Origin of the Party System in USA

Origin of the Party System in the USA. Political parties are indispensable for the working of a democratic government; without them, says MacIver,

‘‘there can be no unified statement of principle, no orderly evolution of policy, no regular resort to the constitutional device of parliamentary elections nor of course any of the recognized institutions using which a party seeks to gain or to maintain power.’’


If there are no parties, politics would be a sheer babel of tongues. The power of the people, termed as popular sovereignty, would dissipate itself into numberless channels and become quite ineffective and futile. A disorganized mass of people can neither formulate principles nor agree on policy, and the obvious result is complete chaos.

Political parties provide the necessary leadership and a direct reservoir of popular sovereignty. They bring order out of chaos by putting people before the people for what they stand for and educating them with their programs. The people approve the program of a party which they deem best and return it to power. The party retained in majority forms the Government and pursues its programmer vigorously. The primary business of a political party is, in brief, to educate the electorate and mold public opinion, win elections, and form the government.

But the men who framed the American Constitution shared the common opinion that political parties were highly detrimental to national solidarity as they encouraged strife, division, chicanery, and personal manipulation. Planning as the Fathers were for the United States as a whole, they sought to provide a government mechanism that would be free from all violence of the faction, as Madison called it. They apprehended that their young republic, too, might meet the fate of the republics of the ancient world and medieval Italy if the government system they were establishing permitted the growth of factitious spirit. Therefore, the Philadelphia Convention had to transcend party and the device of the division of powers, and the system of checks and balances was designed, among other objects, to prevent party domination, no matter how noble its purpose be.

Yet, within a few years of the Union’s career, party divisions and party spirit were sufficiently evident. In fact, hardly had Washington taken the oath of office to notice the signs of an emerging party split. To give the fledgling government a sense of unity and rise above faction and party, Washington included Alexander Hamilton, the leading federalist, and Thomas Jefferson, the most influential anti-federalist, in his Cabinet. But Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State in Washington’s second administration to devote full time to welding together a great party following.

Washington deplored the emerging state of affairs. In his Farewell Address, he warned his countrymen against the common and continuous mischief of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. It always serves to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles one part’s animosity against another.

But Washington was no political philosopher, and he did not see the inevitability of partisanship. In the Presidential election of 1796, the third under the Union and the first in which Washington was not a candidate, two national parties supported John Adams and the other supporting Thomas Jefferson. By 1800 the party system had settled itself quite firmly in the government, even to the extent of necessitating the Twelfth Amendment’s addition to make the Electoral College method workable.

It scarcely needs to be added that political parties have played a very vigorous role in the United States since that time. Sometimes they have been more vigorous than others. A national emergency may cause their temporary eclipse, or an independent President may be able to transcend them for a time, but the party system has never received a setback; it has grown from generation to generation, and today this extra-constitutional growth forms the hub of the political life of the nation.

As Professor Brogan realistically points out, the election of a President really enough of a national figure to carry out his duties might have been impossible for the appearance of a national party system. And it is certain that the greatest breakdown of the American constitutional system, the Civil War, came only when the party system collapsed.

Basis of American Party System:-

The basis of the American party system is not the same with which political parties are traditionally associated. American parties have never been bodies of men united on some general government principles and united to put these principles into concrete form by legislation and administration. The division line in the Philadelphia Convention was between large and small states, with the slavery issue looming large in the background. It was in interests and reactions of an economic and sectional nature that the parties started their careers in the early years of the republic.

The Federalist party relied upon the commercial, financial and industrial elements of New  England and the Middle States. In contrast, Jefferson’s Party’s backbone were agrarian interests, planters, and farmers of the South and rural North.

Both Hamilton and Jefferson were genuinely prompted by their keen desire to build a strong, vigorous, and free nation, and they concentrated their best energies in achieving that virtuous purpose. But each had a distinctive road to strength, vigor, and freedom.

Hamilton believed in a strong Federal Government, and he attempted to build it, enjoying an advantageous position as Washington Secretary of the Treasury on a real and sound financial basis. He caused the national bank to be founded, passed excise taxes, and extended in general the authority of the national government within the framework of the Constitution to make the people of the United States feel that they really made a nation and the national government represented the nation; it was no confederation of States.

Thomas Jefferson took a serious objection to Hamilton’s methods, and there was a rift in the Cabinet. Jefferson resigned and devoted his political talents to building a party to combat Hamiltonians, as Hamilton and his followers came to be nicknamed. Jefferson’s irritation was that all the government measures are directed to strengthen the mercantile class without any consideration of the interest of the yeomanry.

