Political Science





Running Head: American Political Party Systems



















American Political Party Systems


            The political party movement began in the year 1697 in Britain, after which it was adapted into other geographical settings of the world. The advent of this movement was effected by a political case that sought to identify a legatee to the throne upon the demise of Charles II. A faction of political activists and players held the view that the king’s brother should be the legatee while another faction strongly opposed the idea. This acted as a definitive era and a major milestone in the fashioning of political systems where the duality concept was instituted. Similarly, the structure of American politics during the early eighteenth century was unitary until ideological differences arose in the periods 1777 onwards, leading to the formation of the dual parties later referred to as the populists and the conservatives (Reichley, 2000). Note that, the two factions were loyal supporters of the ruling regime, and the social and economic viewpoints, yet their divergence was on the issue of equity. In this discussion, we shall review the evolution of American political system that from the late eighteenth century to the late twentieth century as we seek to identify the major components, actors and differences that was associated with each period.

American Political Parties between the Periods 1787-1800

            America conducted its first ever elections in 1789 where George Washington was elected as President under a Federalist setting. Political parties spread in the advent of the 1780s were either categorized as being conservatives or populists and Washington’s Vice, John Adams was a conservative supporter of the Federalist movement. The president was an enthusiast of the Federalists but not an affiliate of the same. Reichley (2000) asserts that, “the federalists in 1789 were no a party…but a kind of committee or club formed to manage the national polity,” (pp.29). The American nation therefore was set to promote a unitary form of governance from the beginning. Although an opposition side was present at the time, its power was highly undermined by the disunity that was quite rampant within the members. The Federalists’ unity was hinged on the objective of advocating for accord within the various American States in alignment to the founding fathers intent. The idea of a single party state was however short-lived as power issues emerged in the year 1791 with the struggle for control within the four biggest states; Massachusetts, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania (Reichley, 2000).

            Soon after this, ideological disparity set in as a response to an economic plan recommended by Alexander Hamilton, serving within the Washington administration as the Secretary of Treasury and the founder of the Federalist Party. Personal rivalry between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson projected the division that saw the rise of the Republicans. The issues plaguing the division were bent on the discussion of three issues. The first concern was whether the public debt should be compensated and senators’ powers enhanced, with populists arguing for the cause while the conservatives resisted the idea. The second concern dwelt on the view that print money needed to be legislated in the country and that private money owing had to be deferred for a given period in a bid to achieve effectual credit spreading management. The populist supported both causes while the conservatives resisted. The populists favored the third issue encompassing the idea of impounding possessions owned by American loyalists whereas the conservatives acted against the proposition.

            The Congress fully backed Hamilton’s program yet it was forced to rethink its stand as Madison joined Jefferson’s campaign against the economic plan, majorly because Hamilton had substituted his credibility as a public consultant. Power rivalry was noted again in the 1972 elections as George Clinton vied for vice presidency against John Adams, to which he lost. In 1793, France affirmed warfare against Britain and this caused another ideological divide in America as some members felt that the cause should be supported while the rest did not want to get involved with the war. Enthusiasts for the war branded themselves as the Democratic Society, while the rest became the Republicans. In 1794, barley farmers opposed a federal policy that subjected them to tariffs and this acted as the opportune opportunity for the Republican’s to win the citizens approval. In 1795, Madison united his team constituting of Federalist opposers from Jefferson’s members and those individuals that had defected from the Federalists due to their dismal economic policies. Note that, Madison’s group is what was referred to as the Republicans.

            With the Federalist abhorrence ignited by its unfair economic policies, the party was over run to pave way for the Republicans and Democrats. In addition to these ideological sectionals, the regime was also characterized by religious divisions with the Quakers and Episcopals being conservatives and afterward Republicans with their opposition against the economic programs. The Catholics and Baptists were majorly Republicans. The sects occurring between the different religious groups were also divided amongst themselves in terms of candidature support. With the egalitarianism instituted by the Republicans in the 1800 election upon the election of Thomas Jefferson as the president, “never again would a significant political party indentify itself with rule by “the wise, and the good, and the rich” or openly promote governmental prohibition of public criticism,” (Reichley, 2000, pp.48) as the Federalist regime had advocated for. The system had now shifted to the practice of political democracy.

American Political Parties between the Periods 1800-1828

            The Republicans under the headship of Thomas Jefferson majorly controlled this period. With the Federalists conquered, American politics tended towards the pre-established precept of a unitary unit as the ideologies shared between the Democrats and the Republicans leaned on the same perspective. Interestingly, Jefferson preserved the Federalists strategies and frameworks but this did not hinder him from implementing democracy in the political system. The economic and social pledges promoted through the campaign period were instituted perhaps from the fact that the regime had made the political system liberal and thereby open to public critiquing. The public debt within a period of twelve years was reduced from eighty-three million dollars to twenty seven million five hundred thousand dollars. The economic and societal patterns within the Jefferson regime were fashioned by individual practices unlike what was practiced in the former regime. Nevertheless, the Jefferson administration was far from achieving political unity.

