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This discussion will focus on political parties. Identify two important takeaways from the history of political parties in Chapter 10 of the textbook.

?Political Parties? from American Government and Politics in the Information Age


was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license without attribution as requested by the work?s


original creator or licensee. © 2014, The Saylor Foundation. Chapter 10 Political Parties




A favorite pastime of political journalists is periodically assessing the state of political parties, usually


in conjunction with national elections. Journalists are rarely optimistic or complimentary when


describing parties? present status or forecasting their future. However, history has shown that the


Democratic and Republican parties are amazingly enduring institutions, even when the mass media have


sold them short.


Reporters routinely take stock of the parties, and their prognosis is typically bleak and filled with


foreboding. In 2003, New York Times political reporter Adam Clymer took stock of the Democratic and


Republican parties in a series of front-page articles. ?With the Congress thinly divided along partisan


lines, another presidential election taking shape, and the rules of campaign finance in limbo, the two


national political parties are at crucial turning points,? he wrote. Clymer described a revitalized


Republican Party that was looking forward to an era of political dominance after having had ?one foot in


the grave? for more than twenty years since the Watergate scandal in 1974. His prognosis for the


Democratic Party was more pessimistic. Clymer quoted a Democratic Party leader as saying, ?God knows


we need help? and another who observed that his party had ?run out of gas.? [1] He argued that the Democrats lacked a unified message or a clear leader, and quoted a party activist: ?Our party has so many


disparate points of influence that we can never focus enough to achieve our programs.? [2] In hindsight, Clymer?s predictions are not entirely accurate, especially after the victory of Democratic


president Barack Obama in 2008, and illustrate the pitfalls of speculating about the future of political


parties. However, his observations raise important ideas about American parties. Political parties are


enduring and adaptive institutions whose organization and functions change in response to different


political and historical circumstances. [3] The two major American political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, each have gone through periods of popularity, decline, and resurgence. 1 Michelle Obama addresses delegates. Political parties are important mechanisms for citizen involvement at the grassroots level.


Source: Photo courtesy of


The Democratic and Republican parties have dominated for over 150 years because of their ability to


adapt to changing political and cultural circumstances. In the early decades of the republic, when voting


rights were limited to male landowners, parties formed around charismatic leaders such as Thomas


Jefferson and John Adams. When voting rights were extended, parties changed to accommodate the


public. As immigrants came to the United States and settled in urban areas, party machines emerged and


socialized the immigrants to politics.


Parties also have adapted to changes in the media environment. When radio and television were new


technologies, parties incorporated them into their strategies for reaching voters, including through


advertising. More recently, the Republican and Democratic parties have advanced their use of the Internet


and digital media for campaigning, fundraising, and issue advocacy. [1] Adam Clymer, ?Buoyed by Resurgence, G.O.P. Strives for an Era of Dominance,? New York Times, May 25,


2003, accessed March 23,






[2] Adam Clymer, ?Democrats Seek a Stronger Focus, and Money? New York Times, May 26, 2003, accessed


March 23, 2011, 2 [3] Leon D. Epstein, Political Parties in the American Mold (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986). 10.1 History of American Political Parties




After reading this section, you should be able to answer the following questions:


1. What is a political party? 2. What were James Madison?s fears about political factions? 3. How did American political parties develop? 4. How did political machines function? Political parties are enduring organizations under whose labels candidates seek and hold elective


offices. [1] Parties develop and implement rules governing elections. They help organize government leadership. [2] Political parties have been likened to public utilities, such as water and power companies, because they provide vital services for a democracy.


The endurance and adaptability of American political parties is best understood by examining their


colorful historical development. Parties evolved from factions in the eighteenth century to political


machines in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, parties underwent waves of reform that


some argue initiated a period of decline. The renewed parties of today are service-oriented organizations


dispensing assistance and resources to candidates and politicians. [3] Link


The Development of Political Parties


A timeline of the development of political parties can be accessed


at Fear of Faction


The founders of the Constitution were fearful of the rise of factions, groups in society that organize to


advance a political agenda. They designed a government of checks and balances that would prevent any


one group from becoming too influential. James Madison famously warned in Federalist No. 10 of the


?mischiefs of faction,? particularly a large majority that could seize control of government. [4] The suspicion of parties persisted among political leaders for more than a half century after the founding. 3 President James Monroe opined in 1822, ?Surely our government may go on and prosper without the


existence of parties. I have always considered their existence as the curse of the country.? [5] Figure 10.1 Newspaper cartoons depicted conflicts that arose between the Federalists and Republicans, who sought to


control government.


