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9.2 The Development of Political Parties

A two-party system has been traditionally practiced in the United States. Other parties are free to enter the political arena. However, most of the voters cast their votes for the candidates of the two major parties. One of these parties customarily elects the President of the United States and a majority of the members of the Congress.

The two-party system is perpetuated by the election of members of the Congress from single-member districts. Candidates of minor parties are thus deterred by the near certainty of defeat. On the other hand, there would be a multiplicity of parties, under election by a system of proportional representation. In this system, the voter casts a vote for a list of candidates. A percentage of the representatives is awarded to each party, according to the percentage of votes that have been cast for its list of candidates. In such a multi-party system, it is even possible to have a coalition form of government. This means that a number of parties may come together with a consensus on any significant issue.

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Exhibit 9.1
A Short Cartoon History of the Republican Party

Since each of the major parties gains its strength from various interest groups, each tries to avoid alienating specific groups by avoiding definite stands on controversial issues. Most of the American voters agree upon the over-all objectives and functions of government. When such an agreement exists, the condition is known as "consensus," and the two-party system helps to preserve it. There is only a change in degree on emphasis with a change in control by the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.

The history of American parties is interwoven with the economic, political and social history of the whole nation.


9.2a Federalists and Democratic Republicans

After George Washington took the oath of office as President of the United States, there were signs of an emerging party split. On one side was Alexander Hamilton, leader of the Federalists, who supported the Constitution, a strong central government and sound financial policies. He was also a spokesman for the bankers, traders and manufacturers. On the other side, was Thomas Jefferson along with a group of small farmers, frontiersmen, laborers, debtors, small proprietors and slave owners. By the end of President Washingtonís second term of administration, the followers of Hamilton and of Jefferson, divided themselves into two rival groups, called Federalists and Republicans. It was only during John Adamís administration that the first Republican Party (sometimes called Jeffersonian or Democratic-Republican), was shaped into a national party with wide popular backing, by Jefferson and James Madison.

After the election of 1800, government control by the Federalists came to an end. Owing to a tie election, the House of Representatives decided that Thomas Jefferson should be President, and Aaron Burr should be Vice-President. In order to reduce a possible repetition of a tie election, the Twelfth Amendment provided that each elector should cast one vote for President and one for Vice-President. This was ratified in 1804, making it unlikely that a President and Vice-President would be elected from opposing parties.

9.2b Jacksonian Democrats and the Whigs

After President Andrew Jackson won the elections of 1828, his supporters dropped the term Republican and called themselves the Democratic Party. Since President Jackson believed in a strong executive, his enemies referred to him as "King Andrew I." Therefore the opposition party, formed during his first administration, called itself the Whig Party, after the then existing English party in opposition to the King.

The Jacksonian Democratic Party was composed of small farmers of the West and South and the laboring classes of the Northeast. It was a party of action that stood for expansion of the suffrage, rotation in office, the spoils system and a strong executive. The Whigs were conservatives, opposed to "executive tyranny." They supported internal improvements, a protective tariff, and revival of the Bank of the United States. However the Whig Party split on the issue of slavery and its place was taken by the new Republic Party that was opposed to the extension of slavery.

Around this time, the country witnessed significant reforms in the electoral process. For instance, during the elections of 1832, the candidates were selected through a national convention of representatives from statesí parties. Besides, for the first time, a statement of the partyís beliefs and objectives (called party platform) was issued.

9.2c Democrats and Republicans

The Republic Party originally worked for the interest of the little man, the debtor, the laborer, the small farmer and the slave. However, it later attracted the conservative industrial financial interest. With the help of its leadership, the Confederate armies were defeated, the slaves were liberated and the union of the states was preserved. It was indeed the dominant political party, except in the Southern states. From 1861 to 1933, it elected 14 of the 16 men who held the office of President. The Democratic Party in the North divided into the War Democrats in favor of war, and the Peace Democrats or Copperheads, against the war. The Republicans hence organized themselves as the Union Party to win the 1864 election and tried to attract the votes of the War Democrats, by nominating War Democrat -- Andrew Johnson as Vice President. The latter became President after Lincolnís assassination.

Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson were the only two presidents elected by the Democratic Party between 1860 and 1932. The Republican Party continued to have a national appeal, owing to its leaders who could control conflicting elements.

9.2d The New Deal Coalition and Republican Resurgence

After the major economic Depression of 1932, the Democrats under the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt reshaped the partyís policies along progressive and liberal lines, offering a new deal to the "forgotten man". Under Roosevelt, the Congress enacted a series of laws providing a New Deal for American laborers, farmers, small businessmen, old people and other groups. According to this deal, the federal government was to assume the role of bringing about the welfare of the country. This grand coalition helped to get Roosevelt elected three times. This also led to the triumph of the Democrats by Harry Truman in 1948, with his Fair Deal. During the twenty years that Roosevelt and Truman held office as presidents, sectionalism as the basis of party alignment, was destroyed, greatly diminishing the influence of the conservative South.

The popularity of the military hero Dwight D. Eisenhower was capitalized upon by the Republican Party, in order to capture the presidency in 1952 and to retain it in the 1956 elections. However in 1960, the Democratic Party recaptured and the presidency under the leadership of John F. Kennedy, the popular senator from Massachusetts. Again in 1964, only six states were lost to the Republicans by President Johnson.

It became difficult for President Lyndon Johnson to make his great society domestic program endure, owing to the escalation of costs during the Vietnam war. With the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the Republicans began their control of the White House, except for Jimmy Carterís term from 1976 to 1980. This situation culminated in the Republican gaining control of the House of Representatives and of the Senate in 1994.

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Index

9.0 - Introduction
9.1 - The Functions Of Political Parties
9.2 - The Development Of Political Parties
9.3 - Third Parties In American Politics
9.4 - The Structure Of Political Parties
9.5 - The Strength And Weaknesses Of Political Parties

Chapter 10





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