U.S Elections: Origin Of Political Parties

Sep 26, 2020 By Heather Sevrens, Guest Editor
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We continue the 2020 election series with a look at how political parties originated in the U.S.

It appears that political parties seem to be simply arguing over who is to blame, and what should (or shouldn't) be done.

The fighting has gotten so bad, lately, it seems no matter how big or small an issue Congress brings to the table, they seem to end up in a deadlock.

At first glance, it appears that this clash of political parties is something new to the 21st century. 

Lessons From History

Let's look back to the 1780's when the founders of the United States were trying to figure out how to unite the country after the American Revolutionary War. 

It is eerie how similar the circumstances were then to today's situation. Then, the country was $50 million in debt (more than $600 million by today's standards), and individual states were reluctant to give up power to a union.

Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers was the first to suggest that the newly formed union should pick up the tab from the war. But the Jeffersonian Republicans -- a group that believed in the freedom of states, criticized his plan. They claimed this would unfairly burden the nation's taxpayers and allow the wealthy creditors who helped fund the war get away without paying.

Just as Democrats butt heads with Republicans over who to tax and who should pay down the nation's debt today, the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans were fighting the same issues in 1790.

The Power Of The Pen

As a result of all the infighting, several of the nation's founders turned to pen and ink to express their frustrations with political parties. Hamilton was extremely colorful in expressing his disgust with political parties. “It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated.. ", wrote Hamilton in the Federalist Papers.

George Washington also voiced his concerns about the dangers of political parties in his 1796 Farewell Address, warning citizens of the jealousies and animosity that divisions create. 

Perhaps the most thoughtful writer of the bunch though was James Madison, the primary author of the United States Constitution and the nation's fourth President. He recognized that it was human nature to split into factions. He stated that it was impossible to prevent political parties from forming in a free society, or else it wouldn't be free. 

Instead, Madison argued that the solution was to limit the influence political parties could have on the government. Thus, he argued for the creation of a Republic, where citizens vote an individual into office to speak for them. This was the beginning of the multi-party system in the United States.