Political Parties in America

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From the beginning, American political parties have had a bad reputation. Back to a time in which our government was just beginning, Washington argued that political parties need not exist. At the end of his presidency, the first of our country’s, he wrote a farewell letter to the country, published in 1976 under the title The Address of General Washington To The People of The United States on his declining of the Presidency of the United States. In this long-titled address to the country her was leader to, he cautioned,

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However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Unfortunately for Washington, this warning was not headed by the American people. Now, it is way too late to restrain the hunger for power in today’s political parties. Although they have changed over time, they have remained powerful, yet at times extremely divisive. How did political parties gain so much power through the years since our country was founded? What roles have these parties, a well as other minor parties, played in America? Are interest groups or political parties the best vehicle for representing citizen opinion to government?

Political Parties: A History

Before one can dissect the power of political parties, one must go back to the start. Our nation began with two political parties. These included the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists. In small terms, A political party is a group of voters organized to support particular policies. The purpose of a political party is to elect officials who will then attempt to carry out the party’s policies. As they have done now, politicians at the time tended to take sides, beginning with the early debates of the Constitution. The tendency has persisted throughout history. Political parties were not developed until the 1600s via the ancient Greeks, who had the first had in creating democracy. Although this was the beginning stages of political parties, they had no organized political parties in the modern sense. Fast forward to the 1780s in early America, Alexander Hamilton, and other leaders, banded together and called themselves the Federalists. Those who considered themselves Federalists wanted a strong central government. They drew supporters from businessmen, merchants, and bankers. Other than believing in a strong central government, Federalists also believed that industry and capitalism were the basis of a thriving republic. Soon after the creation of the first political party, another emerged. Anti-Federlalist were those who did not believe in a strong central government and formed under Thomas Jefferson. They soon began calling themselves Democratic-Republicans. The Democratic-Republican Party drew its supporters from small farmers and artisans. This was because these people wanted government to leave them alone as much as possible. To them, the less government power, the better. John Adams, who succeeded George Washington as president, had Federalist sympathies. But eventually, the Federalists lost control of the government to Jefferson and his party in 1800. From that point on, Federalists were the minority party for 20 something years. In 1828, Andrew Jackson, a Democratic-Republican, was elected president. He changed the name of this party to Democrats. Even those who had considered themselves Federalist joined the newly named party. Soon, another party joined the politcal scene: the Whigs. They strongly opposed Jackson, and the Democrats. The Whigs wanted protective tariffs, national banking, and federal aid for internal improvements. Then, in 1854, the Republican Party was formed. The Republicans ran their first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, in 1856. Soon there was four different parties gaining power: Northern Democrat, Southern Democrat, Republican, and ex-Whigs who were now in the Constitutional-Union party. Abraham Lincoln, a republican, became president with an antislavery platform. There is a theory in political science called the realignment theory or critical realignment theory, describing a dramatic change in the political system. Scholars frequently apply the term to American elections and occasionally to other countries. It is hard to compare and contrast parties from our history to parties now; it is impossible almost. There were so many of these changes that the parties that we see now with the same names as the past parties do not have the same views anymore. Political parties continued to change, and change again, and now we are left with Democratic, Republican, Independent, and Green parties, among others.

A Two-Party System

There has always been an hierarchy of power within political parties. Some responsibilites of political parties include providing channels through which ordinary citizens can affect the course of government, perform many chores of democracy, recruit and screen candidates, spur the development of new ideas, and much more (Jillson). At this point in our country, we have two parties at the head: Republicans and Democrats. All others are pushed to the background. What roles have minor parties, often called third parties, played in American history? Although our American political structure is a two-party system, third parties occasionally influence elections, and their candidates tend to obtain elected positions at times. Although third party technically refers to the most popular party behind the two most popular, it refers to all of the minority parties. In our country’s history, there have been instances in which a third party has been successful. On example is Theofore Teddy Roosevelt, who was a progressive. He was the 26th president and won from a significant number of votes. Today, the main three third parties identify under the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and the Constitution Party. Although there are only two candidates from third parties who currently hold office, one being Angus King (Maine) an independent Senator elected in 2013, and Gregorio Sablan, a Delegate from Northern Mariana Islands, there are many representatives of third party candidates in the upcoming election cycle. According to Bustle, The majority of candidates running in the midterms are still affiliated within the two-party system, but there are 420 third-party candidates who have declared that they are running for Congress in 2018, according to Ballotpedia (Morrison). Will 2018 be the year of the independent? or the year of the third party? only time will tell.

Alternatives to Political Parties

As the world we live in grows more divided with the continuing growth of political parties in our politics, it has to be asked: A political parties the best way to run our democratic nation? As a reminder, a political party is a group of people who organize to win elections, operate the government, and determine public policy. On the contrary, interest groups could be a viable option. An interest group is a group of people who share common goals and who actively try to influence policymakers. Both groups serve a purpose in our government, and both are important as well. Both are organized groups of people working toward specific goals in the government and both promote politicians and raise money to accomplish those goals. Their specific purposes within the government are different. While political parties have every intention of doing so, interest groups do not want to operate the government, nor do they have their own candidates despite supporting certain candidates from parties. Interest groups also are different from parties in the senses that they do not try to blur out their views and platforms. Instead they pick a specific idea or issue, and focus heavily on it. These issues could include abortion or gun control.As our political world grows more complicated, we must distinguish between interest groups and political parties and remember what each can and cannot do. Interest groups and minor parties may seem similar, but interest groups focus their attention on influencing government. At last, however interest groups and political parties go after a restricted supply of political ability, vitality, and cash, they likewise supplement each other in basic ways. Political parties assume the overwhelming job amid decisions and when government is being sorted out. Interest groups are at their most compelling, maybe even predominant, amid the typical course of government business”amid administrative hearings, program plan, and bureaucratic manage making and approach implementation.Political parties develop the expansive open motivation; intrigue bunches shape its subtle elements in manners adequate and frequently gainful to intrigue gather objectives.


America is at the mercy of two powerful political parties. If a strong candidate wants to get elected to office in this country, one usually needs some affiliation to the major parties. We see from history that third party forays are limited in strength and often serve only to undermine one or another of the major parties.

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution. -John Adams

As both previous presidents have stated, political parties will be America’s weakness. If this is the case, how are we still thriving as a country? Are we doing well, or are we just doing better than most. Whilst the Supreme Court nomination fiasco of late, it was shown first hand the harm of political parties. The whole country was divided; either with Trump and his nomination, or against them. It caused many online, and in person, debates that turn ugly. Although one could argue that the divide was because of the drama that surrounded the man, but it is clear that most would not go against their party’s viewpoints. Political parties inherently make everyone biased. Based on the norms of each major political party, one may feel as though they are democrat, yet have a particular view that could be considered republican. Minor parties rarely win office and almost never win the top offices in government, but they do challenge the major parties and raise issues that might not otherwise get a hearing. If Washington could see America now, probably the only thing that he could say after getting over the shock, would be: I told you so!

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Political Parties in America. (2020, Jan 10). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from

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