Political Parties Essay, Research Paper
Political party is defined as A group of office holders, candidates, activist, and voters who identify with a group label and seek to elect to public office individuals who run under that label. (O Connor 296) When referring to political parties George Washington, the first president of the United States, described it as the fury of political parties . In fact, George Washington felt so strongly against political parties that he felt a need to warn Americans stating:
Let me now take a more comprehensive view and warn you in most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally. This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.
George Washington was not alone in his fear of political parties, James Madison in Federalist # 10, warned Americans against factions and party politics, describing it as potentially mortal disease . (Federalist ) Hamilton claimed it was an avenue to tyranny .(Reichley 19) Despite the fear and dread of parties, political parties have become one of the most recognizable and essential part of American Politics. In the following pages, I will take a closer look at political parties, tracing its origins and progression, discussing the role parties played and play in American politics, focusing some attention on the different third parties in American history.
ORIGINS OF POLITICAL PARTIES
As I touched on earlier, our founding fathers did not have a particularly fond view of political parties. Why were these men, considered the elite in politics at the time, so opposed to the notion of political parties? One theory on the strong opposition is, they felt parties would undermine the unity of a country; to have parties is to divide a country into parts. Different parties would inevitably lead to disputes. And according to this view, parties divided by important differences of principle create a potentially revolutionary situation (Wilson, 48) A second theory on the strong opposition is [parties] undermine the prudence necessary for wise political leadership. To be politically prudent means to do the right thing at the right time for the good of the country. If parties are simply collection of men seeking their own advantage rather than the country s then they constitute organized opposition to prudent action for the common good (Wilson, 48) Even with all these potential dangers, political parties established themselves and have been around ever since. So, were the founding fathers wrong? While the founders were not wrong in thinking that democracy will fail if there is no sense of a national interest, they were certainly wrong in underestimating the value of parties as the tie that binds, the glue that fastens (Reichley,30)
So when and why were the first political parties formed ? During the 1780s, sharp conflicts marked American politics. Since the establishment of the Constitution in 1789, the unanimous election of George Washington, and recommendation for a Bill of Rights, conflicts soon arose over the new policies to be developed in the government. While George Washington, a federalist, won all the electoral votes in the first presidential election, quarrels within congress began to separate the legislative branch. The political system was moving away from George Washington s ideal one party system into a two party system. Ideological divide began to form in response to the ambitious economic plan proposed by Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton as secretary of the treasury proposed a sweeping fiscal program which included funding and “assumption” by the Federal government of the Revolutionary War debts by the federal government and enactment of tax on whiskey. The program was immediately attacked by those who feared collaboration between a relatively strong national government and aggressive business interest. (Reichley 39) Thomas Jefferson and his supporters led opposition against the Federalist, his group was known as the Anti-Federalist. These two parties are considered by some to be the first political parties of this country. At the forefront of the conflict was a fundamental issue; the Federalist wanted a stronger national government, while the Anti-federalist wanted to give more power to the states. (O Connor, 297).
Madison and others saw that the key to defeating the Federalist was to combine the old Anti-federalist with former Federalist who had grown dissatisfied with some of Washington s policies. In 1800 Washington s vice president John Adams ran for president as a federalist and Thomas Jefferson, with the support of Madison, ran against Adams as a Democratic -Republican.. When the votes were counted the Republican ticket won. This marked the death of the Federalist Party. While the Federalist Party did have a big impact in American history, there tenure as a party was short. The Federalist failed in part because they did not understand the underlying nature of American democracy .The longer they clung to office, the more many of them began to talk and act, not like conservative republicans, but like hierarchical Torries (Reichley, 60)
After Jefferson tenure as president, Madison succeeded him, as the Democratic-Republican continued to enjoy success. While Madison did have some competition during his tenure, the competition nearly evaporated by the time James Monroe took the presidency. With the decline of the Federalist the United States was, in practice if not in theory, a one-party state on the national level This era was known as the era of good feeling . During Jackson s administration, the Democratic- Republicans changed its name to simply Democrats. (Columbia Encyclopedia )
