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History of the Political Party system in America

I wrote a few articles for the now-defunct Freedom Digest, explaining the role of so-called third parties in the history of the country. I didn't quite finish it, as the research involved took a lot of time.

The point of it was to show that so-called third parties played a vital role in the history of politics in this country, and to explain why they're less effective than in the past.

I didn't get quite get to the end, but here's what I had written:

The role of the Third Party in modern politics.

The first political parties in America

Our founding fathers were not comfortable with the formation of political parties, but they also acknowledged that they were inevitable, and it was within the rights of people, as free men, to gather and assemble political parties. With few exceptions, there have been two primary parties in control, divided over one or two major issues.

Prior to the passage of the United States Constitution, the country was governed under the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles, the states had most of the power, and the federal government's job was to help coordinate efforts between states.

There were flaws with this system.

National defense was a major concern. States would send their state militias only when they wanted to, and there was a problem with pirates.

Additionally, there was no unified trading system with foreign nations. Britain was engaging in guerrilla trading. They would starve states of trade, until a state was willing to undersell the next one. This led to serious problems within various states.

So, the states called a constitutional convention, to amend the Articles of Confederation, to address these issues.

There were two primary factions in the debate to remedy the situation; Federalists and Anti-federalists.

The Federalists were in favor of replacing the Articles of Confederation. They were for strong national government.

Most Anti-federalists were in favor of amending the existing Articles of Confederation, to address the primary issues. They were in favor of maintaining state power over the federal government.

These two factions waged a hard-fought battle, both behind closed doors, and in the media. At the end of the fight, however, the Federalists won. The Anti-federalists were able to create the Bill of Rights, as the initial ten amendments to the Constitution. (There were two other amendments proposed at that time, that did not pass until much, much later).

Those on the Anti-federalist side, in the interest of national unity, endorsed the final product; the United States Constitution.

As the party system took hold, the Federalist Party became the home for the Federalists, and the Democratic-Republican Party became the home for the Anti-federalists, after aligning behind Jefferson and Madison.

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The first political parties in America

The “First Party System” was the era of the first political parties: the aptly-named Federalist Party and the anti-federalist Democratic-Republican Party.

The Rise and Fall of the Federalist Party

Those in favor of stronger national government were originally termed “Federalists” by the news media of the day, eventually this group did form a Federalist Party. The Federalist Party was the party of Washington and Hamilton.

Many of the Tories – those who had opposed cessation from Britain from the start – joined the Federalist Party.

Congregationalists and Episcopalians generally supported the Federalists, who supported the co-mingling of Church and State.

One of the most (in)famous acts from the Federalist Party came from the John Adams administration. The Alien and Sedition Acts, passed in 1798, imprisoned anyone who opposed the administration (run by the Whigs, at the time) as treasonous.

A feud between party leaders Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, resulting from Hamilton's allowing the US House to choose Jefferson over Burr in the Presidential election of 1800, which led to a duel between the men. Hamilton was killed in the duel, and for Burr became a fugitive. This significantly weakened the Federalist Party.

The Federalists were able to control the Judicial Branch of government, and therefore empower the Judicial Branch to promote a Federalist agenda through the courts.

Federalists also opposed the War of 1812, primarily because of their support of the British over the French.

The Federalists peaked in 1798, and afterward suffered a swift decline. The last significant Federalist political success was Governor Charles Polk, Jr in 1826. The last time the Federalists controlled the Legislature was in 1828, around the end of the “First Party System”.

As the era of the “First Party System” came to an end around 1824, the Federalist Party was fading out. After 1816, the Federalists had no real influence. The party faded away and the members joined other parties, as the “Second Party System” began.

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Formation and split of the Democratic-Republicans

Around 1792, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison formed the Republican Party from various factions of already-elected statesmen, and a loose confederation of those opposed to the Federalists. The Democratic-Republicans, as they were called by the media, opposed a strong national government, favored France over Britain, expressed skepticism of the Federalist-dominated federal courts, and opposed a national bank and national Navy.

Presbyterians, Baptists, and other minority denominations tended to oppose co-mingling of Church and State, and therefore support the Democratic-Republicans. In the media, this approach was used to smear the D-R's as atheistic and belligerent towards religion.

The Democratic-Republicans – namely Jefferson and Madison – anonymously co-authored the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, as the Alien and Sedition Acts would have seen them jailed, had they been attributed. These resolutions rejected strong national government, and specifically spoke against the policies of the John Adams (Federalist) presidency.

The Democratic-Republicans were, in large part, an opposition party to the Federalist Party. They had formed in response to the formation of the Federalist Party, and of Federalist Party policies. As the Federalist Party collapsed, the Democratic-Republicans found themselves without a single target. Party unity began to fade. As the country continued to grow, the issues facing the country changed, as well.

The rise of the Democratic-Republicans was due, in part, to the first-ever “Get Out The Vote” effort. This radical practice is still in use today.

By the early 1820s, the lines between Democratic-Republican and Federalist became blurred. Jefferson and many “Old Republicans,” as they were called, still supported the platform of states' rights, but had reversed their policies on issues such as National Banks. This caused a division within the Democratic-Republican Party.

Some would say that the Democratic-Republican Party died the day that Jefferson died; July 4th, 1826. The party became divided over other issues, and as the era of the “First Party System” came to a close, with the Federalist Party all but dead, and the Democratic-Republicans divided into several factions, new factions were forming behind new issues.

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The end of the “First Party System”

As mentioned in the last article, the “First Party System” came to a close somewhere around 1828. But the change began earlier, before 1828. With the Federalist Party practically dead, Democratic-Republicans dominated politics. Divisions grew within the Democratic-Republicans.