Devoted as he was to the idea of agrarian democracy, he concluded that the whole Federalist programmer would result in creating an oligarchy, the rule of the propertied few in the interests of a propertied few. He could think of no other means to remedy it except to plead for State rights and narrow construction of the Central Government’s constitutional powers.

It may appear not very clear that Jackson, Polk, Cleveland, Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt differed front the founder of their party and depended on the extension of the national government’s authority and a broad interpretation of the Constitution. But Jefferson’s attitude of mind cannot be divorced from the context of the early days’ extra-political conditions.

The lack of communication and transport, the provincial values, the absence of a national spirit, and the people with the new nation’s identity all these factors retarded national sentiments’ growth. The Central Government is regarded as the custodian of the interests of the nation.

Consequently, Jefferson felt that only by reserving a great body of rights solely to the States could mean protection of the interests of the people. There was, therefore, no essential contradiction in his historical position as the founder of the Democratic Party and his overt defense of state rights against national encroachment.

The two great American parties were and are a combination of interests, and their strength is local. Roughly speaking, United States may today be divided into four groups. The manufacturing North-Eastern group is in the main Republican; the agricultural south is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Both parties seek the support of the central farming States. Another development of the present century is the political importance of the still mainly agricultural and grazing but rapidly industrializing West. It is the constant endeavor of both the parties to go beyond their citadels of strength and secure the support of either of the two uncertain groups or preferably both.

These two groups are, in fact, the determining factors of Presidential and Congressional majorities and to enable the Republicans and the Democrats to bank upon their support means a high degree of political organization. But so long as North remains Republican and South Democratic, locality will continue to embrace the country’s party politics.

The Two-Party System:-

Throughout its history, the United States had, barring a few minor parties, two major political parties. Various explanations for such a development have been offered. First, belong to the English-speaking less doctrinaire and more inclined to compromise. Second, race, nationality, and religion are not so prominent to divide them into different factions compared with Continental countries of Europe. Third, the two-party system is a legacy of the Colonial regime, and it has since then been perpetuated. Fourth, the two-party system is the consequence of the American voting system, especially the Electoral College and the single-member district plan of electing legislative representatives. The electoral method of electing the President would indeed be very undemocratic if a strong third party should emerge. If no majority wins in the Electoral College, the House of Representatives elects the State’s Chief Executive head from the highest three, each State casting one vote. The single-member district scheme of electing representatives also discourages the development of minor parties.

A two-party system has certain important results. Under the parliamentary system, one party which carries the mandate of the electorate forms the government and, with its legislative majority, has the power to carry out that mandate. But under the presidential system, the separation of powers, upon which hinges the framework of government, may occasionally create conditions of deadlock between the Executive and Legislative departments, though normally it results in a situation where the President has a Congressional majority of his own party. In the event of a joint Congressional majority being of one party and the President of another, the nation suffers because of both play’s friction and critical role.

During the last two years of Truman’s first administration, the Republican Congress enacted legislation not liked by the President, and President Truman spent a good deal of time criticizing it. At the same time, the President was conducting the government by executing his constitutional and statutory functions, and Congress spent a good deal of time criticizing him. A more piquant situation arises when the Senate is of one party and the House of Representatives of another and the President necessarily divided in his attitude towards Congress.

Under the two-party system, the parties become moderate and compromising bodies susceptible to their responsibility. Each party endeavors to rally around as many interests as possibly can to win power. And as each party at all times, either the government or the opposition remains in touch with realities and can ill-afford to make wild and irresponsible policy statements. Finally, multiple party system would make the continued functioning of the electoral college virtually impossible.

It does not, however, mean that minor parties have never existed in the United States. Froth early times, dissatisfied elements have launched third parties, totaling at least a score. But one redeeming feature is that third parties have come and gone, and during the last 150 years, non except the Republican Party has ever gainer sufficient strength to displace an existing major party.

Several times minor party candidates for the Presidency have polled sufficient votes the hold the balance of power between the two majors. Still, they have been unable to keep the separate identity or strengths for long. On side different occasions since the Civil War, third partial have played respectable roles. The most recent one was Robert M. La Follette, the progressive candidate for Presidency in 192 who polled a million votes.

The role of the minor parties in the Amer can politics cannot be discounted. They are generally the innovators of policy, if not holders o office. The old parties have not hesitated t take plank after plank from Populists, Green backers, Socialists, and Progressives and install them in their own platforms. Minor parties an almost invariably radical than the old line organizations. Much of what these left-wing parts advocated two or three decades ago may be found in today’s Democratic and Republican platforms. There may not be a future for their parties -in the United States, but those who promote them have the satisfaction to see their program, for which they worked, become thy m law of the land under the auspices of old parties.