Source: Despite the ambiguous feelings expressed by the founders, the first modern political party, the


Federalists, appeared in the United States in 1789, more than three decades before parties developed in


Great Britain and other western nations. [6] Since 1798, the United States has only experienced one brief period without national parties, from 1816 to 1827, when infighting following the War of 1812 tore apart


the Federalists and the Republicans. [7] Parties as Factions


The first American party system had its origins in the period following the Revolutionary War.


Despite Madison?s warning in Federalist No. 10, the first parties began as political factions. Upon taking


office in 1789, President George Washington sought to create an ?enlightened administration? devoid of


political parties. [8] He appointed two political adversaries to his cabinet, Alexander Hamilton as treasury secretary and Thomas Jefferson as secretary of state, hoping that the two great minds could work together


in the national interest. Washington?s vision of a government without parties, however, was short-lived.


Hamilton and Jefferson differed radically in their approaches to rectifying the economic crisis that


threatened the new nation. [9] Hamilton proposed a series of measures, including a controversial tax on whiskey and the establishment of a national bank. He aimed to have the federal government assume the


entire burden of the debts incurred by the states during the Revolutionary War. Jefferson, a Virginian who 4 sided with local farmers, fought this proposition. He believed that moneyed business interests in the New


England states stood to benefit from Hamilton?s plan. Hamilton assembled a group of powerful


supporters to promote his plan, a group that eventually became the Federalist Party. [10] The Federalists and the Republicans


The Federalist Party originated at the national level but soon extended to the states, counties, and


towns. Hamilton used business and military connections to build the party at the grassroots level,


primarily in the Northeast. Because voting rights had been expanded during the Revolutionary War, the


Federalists sought to attract voters to their party. They used their newfound organization for


propagandizing and campaigning for candidates. They established several big-city newspapers to promote


their cause, including the Gazette of the United States, the Columbian Centinel, and the American


Minerva, which were supplemented by broadsheets in smaller locales. This partisan press initiated one of


the key functions of political parties?articulating positions on issues and influencing public opinion. [11] Figure 10.2 The Whiskey Rebellion Farmers protested against a tax on whiskey imposed by the federal government. President George Washington


established the power of the federal government to suppress rebellions by sending the militia to stop the uprising in


western Pennsylvania. Washington himself led the troops to establish his presidential authority.


Source: Disillusioned with Washington?s administration, especially its foreign policy, Jefferson left the cabinet


in 1794. Jefferson urged his friend James Madison to take on Hamilton in the press, stating, ?For God?s


sake, my Dear Sir, take up your pen, select your most striking heresies, and cut him to pieces in the face of 5 the public.? [12] Madison did just that under the pen name of Helvidius. His writings helped fuel an anti- Federalist opposition movement, which provided the foundation for the Republican Party. This early


Republican Party differs from the present-day party of the same name. Opposition newspapers,


the National Gazette and the Aurora, communicated the Republicans? views and actions, and inspired


local groups and leaders to align themselves with the emerging party. [13] TheWhiskey Rebellion in 1794, staged by farmers angered by Hamilton?s tax on whiskey, reignited the founders? fears that violent factions


could overthrow the government. [14] First Parties in a Presidential Election


Political parties were first evident in presidential elections in 1796, when Federalist John Adams was


barely victorious over Republican Thomas Jefferson. During the election of 1800, Republican and


Federalist members of Congress met formally to nominate presidential candidates, a practice that was a


precursor to the nominating conventions used today. As the head of state and leader of the Republicans,


Jefferson established the American tradition of political parties as grassroots organizations that band


together smaller groups representing various interests, run slates of candidates for office, and present


issue platforms. [15] The early Federalist and Republican parties consisted largely of political officeholders. The Federalists


not only lacked a mass membership base but also were unable to expand their reach beyond the monied


classes. As a result, the Federalists ceased to be a force after the 1816 presidential election, when they


received few votes. The Republican Party, bolstered by successful presidential candidates Thomas


Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, was the sole surviving national party by 1820. Infighting


soon caused the Republicans to cleave into warring factions: the National Republicans and the


Democratic-Republicans. [16] Establishment of a Party System


A true political party system with two durable institutions associated with specific ideological


positions and plans for running the government did not begin to develop until 1828. The DemocraticRepublicans, which became the Democratic Party, elected their presidential candidate, Andrew Jackson. 6 The Whig Party, an offshoot of the National Republicans, formed in opposition to the Democrats in


1834. [17] The era of Jacksonian Democracy, which lasted until the outbreak of the Civil War, featured the rise


of mass-based party politics. Both parties initiated the practice of grassroots campaigning, including doorto-door canvassing of voters and party-sponsored picnics and rallies. Citizens voted in record numbers,


with turnouts as high as 96 percent in some states. [18] Campaign buttons publically displaying partisan affiliation came into vogue. Thespoils system, also known as patronage, where voters? party loyalty was


rewarded with jobs and favors dispensed by party elites, originated during this era.


