment [K4]: This should be re-written for
clarity. As it was originally written, a reader could
easily assume that Wirt met his demise in 1834
and other opponents of the Democratic Party to form the Whig Party. rather than his political party.

The Whig Party formed in the middle of Jackson's second term. Their leaders were Henry Clay

and Daniel Webster. The Whigs supported an expanded national government and passed a new charter

for the Second Bank of the United States, which Jackson vetoed. Jackson would turn handed over a

depression to Martin Van Buren, and the Whigs would elected their first president in 1840. William

Henry Harrison, elected president as a Whig, had served as governor of the Indiana Territory. Eight

years later, Zachary Taylor would be their last president elected to office in 1848.
In the 1840s, control of the Democratic Party shifted to the South. “After 1840 the Democratic

Party increasingly came under the control of Southern slaveholders. Northern Democratic leaders were

often called 'doughfaces,' or Northern men with Southern principles, by their opponents,” according to

Encarta. Although Democratic strength traditionally had beenwas in the South, this shift paved the way Comment [K5]: This should not be a quote. Cite
the source and paraphrase the content.

for a Northern challenge to the party, which would come came from the Republican Party after the

decline of the Whigs fall.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was the final nail in the Whig's coffin. Illinois Senator

Stephen Douglas proposed repealing the Missouri Compromise, thus allowing Nebraska and Kansas

(both north of the Missouri Compromise line) and Kansas to enter the Union as a slave states. His bill

would allowed inhabitants of the Kansas and Nebraska territories to vote fordecide whether their

territory would choose to be admitted as a free or slave states.

The Whigs split into two parties: the Republicans and the Know-Nothings (who eventually

would join the Republicans) and the Republican Party. The Know-Nothing Party was anti-Catholic,

anti-immigrant, and anti-slavery. The Republican Party formed around the idea of preventing future

states from entering the Union as slave states and reducing the influence of slaveholders over the

federal government. Within the six years of the Republican Party's founding, they elected their first

president, Abraham Lincoln, with the help of a regionally- split Democratic Party.

At the end of the Civil War, the two-party system remained largely intact. The Democratic Party

continued its domination of the South. The new Republican Party, that led by Abraham Lincoln led

before, during, and shortly after the Civil War (until his assassination), dominated the North. This

dynamic of a Democratic "Solid South" and a largely Republican North continued until a realignment

occuredoccurred during the New Deal.

The American political system has almost always only sustained only a two-party systemtwo

major parties. What started as a two-party system dominated by the Federalists and the vs. Anti-

Federalists, evolved into a battle between the Federalists versus Jeffersonian Republicans, Jeffersonian
Republicans versus National Republicans, and then the Democrats versus the Whigs, which led to the

Democratic Party vs. Republican Partytwo-party system of Democrats and Republicans that we have

today. One thing has remained remarkably consistent throughout our history:. The few third parties that

existed failed to survive for long.

Works Cited Comment [K6]: Please note that we do not
check Works Cited pages. This page will not be
included in the word count that we use for billing.
Consult your style guide for proper citations.

“Anti-Masonic Party.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2002 (CD). 15 Apr 2007.

“George Washington's Farewell Address.” 15 Apr 2007.<http://earl>.

“History of the Parties.” 15 Apr 2007. <


Nash et al. The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. New York: Pearson, 2006.

“Political Parties in the United States.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. 15 Apr 2007.



“The Federalist #10.” 15 Apr 2007.<>.

“The Federalist Party.” 15 Apr 2007. <