US Political Parties Throughout History


Formation of two major parties (1790)


The first organized political party in American history was made up of the followers of Jefferson who labelled themselves as Republicans. Beginning in the 1790s this group called themselves Republicans. James Madison thought the Republican party was a temporary arrangement designed to defeat John Adams. Additionally, followers of Hamilton formed the political party, Federalists. (pg. 196)

Federalist party collapsed (1804)


In 1804, the Federalist party was essentially dead, which was illustrated by Jefferson’s relatively unopposed reelection in 1804. This “death” was largely brought upon by Republican Jefferson’s statement in his inaugural address, “we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” This illustrated the priority of the presidency: to serve all people regardless of partisan politics. (pg. 197)

Caucuses were discredited (1824)


The caucus system was first discredited in 1824 when the caucus candidate for president ran third in a field of four in the general election. Later in the same year, Jackson was denied the presidency by Congress despite having the greatest part of the popular vote. (pg. 197)

Third party Republicans win (1860)


Only one third party ever won the presidency, this was the Republicans in 1860. No third party is likely to win, or even come close to winning the presidency anytime soon. This is simply because in most cases only two serious parties, one made up of those who support the party already in power, and the other made up of everyone else. Third party Republicans managed to win this election largely because they had essentially superseded and replaced the Whig party. So while Republicans were a third party, they were unusually popular. (pg. 211)

Political split of country deepens (1896)


In 1896, Democrat William Jennings Bryan was a candidate for president. He alienated many voters in the populous northeastern states while attracting voters in the South and Midwest. Consequently, the already-present divide of the US deepened, which lasted until the 1930s. For the most part, northern states were Republican, and southern states Democratic. (pg. 198)

Different realignment period (1896)


A different kind of realignment occurred in 1896 when economics, rather than slavery, was at issue. A series of depression during the 1880s and 1890s fell especially hard on farmers in the Midwest and parts of the South. A bitter reaction against the two major parties lead to the formation of parties of economic protests. These two parties were known as the Greenbackers and the Populists. (pg. 200)

The Hatch Act (1939)


This particular act made it illegal for federal civil service employees to take an active part in political management or political campaigns by serving as party officers, solicity campaign funds, running for partisan office, working in a partisan campaign, endorsing partisan candidates, taking voters to the polls, counting ballots, circulating nominating petitions, or being delegates to a party convention. However, they may still vote and make campaign contributions. (pg. 207)

More focused social movements (1960s and 70s)

1960 - 1970

In contrast to the more generalized liberalism or conservatism of the “reform clubs” of the 1950s and 60s, the 1960s and 70s moved to groups that are focused on specific movements. For example, groups arose that were concerned with specific goals such as abortion, environmentalism, libertarianism, and other singular issues. As a result, candidates needed to pass a “litmus test” regarding the group's values in order to gain its support. (pg. 208)

Independent became most common Party identification (1966)


American National Election Studies show that, in 1968, more people identified as Independent that as Democratic or Republican (strong or weak). This first breakthrough was the first major sign of the weakening of parties, which continues even today. As time went on, the percentage continued to climb until it was nearly double the percentage of any other identification. (pg. 195)

Supreme Court rule regarding third party candidates on ballots (1968)


In 1968, George Wallace (head of the Independent party) took a case to the Supreme Court after he discovered that, in order to get on the voting ballot, he would need a signatures from 15% of voters in Ohio. In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled that such a restriction violated the Constitution’s equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Going forward, this decision provided third party candidates an easier path to get on the voting ballot. (pg. 212)

Hunt Commission changed convention rules (1981)


In 1981, the Hunt Commission gathered and changed some of the rules which had been set for the 1980 Democratic convention. The last two rules in particular were changed to guide the convention to become more deliberate in its meeting, and to increase the influence of elected official. The two major rules changed provided restrictions regarding the number of leaders and officials who could vote, and required that delegates who were pledged to a candidate must vote for that candidate. (pg. 205)

Rise of primaries and caucuses (1992)


Before 1972, the process for picking delegates that would represent each party was simple: delegates were chosen by the leaders of the party. Primaries were unimportant, and caucuses rarely occurred. However, after 1972, the vast majority of delegates were selected through primaries and caucuses. This was evident in 1992 when forty states and territories, and twenty held caucuses. Additionally, some places held both primaries and caucuses.(pg. 216)