The two-party system consisting of the Democrats and Republicans was in place by 1860. The Whig


Party had disintegrated as a result of internal conflicts over patronage and disputes over the issue of


slavery. The Democratic Party, while divided over slavery, remained basically intact. [19] The Republican Party was formed in 1854 during a gathering of former Whigs, disillusioned Democrats, and members of


the Free-Soil Party, a minor antislavery party. The Republicans came to prominence with the election of


Abraham Lincoln.


Figure 10.3 Thomas Nast Cartoon of the Republican Elephant The donkey and the elephant have been symbols of the two major parties since cartoonist


Thomas Nast popularized these images in the 1860s.


Source: Photo courtesy of Harper?s


Weekly, 7 Parties as Machines


Parties were especially powerful in the post?Civil War period through the Great Depression, when


more than 15 million people immigrated to the United States from Europe, many of whom resided in


urban areas. Party machines, cohesive, authoritarian command structures headed by bosses who exacted


loyalty and services from underlings in return for jobs and favors, dominated political life in cities.


Machines helped immigrants obtain jobs, learn the laws of the land, gain citizenship, and take part in




Machine politics was not based on ideology, but on loyalty and group identity. The Curley machine in


Boston was made up largely of Irish constituents who sought to elect their own. [20] Machines also brought different groups together. The tradition of parties as ideologically ambiguous umbrella organizations


stems from Chicago-style machines that were run by the Daley family. The Chicago machine was


described as a ?hydra-headed monster? that ?encompasses elements of every major political, economic,


racial, ethnic, governmental, and paramilitary power group in the city.? [21] The idea of a ?balanced ticket? consisting of representatives of different groups developed during the machine-politics era. [22] Because party machines controlled the government, they were able to sponsor public works programs,


such as roads, sewers, and construction projects, as well as social welfare initiatives, which endeared them


to their followers. The ability of party bosses to organize voters made them a force to be reckoned with,


even as their tactics were questionable and corruption was rampant. [23] Bosses such as William Tweed in New York were larger-than-life figures who used their powerful positions for personal gain. Tammany


Hall boss George Washington Plunkitt describes what he called ?honest graft?:


My party?s in power in the city, and its goin? to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I?m


tipped off, say, that they?re going to lay out a new park at a certain place. I see my opportunity and I take


it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that


makes the plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before. Ain?t


it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course, it


[24] is. Well, that?s honest graft. Enduring Image


Boss Tweed Meets His Match 8 The lasting image of the political party boss as a corrupt and greedy fat cat was the product of a


relentless campaign by American political cartoonist Thomas Nast in Harper?s Weekly from 1868 to 1871.


Nast?s target was William ?Boss? Tweed, leader of the New York Tammany Hall party machine, who


controlled the local Democratic Party for nearly a decade.


Nast established the political cartoon as a powerful force in shaping public opinion and the press as a


mechanism for ?throwing the rascals? out of government. His cartoons ingrained themselves in American


memories because they were among the rare printed images available to a wide audience in a period when


photographs had not yet appeared in newspapers or magazines, and when literacy rates were much lower


than today. Nast?s skill at capturing political messages in pictures presented a legacy not just for today?s


cartoonists but for photographers and television journalists. His skill also led to the undoing of Boss




Tweed and his gang of New York City politicians gained control of the local Democratic Party by


utilizing the Society of Tammany (Tammany Hall), a fraternal organization, as a base. Through an


extensive system of patronage whereby the city?s growing Irish immigrant population was assured


employment in return for votes, the Tweed Ring was able to influence the outcome of elections and profit


personally from contracts with the city. Tweed controlled all New York state and city Democratic Party


nominations from 1860 to 1870. He used illegal means to force the election of a governor, a mayor, and


the speaker of the assembly.


The New York Times, Harper?s Weekly, reform groups, and disgruntled Democrats campaigned


vigorously against Tweed and his cronies in editorials and opinion pieces, but none was as successful as


Nast?s cartoons in conveying the corrupt and greedy nature of the regime. Tweed reacted to Nast?s


cartoon, ?Who Stole the People?s Money,? by demanding of his supporters, ?Stop them damned pictures. I


don?t care what the papers write about me. My constituents can?t read. But, damn it, they can see


pictures.? [25] 9 ?Who Stole the People?s Money.? Thomas Nast?s cartoon, ?Who Stole the People?s Money,? implicating the Tweed Ring appeared in Harper?s Weekly on August 19, 1871.


Source: Photo courtesy of Harper?s


Weekly, Large.asp?Month=August&Date=19.