Reichley (2000) notes that, “the issue that most sharply divided the Jeffersonians from the Federalists was not states rights, nor the national debt, nor the national Bank…but the question of social equality,” (pp.52). The former regime had made all persons in America as equal according to the law with the exclusion of, “women, slaves, Indians and others regarded as unsuitable for the full exercise of citizenship,” (Reichley, 2000, pp.52). The community structure that Jefferson and his followers advocated for was for the same level of equity pressured under a much constricted personal rights framework as the Constitution stipulated. In 1801, Madison was appointed the secretary of the state while Gallatin replaced Hamilton. Similar office changes were made to limit the level of personal conflicts, with a bias towards areas that had Federalist support or leaders. Jefferson’s main ideology was founded on the tenet that an agrarian setting as opposed to modernization would enhance social equity with just land division and ownership policies. In addition to this, he held the view that the government should be highly decentralized.

In 1802, the Twelfth Amendment was adopted into the American Constitution introducing a change in the election process. Within the Federalist regime, the Electoral College determined elections with the President and his vice being jointly voted into the office. Under the Jefferson regime, the voting process remained under the governance of the Electoral Commission with only slight variations in the partition of the President’s and Vice President’s ballot appointments. Additionally, “if no candidate had a majority in the electoral college the house was to choose the president from among the top three finishers instead of from among the top five,” (Reichley, 2000, pp.58). In 1804, Burr deserted the Republicans and moved to the Federalist Party yet his move caused an insignificant effect on the Republicans. It was not until the year 1807 that the initial power wars that greatly affected the Republicans were noted. As Livingstone took over the Clinton office, he substituted all individuals that supported or related to Clinton, and these individuals became members of the Federal Party.

In 1811, Madison was elected as President and the idea of a single party state forged onwards spilling over to the James Munroe administration starting at the year 1817. Thereafter, Quincy Adams was voted in as president after a heated debate amongst his supporters and his opposers broke away to form a group that christened the name National Republicans. The group’s ideology was different from that of the Republicans as they tended towards a nationalistic view. Other individuals used the name Democratic-Republicans from the former Democratic Society that had been formed by supporters of the French war. In the 1828 campaigns, the Democratic Republic under the leadership of Jackson was majorly referred to as the Democrats and this was used for a period of twelve years before it was adopted as a full title.  

American Political Parties between the Periods 1828-1860

            Andrew Jackson won the 1828 elections by a majority of supporters that were made possible by the seven states that he had acquired support from through the formation of coalitions. The Democrats ruled this period and with the political prowess exhibited by Jackson, the party was able to achieve higher social equity as at least sixty thousand jobs were created for loyal party followers. His major ideology was centered on the principle that labor mobility had to be promoted in office rotations in a bid to overcome the bureaucracy problems. Politics within this period infused media and technological innovations for the promotion of transparency between the government and the citizens. A press that dealt solely with the airing of party opinions as well as the Telegraph Publication was used as campaigning instruments. A periodical known as The Regency advocated for the agrarian ideology as promoted by the Jefferson regime. “The leaders of the regency, particularly Van Buren, flatly rejected the Founder’s anti-party ideology and accepted the party as a political instrument through which individuals could pool their resources for the control of the government,” (Reichley, 2000, pp.73).

            Equity would be promoted in such a system by the fact that one’s contribution within a political party would cover campaign costs that the poor individuals could not afford. The voting process was expanded within this period to accommodate a bigger electorate panel as well as elective offices. In 1932, Webster and Clay attacked the Jackson regime because the president had made some antagonistic comments concerning the Bank. With the conflict that ensued, a group of individuals led by Thurlow Weed was instituted in 1934 after they rejected the proposed title, the Republicans. The Whigs advocated for political and economic liberalization and with this proposal, the party won two presidential elections in 1840 and 1848. Reichley (2000) notes that, “the Whigs, however, went beyond their Federalist and National Republican predecessors in adding cultural and moral appeals to economic arguments,” (pp.80).

The Whigs therefore promoted its image among the Americans by advocating for virtuous practices in political and state affairs, as well as moral issues based on the improvement of the educational systems by offering public schools and other communal institutions. Through this, the Whigs reigned supreme over the Jackson administration. The Democrats as well as the Whigs in the 1840s “were committed to individualism and personal freedom, but one was more equalitarian and the other was more concerned with economic progress and moral order,” (Reichley, 2000, pp.84). The subject of slavery acted as the point of division for the Whig party in 1848 as religious factions condemned the practice. In addition to this, the 1855 movement that spread revulsion against Catholics as they advocated for slave trade eradication, the provision of free civic educational institutions and banning of alcoholic drinks. The Catholics were Democrats and their opposers joined the Whigs movement. However, the politics soon took the shape of divergence between Native Americans and aliens.   