This one party system did not last long. The renewal of competition between parties representing . . .traditions . . . .[which] were deeply imbedded in the national political culture and showed that the two party system was useful, perhaps essential, to American democracy. (Reichley 64) This revival in party competition developed during Andrew Jackson s presidential tenure. The country s held its first national presidential convention in 1932, nominating Jackson. Jackson s electoral success was accompanied and aided by major changes in the structure and behavior of parties. Parties became more powerful through political machines. The federal bureaucracy doubled during Jackson s two terms, reaching 60,000 employees in 1835. These new jobs provided additional patronage. (Reichley 88). Frustrated with Jackson, a new national party was created called the Whigs. The Whigs claimed president Jackson was trying to exercise the power of a “monarch. During the Whig existence, the Whigs achieved some success. They won presidency in 1840 and again in 1848. By 1848 the Whigs had elected governors of 20 states. (97)
In the 1850 s neither party could not resolve the national slavery controversy. This controversy leads to the deterioration of the Whigs and Jacksonian Democratic Party. The modern party system, based on Democrats and Republican emerged just prior to the Civil War. Those who opposed the extensions of slavery formed the Republican Party. Those who were for slavery, mostly white southerners, were part of the Democratic Party. (Ashbee, 146)
During the Industrial Revolution Republicans, who were the party of urbanization and industry, gained an advantage over the Democrats. This allowed Republicans to be in office from 1897-1933. In 1932 after the economic depression, the Democrats, through Franklin Roosevelt, got back into power. Roosevelt through his New Deal started giving the Federal government and political parties more power in exchange for Federal aid and help. This form of government help shape the Democratic Party we know today.
ROLES OF POLITICAL PARTIES
Political parties play a significant role in American politics. One of its most fundamental role party politics plays is parties act like conduits between the citizen and the decision making process. (Ashbee 144). Parties also allow elected candidates to be held accountable for their performance at party-sponsored forums and conventions . (O Connnor 304) Also, it can be argued that political parties have helped strengthen the Constitution. Serious partisan dispute were many times Constitutional disputes. This was the case with Jefferson s Democratic Republican opposition to the monocrats and in Lincoln s refusal to allow the Constitution to become a pro-slavery document, in all these cases, American parties operated to restrain the passions of ambitious political men by forcing them to vie with other ambitious men in support of the Constitution. (Wilson, 230) Also political parties have nomination or recruitment function, they put forward candidates for public office and generally offer the only secure route for individuals seeking political advancement. (Ashbee 144). Another function of political parties is parties offer a basis for political identification . If a voter knows they have certain ideologies or pertain to a certain political party they can quickly recognize the political leaning and allegiance of candidates This is very helpful because it simplifies the voting process since it is very difficult. The average congressional district now contains half a million citizens. Most of them will and cannot, directly know the characters and opinions of their districts candidates. Party affiliation thus provides essential information about the candidates likely predilections. (Wilson, 66)
One last role, which I will discuss, is organization. Political parties help organize American politics. Depending on who was the majority or minority in congress, the legislative branch can determine who will hold certain positions, for example the speaker of the house, majority leader etc.
While it is true that American political system is basically a two-party system, third-parties or minor parties have played a role in American politics. Third parties have risen and fallen throughout the course of history. There have been ideological parties such as the Socialist Workers Party. There have also been one issue parties such as the Prohibition Party, which opposed the sale of alcoholic drinks. (Ashbee 148) The first third party in the United States was the Tertium Quids which emerged in the country in opposition to President Jefferson s policies, particularly the Louisiana Purchase. (Kruschke 2). The reason why a multi-party [more than two] system has not been accepted in American politics is not plain. A familiar explanation is that electing House members from single districts by plurality plurality vote helps to support the two party pattern. (Keefe 62) Another reason can be attributed to the way the Federal Election Campaign Act provides public funding. While Democratic and Republican parties receive funding, so called third-parties only receive funding if they received at least 5 percent of the total vote cast in the preceding presidential election (that s only occurred 11 times). Another explanation for the lack of significant progress of third parties is historically conflict within American political system have ordinarily found expression in competition between two dominant groups (Keefe 64) and have become a habit (Kruschke 11).
While our founding fathers were fearful on the effect of political parties in this country, political parties have proven an essential part of American politics. Political parties help the political system be more organized and work fluently. Political parties provides for a better democracy. They allowed parties to prove their fidelity to the Constitution, each grudgingly conceding the legitimacy of the other(s), but insisting on its own superior credentials and thus its ride to define what was common ground, and what forbidden ground, in the public life . (Wilson 230)