History of American Parties:-

The Democratic Party:-

The Democratic Party is about two-century-old and was established under Thomas Jefferson’s leadership during Washington’s administration. Known under various names, including Anti-federalists, Republicans, Democratic-Republicans, and Democratic, the party has survived under the most difficult circumstances. Early in history, it took a stand against protected tariffs, ship subsidies, imperialism, and the extension of the national government’s powers through ‘‘constructions’’ of the Constitution.

Its historic center of gravity was long in the country’s agricultural interests, although a large proportion of importing merchants and urban mechanics were soon brought into its fold. After the Federalist Party’s extinction around 1816, the Democratic Party enjoyed a period of virtual political supremacy.

However, during the Jacksonian era, a considerable split appeared, and the party now known as Democratic soon faced a formidable Whig opponent. It receded to the opposition after the Civil War and continuation minority for decades together, but at intervals spirited up with vigor in Congress and captured the Presidency twice with Grover Cleveland. Woodrow Wilson, and four times with Franklin D. Roosevelt. John F. Kennedy occupied the White House with a comfortable Congressional majority of his Party, and Lyndon Johnson, in the 1964 election, secured the biggest, popular majority in the United States history.

Jimmy Carter unseated in 1976 Gerald Ford, a personally popular President, but in 1980 he lost to Ronald Reagan: Republican Reagan again winning in 1984. A noticeable trend is that a greater proportion of young and new voters support Republican candidates. It is also apparent that the more education a person has, the more likely he is to support Republican candidates. Jimmy Carter, who became the 48th President, had a solid backing of Southern States but Virginia. The rest of America’s States were divided between the two candidates.

Carter defeated President Gerald Ford. Ford was the first incumbent President to be turned out of office since President Herbert Hoover’s bid for re-election during the 1932 economic depression; Jimmy Carter was also defeated in 1980. He was the first President from the more rural and more impoverished South since President Zachary. Tayler’s election in 1848.

The Republican Party:-

The Republican party of today is, in essence, the successor of two earlier major parties. The Federalist Party, led by Hamilton, which had championed a strong national government and liberal construction of the Constitution, had expired after making tactical errors during 1812. It appeared first as National Republican and then Whig during Jackson’s time. The Republican Party was founded in 1854 and nominated John C. Fremont as a Presidential candidate in 1856. It took a strong stand on slavery:

Fremont lost to a Democratic coalition still strong enough to win. Four years later, Lincoln gained victory on a Republican platform that proposed abolishing slavery and favored internal improvements, including a satisfactory homestead measure for farmers and liberal wages for working men and mechanics.

From 1860 down to 1913, it controlled the Executive department of government continuously, except eight years when Grover Cleveland was President (18851889; 1893-1897). It was, however, not smooth sailing for the party.

It suffered from the exposure of corruption during Grant’s administration. It was also shaken by internal divisions between East and West, between conservative business people and not-so-conservative farmers and workers, between reform-minded Liberal Republicans and stand-patters, between party regulars (Stalwarts) and not-so-conservative farmers and workers, between many different combinations of these.

Despite these divisions and shaking, the party could stand abreast and succeed because its leaders could assuage the different elements by design or by chance. William Mckinley saved the party from collapse when important labor and rural elements were on the verge of deserting the party towards the end of the century. When in the following year’s reformists against the party policy’s conservatism, Theodore Roosevelt, a progressive Republican, reoriented the party’s appeal.

The Republican party capitalized upon the popularity of a military hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to win the Presidency in 1952 and retain it in 1956, despite a Democratic victory both in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Democratic Party is the Presidency in the election of 1960.

The Party itself was badly divided over the policy towards the war in Vietnam. Waste, overlapping programmed, and rank inefficiency had caused the public to be disillusioned with President Johnson’s Great Society and alleged war on poverty.

Richard M. Nixon won the Presidency in 1968 and retained it in 1972. But his ouster as a result of the Watergate Scandal brought the party to disrepute. The Party came back to the White House with Ronald Reagan in the 31980 elections. He was re-elected in 1984 to be followed by George Bush in 1988, his Vice-President.