American Political Parties between the Periods 1860-1896

            Americans felt betrayed by the Democrats and Whigs parties with regard to the slavery issue and therefore the 1860 elections favored the Republicans under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln on the grounds that they would abolish slavery. “Besides standing for resistance to slavery, they were committed to…federal support for rapid industrial development, distribution of western public lands to small farmers, free public education, and moral reform,” (Reichley, 2000, pp.93). The southern states resisted Lincoln’s ideologies especially those related to slavery, as they would lose affordable labor in their fields. The tensions rose to high levels and consequently initiated the Civil War. However, Lincoln’s administration did not relent in its objectives by the institution of “the National Banking Act of 1863…providing capital essential for industrial investment; chartering of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads in 1862…the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869; establishment in 1864 of the Immigration Bureau…; and the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, in 1865,” (Reichley, 2000, pp.106).

The Blacks were accorded better social treatment during the Lincoln’s regime where they were allowed partial involvement in politics. Reichley (2000) further posits that the Republican administration was “determined to put into effect the doctrines of nationalism, market capitalism, and traditional Protestant morality that had formed their party’s ideological core from the start,” (pp.114). The economic depression experienced in 1873 saw to the downfall of the Republican regime and the ushering in of the Democrats that governed America for twenty years, beginning from 1874. This era fell within the Gilded Period and it was marked with an increase in political fraud.

American Political Parties between the Periods 1896-1932

            The 1886 presidential campaigns saw the advent of William McKinley’s administration that scraped trade barriers in form of tariffs for the sake of economic expansion after the 1893 fiscal alarm. The Democrats failed to promote their policies through their candidate, William Bryan, who had proposed free silver distribution as this would only worsen the economy due to inflationary forces and a possible occurrence of stagflation. The Democrats ideologies were founded on the principles of economic equity and welfare enhancement by the provision of better medical facilities, educational systems and better infrastructure. Public projects were promoted in a gradual manner during the McKinley administration under the theory of mutual benefits and higher welfare achieved by an increase in social equity. In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became the president and promoted McKinley’s proposals. The anti-trust law was adopted at this time in a bid to have power over large businesses. In 1912, Roosevelt defected from the Democrats and instituted a new party that was referred to as the Progressive that accorded equal rights in political endeavors for all genders (Piven, & Cloward, 2000). Women under the leadership of Jane Addams launched their involvement in politics and by 1920s, they were well recognized as equal partners. Religious factions were also represented in politics as they waged a debate concerning the issue of avoiding legislation in voting exercises and the Democrats voicing their concerns were re-instituted back in power in 1932.   

American Political Parties between the Periods 1932-1968

            From the period 1932 onwards, American politics are characterized by dual party participation, Democrats and Republicans. The Great Depression experienced in 1929 saw a shift of ideology and loyalty from the Democrats back to the Republicans under the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 elections. Roosevelt’s administration was focused on employment formation especially through government programs, the initiation of an economic recovery plan to countercheck the impact of the 1929 depression, and economic restructuring to create higher control of trade practices and economic forces using monetary and fiscal instruments. Through these initiatives, the American economy progressed until 1937 before dipping into another recession. As the Second World War progressed, the president supported both China and Britain in terms of political and monetary provisions yet he held an impartial place with regard to the conflict. This strategy was profitable to the American people as the economy revived and employment opportunities increased. As health complication set in, Roosevelt was succeeded by Harry Truman.

            In the 1948 elections, a section of Democrats founded the State’s Rights Democratic Party based on the ideology of state privileges, communal conservatism and ethnic separation. It was however unable to promote its objectives as equality had been achieved in the voting process and politics in terms of gender and race. The Democrats also reigned through the John Kennedy regime in 1960 yet the Republicans acquired power for the Congress and White House to the present. In the 1960s, voting rights were centrally placed as the “core symbol of democratic politics…right to speak, write, and assemble…formal equality through the universal franchise,” (Piven, & Cloward, 2000, pp.508). However, with the individualism and rivalry that has been present in political parties since American independence, many Americans have lost interest in voting practices, a problem that persists to the present.   


            American political parties have undergone various changes through history with economic and social equity serving as the main points of contention transversing across the different periods. The system has now found some form of stability yet various issues still plague the parties causing major dissections that have had an adverse effect on the voting systems; most individuals have given up the practice of exercising voting powers. This can only be countered by appraising the political system in a bid to revive voting exercises.    














Piven, F. F., & Cloward, R. A. (2000). Why Americans still don’t vote: and why politicians want it that way. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Reichley, J. (2000). The life of the parties: a history of American political parties. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield.








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