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The Development of American Political Parties

A brief outline of the history of our country’s two-party system formation.

What is a political party?

A political party is a linkage institution made up of citizens who want to influence government by getting the candidate of their choice elected. Parties nominate candidates that share their views on major issues, and then campaign to get them elected to public office and design public policies that reflect their views.

Parties in the United States

Any American citizen may declare membership in a political party, though most members are of voting age. The US has a two-party system. Our contemporary system began when Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican president in 1860. The Democratic party formed 40 years earlier under Andrew Jackson.

Hamilton vs. Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton differed in their views on government and the Constitution. Jefferson’s followers called themselves Democratic-Republicans. They were suspicious of strong government and a strong president. Hamilton’s followers called themselves the Federalists.

Jacksonian Democracy Begins

In 1828, Andrew Jackson was nominated as the leader of a new Democratic party. This was based on the common people, the farmers and merchants of Jefferson’s party. Out of the split in the Dem-Reps rose the National Republicans (better known as the Whigs). After 1830, the Whigs and Democrats remained the two major parties until the 1850’s.

The Two Major Parties Emerge

In 1854 Whigs, former Free Soil Party members, and ex-Democrats formed the Republican party to oppose the spread of slavery in the U.S. territories. The Whigs faded from American politics, leaving the Democrats and Republicans in a two-party system that has dominated American politics ever since.

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