The United States in the twenty-first century is predominately a two-party system.
Although more than two political parties exist, many American voters tend to side with
one of the big two: the Democrats or the Republicans.
In George Washington's Farewell Address he warned his fellow Americans about the
dangers of political parties. He said, "The alternate domination of one faction over
another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in
different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a
frightful despotism." He claimed the partisanship would lead to inter-political conflict,
divide the nation, and give rise to cases of tyranny.
Federalist poster about 1800. Washington (in heaven) tells partisans to keep the pillars of Federalism, Republicanism and Democracy
Despite his warnings, political associations in the young United States began to
bifurcate even before the Constitution was signed. In those first stages, the two factions
were The Federalists and the Anti-Federalists - the discussions of the Federalists
became most famous initially in The Federalist Papers.
In a letter to John Wise*, Thomas Jefferson said of the developing political
"Two political sects have arisen within the U. S. The one believing that the
executive is the branch of our government which the most needs support; the
other that like the analogous branch in the English Government, it is already too
strong for the republican parts of the Constitution; and therefore in equivocal
cases they incline to the legislative powers: the former of these are called
federalists, sometimes aristocrats or monocrats, and sometimes tories, after the
corresponding sect in the English Government of exactly the same definition: the
latter are styled republicans, whigs, jacobins, anarchists, disorganizers, etc. these
terms are in familiar use with most persons."
Thomas Jefferson was a member of the Republican Party - the "jacobins" - alongside
James Madison and Patrick Henry. John Adams was a member of the Federalist Party -
the "monocrats" - along with Alexander Hamilton, who had been the main voice behind
The Federalist Papers.
Truthfully, it was Jefferson who felt the greatest need to perpetuate an "opposition"
party, because he believed that the Federalists represented aristocratic forces hostile to
the true will of the people. He believed that without a Republican party, the Federalists
would turn the nation into in oligarchy, and steal freedom from the people. His
dedication to his beliefs are the reason why political parties play such an enormous role
in American politics today.
What Each Early Party Believed
- Committed to a fiscally sound and nationalistic
- Favored a National Band, Tariffs, and Good Relations
- Supported Implied Powers - those powers authorized
by a legal document (from the Constitution) which,
while not stated, seem to be implied by powers
- More conservative views
- Composed of the elite class
- Committed to the rights of states, the primacy of
yeoman farmers, and the principles of
republicanism (liberty and inalienable rights)
- Opposed the Jay Treaty, wanted good relations
with France, not Britain
- Opposed the ideas of a National Bank or implied
- Predominately "Anti-Administration"
The (Jeffersonian) Republican Party outlasted the Federalist Party, which had been seen
by the people as too elitist. Jefferson's party came to be the foundation for both the
modern Republican and Democratic parties, although these current forms are both
are vastly different from the early sect.
* "Letter to John Wise" in Francis N. Thorpe, ed. "A Letter from Jefferson on the Political Parties, 1798," American Historical Review v.3#3 (April 1898) pp 488-89.
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