Political Party History Before the Democrat and Republican parties began their reign over American politics, political parties were constantly changing. The first parties resembled faction’s more than actual parties. The nation’s politicians were known to crowd together around a particular issue. These were usually a reflection of social living in America. A change in political parties meant a change in the way Americans were living their lives. Strong third parties also helped influence the Democrat and Republican parties after they gained control.
Though the names of parties change over time, there have always been two groups of people taking opposite sides of a common cause. The political party originated when the debate of ratifying the constitution arose. There was a split in the idea of how this new country should be governed. On one side was the federalist, who were mostly supported by the upper class. The wealthy property owners felt susceptible to the open government that was starting to be formed. They wanted to protect their political power.
On the other hand the anti-federalists, made up of the lower classes, felt that a stronger central government would create a great deal of corruption as well as threaten the power of the people. These two factions eventually separated into two parties. The first was pushed by Alexander Hamilton and kept the Federalist name. Hamilton believed in a strong national government having most of the authority. Hamilton wanted a strong industrialized country with close ties to the mother country of England. Thomas Jefferson fronted the second party that was named the Democratic-republicans.
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Jefferson believed in an unpretentious central government giving most authority to the individual states. Jefferson wanted to keep away from the possible corruption of industry and therefore promoted an agrarian based economy. The Federalist Party quickly came to an end when a split in the party occurred due to the controversial presidency of John Adams. With no opposition the Democratic Republicans gradually faded away. This time period consisting of no parties was known as the Era of Good Feelings.
With the new idea of universal white male suffrage, which gave the right to vote to all white men in the United States, there was a permanent shift in power. Prospective politicians could no longer only favor the propertied classes; instead they now had to focus on the middle and lower classes concerns. This profound shift helped invigorate a new party, the Democratic Republicans led by Andrew Jackson. The Democratic Republicans believed that the country should be governed under strict adherence to the Constitution. They were against a national banking system.
They were also against federally sponsored internal improvements because they felt it would be unwarranted interference and unconstitutional. The opposing side was the National Republicans and was led by John Adams. This party believed in supporting the national bank and favored all internal improvements. The National Republicans were also advocates of a strong central government. Eventually the National Republicans joined forces with many other disparate groups to form The Whig Party. The Democratic Republican Party shortened its name to the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party still favored a limited national government as well as the ideals of agrarianism. Democrats were farmers who believed in the right to own slaves and favored territorial expansion. As transportation improvements increased commercialization and the new democratic politics drew people out of localism into larger networks, questions about national unity arose. Because the Constitution left the federal structure ambiguous all sectional disagreements automatically became constitutional issues. This brought out the great issue of nationalism vs. sectionalism.
The opposing side named themselves the Whig Party. The Whigs drew their strength from the growing industrial class. Most Whigs were entrepreneurs who favored urban growth and free labor. The Whigs party beliefs were that of industrialization, they wanted to expand commercially and were in favor of federally sponsored internal improvements in the form of road and waterways. Ultimately the issues over slavery caused the separation of the Whig Party. The Kansas-Nebraska Act divided the Democratic Party. The Act opened up Kansas and Nebraska to deciding their slave status based on popular sovereignty.
This angered both the north and the south. By repealing the Compromise of 1820, the Act convinced Northerners that the South was attempting to ensure slavery’s dominance in the United States. The South saw Northern attempts to influence Kansas into voting against slavery as trying to disturb the balance of power. The backlash of the act caused the Democratic Party to split along sectionalist lines and created the Republican Party. This was the Nations first major party created along sectional lines. The new Republican Parties main goal was to stop the spread of slavery into the new territories.
The party also wanted to establish a tariff that would protect the countries growing industry; furthermore they wanted to give poor pioneers the ability to own the land they settled in. The Southern Democrats made it abundantly clear that if a Republican won the Presidency the South would secede from the Union to preserve its rights. Shortly after the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln won the election of 1860 the South seceded from the union. The South was afraid that a Republican President would eradicate their right to own slaves.
The Democrats remained fractionalized during the Civil War. The Northern remnants of the party split into three. First was the War Democrats who supported the civil war. Second, the Peace Democrats who wanted a quick political settlement with the South. Third, the Copperheads who openly opposed the war and even betrayed the Union to help the South. During this time the Republicans formed a temporary alliance with the War Democrats, this new party was known as the Union Party. They chose a Republican Party presidential candidate with a War Democratic Party vice presidential candidate.
The Union party, even though it only lasted for the duration of the war, was a unique time in American History. Never have two parties come together to support a common cause rejecting selfish notions of power and working beyond their differences to safe the nation. After the Civil war the Democratic Party rejoined as the main opposition of the Republican Party. While their presidential candidates stand little chance of being elected, strong third parties have promoted concepts and policies that were an important part of social and political lives.
The Populist and Socialist parties support for reduced working hours led to the Fair Labor Standards Act. These two parties also supported a progressive tax system that would base a person’s tax liability on their amount of income. This idea led to the ratification of the 16th amendment. The Progressive party, or the Bull Moose party, promoted women’s suffrage and was eventually supported by both Democratic and Republican parties which ratified the19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. The Socialist Party furthermore supported a fund to provide temporary compensation for the unemployed.
The idea led to the creation of laws establishing unemployment insurance and the Social Security Act. The American Independent party advocated getting tough on crime. The Republican Party adopted the idea in its platform and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act was the result. From the Revolution to Reconstruction, political parties unified people sharing the same basic principles into a means for change. There has always been one party in the United States party system that was always a strict interpreter of the Constitution and wanted to limit the growing power of the federal government.
The other favored a Constitutional interpretation using the elastic clause as a way of increasing federal power. Throughout the first half of American history parties evolved from mere alliances of convenience of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists to the complex political machines of the Democrats, Whigs, and later the Republicans. Though the names of political parties have changed over time there have always been groups of people united to further their own ideological ends. Bibliography USA Today. The Parties. 999-2000. Pearson Education. Presidential Elections. 1789-2004. 2007. Berg-Anderson, Richard E. A Brief History of American Major Parties. May21, 2001. http://www. thegreenpapers. com/Hx/AmericanMajorParties. html Hockett, Homer Carey. Political and Social Growth of the American People. New York: The Mackmillon Company, 1944. Garner, Richard L. Stebbins, Phillip E. Individualism and Community. The Pennsylvania State University, 1975. Hicks, John D. The American Nation. University of California, Berkeley1941.
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