History of Political Parties


Political factions or parties began to form during the struggle over ratification of the federal Constitution of 1787. Friction between them increased as attention shifted from the creation of a new federal government to the question of how powerful that federal government would be. The Federalists, led by Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, wanted a strong central government, while the Anti-Federalists, led by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, advocated states’ rights instead of centralized power. Federalists coalesced around the commercial sector of the country while their opponents drew their strength from those favoring an agrarian society. The ensuing partisan battles led George Washington to warn of “the baneful effects of the spirit of party” in his Farewell Address as president of United States.

Federalists & Republicans

The Federalist Party:

Nevertheless, the beginnings of the American two-party system emerged from his immediate circle of advisers. Hamilton and Madison, who wrote the aforementioned Federalist Papers against political factions, ended up being the core leaders in this emerging party system. It was the split camps of Federalists, given rise with Hamilton as a leader, and Democratic-Republicans, with Madison and Thomas Jefferson at the helm of this political faction, that created the environment in which partisanship, once distasteful, came to be. By the time Alexander Hamilton died on the dueling grounds of Weehawken, New Jersey, the power of the Federalist Party was in terminal decline. Federalism was born in 1787, when Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison wrote 85 essays collectively known as the Federalist papers. These eloquent political documents encouraged Americans to adopt the newly-written Constitution and its stronger central government. Largely influenced by the ideas of Alexander Hamilton, the Federalists succeeded in convincing the Washington administration to assume national and state debts, pass tax laws, and create a central bank. These moves undoubtedly saved the fledgling democracy from poverty and even destruction. In foreign policy, Federalists generally favored England over France. Anti-Federalists such as Thomas Jefferson feared that a concentration of central authority might lead to a loss of individual and states rights. They resented Federalist monetary policies, which they believed gave advantages to the upper class. In foreign policy, the Republicans leaned toward France, which had supported the American cause during the Revolution. The Federalists feared and hated Jefferson, but partly due to infighting, they were never able to organize successful opposition. A last great hope -- that the New England states would secede and form a Federalist nation -- collapsed when Jefferson won a landslide reelection in 1804, thanks to the Louisiana Purchase. Alexander Hamilton was left with little power -- and with no choice but to meet Aaron Burr on the dueling ground in hope of reviving his political career. But Hamilton was doomed, and so was his party. The Federalists would never again rise to power.

The Republican Party:

Jefferson and his colleagues formed the Republican Party in the early 1790s. Known informally as the Jeffersonian Republicans, this group of politicians organized in opposition to the policies of Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton, who favored a strong central government. Led by Thomas Jefferson, whom they helped elect to the presidency for two terms (1801-1809), the Republicans believed in individual freedoms and the rights of states. They feared that the concentration of federal power under George Washington and John Adams represented a dangerous threat to liberty. In foreign policy, the Republicans favored France, which had supported the Colonies during the Revolution, over Great Britain.

Republican Party

The GOP was founded in 1854 by opponents of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which allowed for the potential expansion of slavery into certain U.S. territories. The party supported classical liberalism, opposed the expansion of slavery, and supported economic reform. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. Under the leadership of Lincoln and a Republican Congress, slavery was banned in the United States in 1865. The Party was generally dominant during the Third Party System and the Fourth Party System. After 1912, the Party underwent an ideological shift to the right. Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the party's core base shifted, with Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics. Since the 1990s, the Party's support has chiefly come from the South, the Great Plains, the Mountain States and rural and exurban areas in the Midwest. The 21st century Republican Party ideology is American conservatism. The GOP supports lower taxes, free market capitalism, a strong national defense, gun rights, pro-life, deregulation and restrictions on labor unions. In addition to advocating for conservative economic policies, the Republican Party is socially conservative. After the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, the Republican Party opposed abortion in its party platform and grew its support among evangelicals. The GOP was strongly committed to protectionism and tariffs at its founding, but grew more supportive of free trade in the 20th century. There have been 19 Republican presidents, the most from any one political party (including current president Donald Trump, who was elected in 2016). As of 2019, the GOP controls the presidency, a majority in the U.S. Senate, a majority of state governorships, a majority (30) of state legislatures, and (22) state government trifectas (governorship and both legislative chambers). Five of the nine sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices were nominated by Republican presidents.