This came to a head in 1824, when the party had four separate candidates for President in the general election, nominated in different ways. The four candidates were: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford, and Henry Clay. John C. Calhoun had also been a candidate, but opted to run for vice-president instead.

The results for vice-president were clear: John C. Calhoun was the clear winner.

However, there was no one with a straight majority of Presidential electoral votes; obtaining 131 of the 261 electoral votes was required for a victory. Jackson had the most electoral votes, with 99 electoral votes, followed by John Quincy Adams with 84, William H. Crawford with 41, and Henry Clay with 37.

Under the 12th Amendment, the top three Presidential candidates were then to be considered and voted upon by the U. S. House of Representatives. Jackson, Adams, and Crawford were the top-three, and Clay was excluded. Clay, however, was also the current Speaker of the House.

Jackson expected to become the next president, having won the plurality of electoral votes and popular votes. However, as the election was now operating under the rules set forth under the 12th Amendment, each state only had one vote to cast for President.

Clay was not a fan of Jackson at all. In what is commonly criticized as a back-room deal, Clay threw his support behind Adams, and coerced fellow Congressmen to vote for Adams, and in return Clay would be made Adams' Secretary of State, which at the time was generally the office from which the next President would be elected.

The states voted, and John Quincy Adams was found the winner by the U. S. House of Representatives. The Jacksonian faction campaigned hard on this perceived corruption until the election of 1828, when the two men would square off again.

In the election of 1828, Jackson again challenged Adams, and there were no other major contenders. The Adams faction began to call themselves the “National Republicans”. The Jackson faction began to call themselves the “Democratic Party”. To complicate matters further, the siting vice-president of John Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun, became the vice-presidential running-mate of Andrew Jackson, the challenger to Adams' presidency.

Jackson uprooted Adams in the election, but more importantly, the split in the Democratic-Republican party caused the rise of the real “third” parties for the first time in American history.

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The “Second Party” System

This is the fourth installment of a weekly series about the history of the party system in America, specific to the role of third party politics, from the signing of the Constitution through today.

The implosion of the Democratic-Republican party, which resulted from the election of 1828, led to a new era in party politics. For the first time, the country saw the rise of more than two parties, some of which successfully obtained significant electoral results at the state and federal levels.

The Jacksonians, to be known as the Democratic Party, were the former Democratic-Republicans who aligned behind President Andrew Jackson.

The National Republicans were former Democratic-Republicans who aligned behind John Quincy Adams, and against Andrew Jackson. The National Republican Party was absorbed by the Whig Party in the mid-1830s.

The Anti-Masonic Party formed in New York in 1828, and was based upon the growing anti-Freemason sentiment in the country. Many feared that the Freemasons were a secret society of power brokers and elitists. Some believed that the Freemasons sought to create a shadow government and murdered political opponents. The party lasted until approximately 1838 and was primarily absorbed into the Whig Party.

The Nullifier Party was formed in South Carolina in 1828, and was based upon state's rights. They supported the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, and the concept of state nullification of federal laws within the borders of a state. The movement behind the party was fueled by both high taxation and an economic recession which hurt the southern states, and especially South Carolina. The party lasted until the end of the 1830s, when it was absorbed into the Democratic Party.

The Whig Party formed in 1833 of former National Republicans, as well as members of the Anti-Masonic Party. The death of several leaders, including Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, in addition to a growing divide over the policy of slavery, lead to the demise of the Whig Party. The Whig Party officially remained a party until 1856, when it was officially declared dead. Whigs that did not join the Republican Party went to the Constitutional Union Party.

The Liberty Party was formed in New York, and existed throughout the 1840s, and focused on the issue of eliminating slavery. They were a single-issue party that folded into the Free Soil Party in 1849.

The American Republican Party was a short-lived anti-immigration party, which was founded in 1843, changed its name to the Native American Party in 1845, and the remnants folded into the Know-Nothings in 1854, at the end of the “Second Party System”.

The Know-Nothings were a political movement formed in the 1840s, from members of the Whig Party and the Native American Party. It was not successful until the 1850s, when they merged with the American Republican Party and renamed themselves the American Party. They then elected representatives to the House and Senate. Primarily, they were an anti-Catholic and pro-temperance organization. The party was dissolved in 1860, at the beginning of the “Third Party System,” primarily absorbed into the Republican Party.

The Free Soil Party was formed in the late 1840s, and was the second anti-slavery party during the Second Party System. They took their members from anti-slavery members of the Democratic Party, the Whig Party, and the Liberty Party. This was a successful party, sending representatives to the House and Senate. They were a single-issue party that folded into the Republican Party around 1854.

The Anti-Nebraska Party was an off-shoot of the Know-Nothings (American Party) formed in 1854. They held a deep moral opposition to slavery, and were appalled by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. They only existed in 1854.

The Opposition Party was formed in 1854, and was a short-lived party which attempted to provide a compromise on the growing divisions over slavery. The party was successful in electing 100 members to the House of Representatives. The party essentially ended in 1858. Members were encouraged to join the last member of the Whig Party in the Constitutional Union Party. Some members joined the Conservative Party.

Each party had its own issues. Some parties were single-issue parties, or single-issue splinters from other parties. Other parties were a caucus of several issues based around one or multiple principles. With the increased competition, innovations in the political landscape came as a result of the multiple parties during this time in our history, most notably the concept of the nominating convention,

Also significant was the greater extent of endorsement and cross-nomination of a single candidate by multiple parties, a practice also known as “fusion.” Fusion still exists in a select few instances today, such as in New York. Fusion will play a role in party politics until it is outlawed in most states at the turn of the 20th century, during the Fourth Party System.

Officially ending in 1854, the second party system saw radical changes in policy and priorities in the country, as the country was headed to its bloodiest internal battle in its history.