Evolution of Political Parties
By Donald Ranta
Since the ratification of the Constitution of the United States, we have operated under a two political party system. President George Washington didn’t run under a political party; he didn’t like the idea of political parties. The two major parties at the time were the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party. They dominated the federal elections until Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, with four Presidents elected before 1860, representing the Whig Party, William Henry Harrison (March 4, 1841 — April 4, 1841), John Tyler (April 4, 1841 — March 4, 1845), Zachary Taylor (March 4, 1849 — July 9, 1850), and Millard Fillmore (July 9, 1850 — March 4, 1853). The Democratic-Republican Party began to become the Democratic Party since the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President, representing the newly formed Republican Party.
Federalist Party vs. Democratic Republican Party
As mentioned above, the two main political parties at the start of the United States were the Federalist and Democratic-Republican Parties. The Federalist Party was formed by Alexander Hamilton, who was the first Secretary of the Treasury, which stood for a stronger centralized government. Even though President Washington was a critic of political parties, he did support some of the policies of the Federalist Party, and his Vice-President John Adams was a member of the Federalist Party and was elected the second President of the United States in 1796 as a Federalist.
As mentioned, John Adams was the first President to belong to the Federalist Party officially. I am not stating that he hated democracy, but he did sign the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 into law. This Act made it illegal for journalists to insult the President, and other high ranking government officials, such as the Vice-President, Congressmen, Senators, etc. It also was the first Act to limit immigration into the United States. Yes, even then we had politicians wanting to figuratively build a wall around our country and stop immigration in its tracks.
This Act was a slap in the face of the Democratic-Republicans because it would weaken their opposition to the Federalists, but the Federalists didn’t count on the will of the people, who voted John Adams out of office in the next election of 1800. That is when the charismatic leader and co-founder of the Democratic-Republican Party, Thomas Jefferson, is elected the third President of the United States. The two men were good friends up to this point, but after the election of 1800, John Adams cut off their friendship, even leaving the White House, incognito, in the middle of the night on March 3, 1801, the day before Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration. The two men did makeup and became good friends once again. Their friendship continued to July 4, 1826, where both men died mere hours between each other.
The Democratic-Republican Party followed a simple platform, which was called Jeffersonian Democracy. This platform was like that of the Libertarian Party of today; a smaller government is a better government. They believed in decentralizing power from the federal government. The federal government would be weaker, and the state governments would be stronger.
This point is essential because when Andrew Jackson was elected President of the United States, the Democratic-Republicans started to change the platform. The political power will move to Washington, DC, and away from the States, and they began to refer to themselves as the Democratic Party. What happened to those members that still held onto the beliefs of Jeffersonian Democracy?
Democratic Party vs. Republican Party
Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican to be elected in 1860, and we have either had a Republican or a Democratic President elected since then, up to present day. The Republican Party, formed by those members of the Democratic Party, that still believed in Jeffersonian Democracy. The party began being called the Grand Old Party, or the GOP, which it’s referred to today. The first election the newly formed Republican Party was in, was in 1856. In that year, John C. Fremont ran as a Republican but narrowly lost to the Democratic candidate, James Buchanan.
The Republican Party took up the cause of abolition of slavery inside the United States. The Democratic Party, split evenly between northern Democrats, and southern Dixiecrat, as they called themselves. Because of this split, the Republicans won the White House in 1860, which sparked a series of States succeeding from the Union, culminating to the start of the Civil War in April 1861.
For a slight tangent from the topic. I want to speak about the possibility of Great Britain and France becoming involved in the American Civil War. Queen Victoria started to talk to President Davis of the Confederacy. They agreed that Britain would recognize the Confederate States of America, and they would invade the United States through Canada. Some historians think that the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation was the main reason for Britain to back down from their plans with the Confederacy. Now that might’ve played a small role in Queen Victoria’s decision, but the main reason appears nowhere in American history books.
Two events happened in 1862; first, Queen Victoria sent a letter to all the monarchs of Europe, including the Czar of Russia, Alexander II, and second, President Lincoln heard of the deal via American spies in Canada. Unbeknownst to Queen Victoria, Czar Alexander II of Russia was a good friend of President Lincoln, and the President also sent a letter to the Czar after he heard of the plan. The situation caused the Czar to send a message to Queen Victoria, which stated that if Britain or any other country would invade the United States during the Civil War, then that would be considered an Act of War against the Russian Empire and that the Czar would have no choice but to fight alongside the United States. To Prove that he was not joking, he sent his entire Atlantic Fleet to New York harbor, and his whole Pacific Fleet to San Francisco Bay and they stayed until the end of the war in 1865.
As mentioned above, one of the third parties in early American politics was the Whig Party. The Whigs formed as opposition to President Jackson, and as stated above won the Presidency four times, but with the formation of the Republican Party, they started to disappear from the American political landscape. Another third party that existed in the 19th century was the Anti-Masonic Party. As the name suggests, this party had one plank in their platform, which was to abolish the Freemasons, this ultimately ended the party, which ranked third at the height of there existence in 1860.
The most significant third party today is the Libertarian Party, which formed in 1971. They advocate a less powerful central federal government. They also support more freedoms for American Citizens, such as legalizing marijuana. Next, there’s the Green Party, which advocates environmental policies that would combat global warming and protect the environment. Both parties support ending all wars that the United States are involved in, and both parties would like to see the closure of the United States military bases located outside the country. There’re smaller parties in the United States, but they do well in local elections, but not as much in state-level elections. There have been independent politicians who won seats in both Houses of Congress, as in Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont.
Political Parties of Today
Today the political landscape has changed. We live in an era where technology increases exponentially. With the advent of the internet and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, the need for political parties is diminishing. In the past, the political party was the real avenue to get political information and for someone to get involved in the political process. We all have opportunities to get our political information. We can even become involved in the political process, instantaneously.
Even Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) commented on this topic in an interview for Reason Magazine. In an article titled Rep. Justin Amash: The Two-Party System Needs to Die, authored by Matt Walsh and Mark McDaniel, published on July 8, 2017, the Congressman stated that “Hopefully, over time, [the] two parties start to fall apart” and “I can go straight to Twitter or Facebook or elsewhere and tell people exactly what I stand for.”
In conclusion, the United States seemed to have two major parties that competed against each other. First was the Federalist Party against the Democratic-Republican Party, and after the election of 1860, then was the Democratic Party against the newly formed Republican Party. With the advent of the internet, we can get their political information instantaneously. In which case, there isn’t any need for political parties. I am sure that in the future, political parties will dissolve and disappear from the political landscape, only time will tell.