Democratic Party

The Democratic Party was founded in 1828. It is generally associated with larger government programs and higher taxes. Members of the Democratic Party are often referred to as "liberals" or "progressives." The symbol of the Democratic Party is the donkey. There have been 15 Democrats who have served as president of the United States. The first was Andrew Jackson, who was the seventh president and served from 1829 to 1837. The most recent was Barack Obama, who was the 44th and held office from 2009 to 2017. As of 2019, the Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives, 14 state government trifectas (governorship and both legislative chambers), the mayoralty of numerous major American cities, and 18 total state legislatures. Four of the nine sitting justices of the Supreme Court had been appointed by Democratic presidents. The Democratic Party is the oldest political party in the United States and among the oldest political parties in the world. It traces its roots to 1792, when followers of Thomas Jefferson adopted the name Republican to emphasize their anti-monarchical views. The Republican Party, also known as the Jeffersonian Republicans, advocated a decentralized government with limited powers. Another faction to emerge in the early years of the republic, the Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, favoured a strong central government. Jefferson’s faction developed from the group of Anti-Federalists who had agitated in favour of the addition of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States. The Federalists called Jefferson’s faction the Democratic-Republican Party in an attempt to identify it with the disorder spawned by the “radical democrats” of the French Revolution of 1789. After the Federalist John Adams was elected president in 1796, the Republican Party served as the country’s first opposition party, and in 1798 the Republicans adopted the derisive Democratic-Republican label as their official name.

Green Party

The current iteration of the Green Party was formed in 2001 on the back of several earlier groups. The party espouses four values, including ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy, and nonviolence. Sometimes referred to as Greens, there are currently 137 elected officials from this party serving throughout the country. In terms of platform, it is most closely aligned to the Democratic Party. The Green Party of the United States (GPUS), is an independent political party that is connected to American social movements, and is part of a global Green movement that shares key values, including our Four Pillars: Peace and Non-Violence, Ecological Wisdom, Grassroots Democracy, and Social Justice, and our Ten Key Values. We want you to be a leader in the movement to fight climate change, replace corporate power with democracy and economic justice for all, end mass incarceration, and stop endless war. The Green Party supports livable wages, universal health care (Medicare For All), repeal of Citizens United, free higher education, student debt forgiveness, full reproductive rights for women, human rights for all immigrants and for LGBTs, and racial justice: Black Lives Matter!

Libertarian Party

Created in 1971, the Libertarian Party is focused on minimizing government and maximizing freedom. As fierce proponents of small, non-invasive governing, the libertarian platform is fiscally conservative yet socially liberal. The party also takes a non-interventionist stance on issues related to foreign policy. The Libertarian Party (LP) is your representative in American politics. It is the only political organization which respects you as a unique and responsible individual. Their slogan is that we are “The Party of Principle”, because we stand firmly on our principles. Libertarians strongly oppose any government interference into their personal, family, and business decisions. Essentially, they believe all Americans should be free to live their lives and pursue their interests as they see fit as long as they do no harm to another.

Constitution Party

The Constitution Party is a far-right fundamentalist political party in the United States, originally called the US Taxpayers Party. It was founded in 1991 by Howard Phillips, a major figure in the New Right who was part of the paleoconservative break away from the New Right at the end of the Cold War. Despite its deceptive name, the party is very authoritarian and has little regard for the principles of US Constitution, and promotes unsupported historical revisionism, asserting that the US was founded as a Christian nation. The Constitution Party is a paleoconservative minor political party in the United States. The Constitution Party strongly champions the principles of our Republican form of government laid down by our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The goal of the Constitution Party is to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries. It is the third largest political party in terms of voter registration with 367,000 registered voters.[1] Rick Jore, Member of the Montana House of Representatives, was the highest elected official who is a member of the Constitution Party.

Other Parties

There are other political parties in the United States, but they have not been able to make a significant impact in the government. Some of these parties include the American Independent Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, and the Reform Party. Political parties that have had power in the past include the Whigs, the Federalists, and the Democratic-Republicans.