The Tweed Ring was voted out in 1871, and Tweed was ultimately jailed for corruption. He escaped


and was arrested in Spain by a customs official who didn?t read English, but who recognized him from


the Harper?s Weeklypolitical cartoons. He died in jail in New York. Parties Reformed


Not everyone benefited from political machines. There were some problems that machines either


could not or would not deal with. Industrialization and the rise of corporate giants created great


disparities in wealth. Dangerous working conditions existed in urban factories and rural coal mines.


Farmers faced falling prices for their products. Reformers blamed these conditions on party corruption


and inefficiency. They alleged that party bosses were diverting funds that should be used to improve social


conditions into their own pockets and keeping their incompetent friends in positions of power. The Progressive Era 10 The mugwumps, reformers who declared their independence from political parties, banded together


in the 1880s and provided the foundation for theProgressive Movement. The Progressives initiated


reforms that lessened the parties? hold over the electoral system. Voters had been required to cast colorcoded ballots provided by the parties, which meant that their vote choice was not confidential. The


Progressives succeeded by 1896 in having most states implement the secret ballot. The secret ballot is


issued by the state and lists all parties and candidates. This system allows people to split their ticket when


voting rather than requiring them to vote the party line. The Progressives also hoped to lessen machines?


control over the candidate selection process. They advocated a system of direct primary elections in which


the public could participate rather than caucuses, or meetings of party elites. The direct primary had been


instituted in only a small number of states, such as Wisconsin, by the early years of the twentieth century.


The widespread use of direct primaries to select presidential candidates did not occur until the 1970s.


The Progressives sought to end party machine dominance by eliminating the patronage system.


Instead, employment would be awarded on the basis of qualifications rather than party loyalty. The merit


system, now called thecivil service, was instituted in 1883 with the passage of the Pendleton Act. The


merit system wounded political machines, although it did not eliminate them. [26] Progressive reformers ran for president under party labels. Former president Theodore Roosevelt


split from the Republicans and ran as the Bull Moose Party candidate in 1912, and Robert LaFollette ran


as the Progressive Party candidate in 1924. Republican William Howard Taft defeated Roosevelt, and


LaFollette lost to Republican Calvin Coolidge.


Figure 10.4 Progressive Reformers Political Cartoon 11 The Progressive Reformers? goal of more open and representative parties resonate today.


Source: Photo courtesy of E W




on,_1912_copy.jpg. New Deal and Cold War Eras


Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt?s New Deal program for leading the United States


out of the Great Depression in the 1930s had dramatic effects on political parties. The New Deal placed


the federal government in the pivotal role of ensuring the economic welfare of citizens. Both major


political parties recognized the importance of being close to the power center of government and


established national headquarters in Washington, DC.


An era of executive-centered government also began in the 1930s, as the power of the president was


expanded. Roosevelt became the symbolic leader of the Democratic Party. [27] Locating parties? control centers in the national capital eventually weakened them organizationally, as the basis of their support


was at the local grassroots level. National party leaders began to lose touch with their local affiliates and


constituents. Executive-centered government weakened parties? ability to control the policy agenda. [28] The Cold War period that began in the late 1940s was marked by concerns over the United States?


relations with Communist countries, especially the Soviet Union. Following in the footsteps of the 12 extremely popular president Franklin Roosevelt, presidential candidates began to advertise their


independence from parties and emphasized their own issue agendas even as they ran for office under the


Democratic and Republican labels. Presidents, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and


George H. W. Bush, won elections based on personal, rather than partisan, appeals. [29] Candidate-Centered Politics


Political parties instituted a series of reforms beginning in the late 1960s amid concerns that party


elites were not responsive to the public and operated secretively in so-called smoke-filled rooms. The


Democrats were the first to act, forming the McGovern-Fraser Commission to revamp the presidential


nominating system. The commission?s reforms, adopted in 1972, allowed more average voters to serve as


delegates to thenational party nominating convention, where the presidential candidate is chosen. The


result was that many state Democratic parties switched from caucuses, where convention delegates are


selected primarily by party leaders, to primary elections, which make it easier for the public to take part.


The Republican Party soon followed with its own reforms that resulted in states adopting primaries. [30] Figure 10.5 Jimmy Carter Campaigning in the 1980 Presidential Campaign Democrat Jimmy Carter, a little-known Georgia governor and party outsider, was one of the


first presidential candidates to run a successful campaign by appealing to voters directly through


the media. After Carter?s victory, candidate-centered presidential campaigns became the norm.


Source: Used with permission from AP Photo/Wilson.


The unintended consequence of reform was to diminish the influence of political parties in the


electoral process and to promote the candidate-centered politics that exists today. Candidates build


personal campaign organizations rather than rely on party support. The media have contributed to the


rise of candidate-centered politics. Candidates can appeal directly to the public through television rather 13 than working their way through the party apparatus when running for election. [31] Candidates use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to conne...


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