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Trace the evolution of political parties in the American governmental system, and analyze their functions in elections and government at national and state levels of the federal system.
Focus Question: What is the role of political parties in American politics?
For information on unions and radical political parties in American history,
United States History II.5
on radical political parties and the rise of unions
Political Parties and Elections
Special Topic Page on the Electoral College and Disputed Elections
For information on the rise of political parties, see
United States History I.20
United States History I.22
For information on voting in America, see
- It is important to understand that political parties did not quite exist in the contemporary definition during the early republic, but manifested themselves as groups of politicians sharing similar ideas with no big-party funding.
- George Washington was fearful that political parties would create factions in the political structure and limit the power of the people.
- By the time Thomas Jefferson was elected, he was strongly affiliated with a Political Party.
- Political Parties shifted positions over time.
- In contrast to the two-party system, many other nations use a Parliamentary System. A brief overview of this system can be found
First Two-Party System: 1780s-1801
Click here for a
short overview of the formation of political parties
from the Library of Congress.
Strong central government
Loose interpretation of Constitution
Focus on commerce and manufacturing
Favored close ties with Britain
Popular in Northeast
Order and stability
Focus on States Rights
Strict interpretation of Constitution
Preference for agriculture and rural life
Popular in south and west
Strong relationship with France
Stressed civil liberties and trust in people
, warning the nation about the potential detriments to party-politics.
Pros and Cons of the Party
They allow common ideas to be more easily shared, debated, and refined.
Factionalizes politics, creating sometimes unhealthy adherence to the concept of a party instead of too the greater good of the nation.
Simplify politics for common citizens to understand more easily.
Tends to favor "in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community."
Lessens the problem of the
, meaning candidates need more popular-support to be elected.
Inherently acquiesces to a greater level of corruption, as wealthy donors and Super PACS fund powerful parties, and in their favor.
Prevents candidates with similar platforms from running against one another and splitting the vote between them.
Leaves the potential for one party to completely overcome the other, which could leave the country in the hands of one powerful party.
For more about Federalism, see
Tippecanoe and Tyler Too! 1840
Second Two-Party System: 1836-1850
Opposed banks and corporations
Opposed state-legislated reforms
Preferred individual freedom of choice
Favored farms and rural independence
Encouraged rapid territorial expansion over space by purchase or war.
Progress through external growth
Agrarianism, slavery, states rights, territorial expansion
Most popular in the South
Wanted to use federal and state government to promote economic growth, especially transportation and banks
Advocated reforms such as temperance and public schools and prison reform
Were entrepreneurs who favored industry and urban growth and free labor.
Favored gradual territorial expansion over time and opposed the Mexican War.
Believed in progress through internal growth
Urbanization, industrialization, federal rights, commercial expansion
Most popular in North
Political party platforms from 1
840 to 2008
from the American Presidency Project.
Party Division in the Senate, 1789-Present
to listen a video on the Whigs.
Third Two-Party System: 1854-2016
The third two-party system (that is, the dominance of American politics by two parties) emerged with the rise of the Republican Party in 1854 in response to the growing complications surrounding the Missouri Compromise and the expansion of slavery in the West. The two parties lasted through the Civil War (1861-1865) but have undergone key changes in that time-frame that make them different parties than they were 150-years ago.
Favor "big" government, meaning an expansion of the federal governments role in economic and social affairs.
Generally favor higher taxes to support spending
Keynesian economic policy
Prefer smaller federal roll in maintaining economy. Follow the "laissez-faire" economics of the Adam-Smith era.
Support free markets and supporting private investment
Generally favor lower taxes to reduces pressure on big business and the average citizen
Benjamin Harrison Ribbon, 1888
When the Republican Party gained power in 1860, there were some in the north who did not believe in their message which included continuing the civil war and the abolition of slavery. These people joined the democratic party and became known as
to read about women in the Democratic Party Platform and
to read about women in the Republican Party.
on the beginnings of political parties, see
The First American Party System
For historical background, see
First American Political Parties
, a video from SchoolTube.
to be taken to a website that shows Political Party advertisements since the Eisenhower election.
For a rap video about political parties, see
Smart Songs: Political Parties
To find out where each party stands on important issues, check out
Parties to History: Four Political Conventions that Changed America
from Smithsonian Magazine presents information about the 1912, 1948, 1964, and 1968 conventions.
Third Parties in America:
Eugene Debs 1904 Political Poster
Third Parties in American Politics: Rich History, Many Roles
provides an overview of third parties in American history.
- Third Parties play an incremental role in the political system
- They represent factions that break-away from mainstream political views
- Often times Third Parties have single major issues of interest
- They challenge the main political parties using their main issue
For background on the Tea Party movement, see the book
The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism
. Theda Skocpol & Vanessa Williamson, Oxford University Press, 2012. See also review by Sam Tanenhaus, Will the Tea Get Cold? New York Review of Books, March 8, 2012.
Tanenhaus makes the point that there is no single Tea Party, but around
independent organizations spread around the country.
participants are about 200,000, less than one-third the size of one average-size Congressional voting district.
When Walter O'Brien ran to be the Mayor of Boston on the Progressive ticket in 1949, he brought the issue of takes on the city's public transportation to the center of politics. This was covered most famously in the song
"MTA (The Man Who Never Returned)"
What the Public Knows about the Political Parties
quiz from the Pew Research Center.
Writing from Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist Party candidate in the nineteenth-century focusing on the
rights of the working people.
Rutherford B. Hayes 1876 Political Poster
For an engaging
, ask students to investigate the major political parties and any others that have appeared on the national scene since 2000. Examples include:
Prezi depicting a
of the political parties.
A series of
and information on all the political parties.
For background on the polarization of political parties since 2000, see
Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America
by Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel (William Morrow, 2007).
In United States politics, third parties such as the Populists and the Socialists have:
a) won presidential elections during times of economic distress
b) often taken control of Congress from the two major parties
c) contributed ideas and issues to the debates between the two major parties
d) appealed predominantly to conservative voters
Correct Answer: C (2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress; 73 percent of students answered this question correctly).
Wendell Wilkie 1940 Political Poster
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