The party has stood for a liberal interpretation of the Constitution, especially those relating to the powers of the national government; the end has shown less sympathy than the Democratic Party for the States’ rights. It is the champion of protective tariffs, internal improvements under federal auspices, colonial expansion, liberal pensions for veterans, subventions for the merchant marine, Negro suffrage, and gold monetary standard.

Features of the Party System:-

One of the most significant features of the American political parties is their decentralization. Although the Republican and the Democratic parties are two national parties, a touch of the party system’s power is concentrated in the State capitals and rooted organizationally in the county and municipal levels. Apart from the selection of Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees and national platforms’ preparation, the Party’s central agencies are virtually powerless.

Control remains with State and local leadership in conducting the campaign and in deciding upon candidates for office. A sense of discipline to a higher authority is almost unknown and, if pressed, doubtless would be met by indignation and resistance on the part of the focal units concerned. Professor Key says that the national party is little more than a gathering of sovereigns (or their emissaries) to negotiate and treat each other.

However, there is evidence of a counter-trend in the direction of a greater concentration of power, which is essentially due to the centripetal tendencies of a modern government. This is a universal phenomenon and, the American party system cannot escape therefrom. For example, the Presidential party increasingly has come to identify as national in outlook no matter whether the White House occupant is a Republican or Democrat. On the other hand, localism remains strong in the Congressional pasty.

The result is a wide gap between the President and Congress ta the formulation of policy. But the reality is otherwise. The two wings of the party are not so sharply divided due to the nationalization of politics. If this process continues, sectionalism is sure to disappear from the American party system.

Another important characteristic of the American parties is their reluctance to become tied to any rigid ideological doctrine. The party division is rather blurred, and no distinct line of demarcation can be drawn to separate their programs.

Agriculture is not now the Americans’ predominant occupation, and the greater part of the annual wealth does not come from the soil. Large sections of the Middle West and the South, once the strongholds of agrarian democracy, have become industrialized, and there is a corresponding change in the people’s attitude. Their needs have also changed, and so they look towards the government with changed spectacles.

Then, the interests of industry, trade, and agriculture overlap and dovetail in many ways. There can be no divorce between them. Within the industry itself, there is a sharp difference, and different points of view are put forward to remedy their disabilities. For example, automobile and allied industries are not inclined to protective tariffs; investors of capital abroad and bankers favor low tariffs.

These complexities in the economic life of the country have made the Democrats shift to new grounds. They have abandoned their old slogan to tariff for revenue only and stand for protection if somewhat modified by reciprocal trade agreements. The Republicans, too, extend considerable support to this programmed. As Professor Beard says, the result is that the cleavage between the right and left wings of each is greater than the gulf between the parties themselves, especially in the Senate where agrarian states have a disproportionate weight.

James Bryce, after a deep study of the. The American system observed that these two great parties were like two bottles. Each bore a label denoting the kind of liquor it contained, but both were empty. It is not true, according to Beard, that the two parties are identical except as to their labels. There are two important facts to be observed in this connection; the first is loyalty to the tradition, which makes the parties’ strongholds continue in their support to the parties concerned.

Secondly, the old sentiments and opinions still determine the attitudes of different interests and characterize the voters’ divisions. This can be illustrated by a sample poll taken by the American Institute of Public Opinion and cited by Professor Charles Beard. According to this sample poll, the Democratic candidate, President Roosevelt, received 28 percent of the votes in the upper-income group of citizens, 53 percent in the middle-income group, and 69 percent in the lower-income group. In contrast, his Republican opponent, Wendell Wilkie, received 72 percent of the upper group’s votes, 47 percent in the middle group, and 31 percent in the lower group. A similar poll was again taken in 1943, and identical results were obtained, except for some minor changes in the percentages.

To sum up, the major parties in the United States are deep-rooted in capitalism. The only difference between the two is that the Republicans think that the more government leaves capitalism alone, the more it flourishes. The Democrats maintain that unless capitalism is constantly adjusted to social, technological, and economic changes, it may perish of its own inflexibility; in international politics, the Democrats play the strange role of the party of nationalism, strong armies and navies, international intervention, and war leaving the Republicans-at any rate for the time the being-the less glamorous and rather unfamiliar role of advocating caution, restraint, and even isolationism. But Reagan and George Bush disproved it.

An important feature of the American party system is its non-ideological character.  In Europe, parties are organized on an ideological basis where conservative parties: support capitalism and labor. Socialist and communist parties criticize capitalism and propose various degrees of reform in the social system. In America, there has been no labor, socialist or communist party of any national relevance. Both the leading national parties in America are firm supporters of the capitalist system and consider socialism of any variety as non-American and anti-national.