The History of Political Parties in the U.S.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity;
and I’m not sure about the universe.”

~ Albert Einstein ~

Authors Note: The following is based solely upon my understanding of what I have uncovered so far by a study of history. If any of my facts are incorrect I beg that those more knowledgeable than I please correct me, and I will issue a statement reflecting where I have erred. However, if you disagree with anything I say simply because it is not what you were taught in school, or because it offends you, then I also kindly ask that you keep your comments to yourself.
Thank you,

Since the election of a new president is on the distant horizon, (that’s assuming we have an election this year), I thought it would be worthwhile spending some time discussing the origins of the two political parties in America today; the Democrats and the Republicans. I am still in the process of learning about this myself, so what I am sharing with you is just what I have learned for now. Nevertheless, I think you may find it enlightening; that is if you care about such things.

Although I could probably go into a rather lengthy discussion regarding the faults of both political parties in America, it is not my intent to do so here. Rather I would like to ask a question of those who still believe in the existing two-party paradigm; Do you know the origins of your political party, and how it has evolved?

An argument could be made that the origins of today’s political parties, (Republicans & Democrats), could be traced back to BEFORE our government came into being; with the verbal sparring between the Federalists, (those who supported ratification of the Constitution), and the Anti-Federalists, (those who either flat out opposed it, or felt it required modifying before being ratified).

I do not align myself with either of the political parties; I stand for liberty and a firm defense of my unalienable rights; which happen to be the rights and liberty of everyone else as well. I call out the faults wherever I see them, regardless of political party alliance, and I give credit where credit is due; although I don’t see much that our government does that is worthy of any credit.

People today fall into pretty much 3 categories. There are the liberals, the conservatives, and those who don’t give a shit about politics at all. There are, of course, those called the Swing Voters, who vote depending upon how they feel at any given moment on the issues at hand; regardless of political party allegiance. But for the most part, the Republican and Democratic Parties are the two primary movers and shakers in the American political theater. Yet how much do people know about the origin of their party? Not very much, I’m guessing.

I would hope everyone knows that George Washington was the first president to be elected under the newly ratified Constitution; but I’m not sure if people realize that Washington was elected on a non-partisan, or is it bipartisan ticket; meaning basically that everyone voted for him because of his status as the former Commander of the Continental Army. Yet even though he was not chosen under the banner of any party he still had strong Federalist leanings; choosing to listen more to Alexander Hamilton than he did Thomas Jefferson; who would go on to form the precursor to today’s Democratic Party.

One might think that since Jefferson was the impetus for the creation of the Democratic Party that Hamilton was the impetus for the eventual establishment of the Republican Party. That is both true and false. While it is true that the birth of today’s modern Republican Party was founded on opposition to Southern Democratic principles, the principles espoused by Hamilton himself have been adopted by both political parties today. I hope that makes sense for you.

Trying to learn, and explain early American politics is difficult, as it is not like things are today with caucuses and primaries electing a single candidate to run under the banner of the two parties. For many years there were factions within the parties that often disagreed with each other, but were united in their opposition to the ‘other’ party. Sometimes there were numerous candidates running for president under the banner of a single party; such as when both Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr both ran for president as Democrats.

Trying to explain all the internal divisions within the two parties would make this a tangled mess, but to truly understand how today’s parties came into being it is necessary that I go into a bit of detail regarding that; particularly as it applies to the Republican Party.

As previously mentioned, before our government came into being there were those that supported the ratification of the Constitution, and there were those who opposed it. Those who supported it formed the nucleus of what would become the Federalist Party. Many of the Anti-Federalists had felt that by adopting the plan proposed by the Federalists the sovereignty of the States would be threatened, if not completely annihilated.

Once the Constitution was ratified all these Anti-Federalists could do was work within the system in an effort to keep the government from making their predictions come true; thus creating a division in this country over those who felt the government should be strong and superior to the States in almost all things, and those who felt the States should be left alone to manage their own internal affairs as they saw fit.

During the Washington administration, Thomas Jefferson saw the direction the country was taking; primarily because of Washington’s tendency to follow the Hamiltonian thought process on what powers government should exercise. Jefferson, along with James Madison, (who flip flopped back and forth depending upon which way the political winds blew), sought to either slow down, or halt the policies taken by Washington, and later John Adams; which they saw as detrimental to the States and to the liberties of the people.

As stated, Washington was elected without allegiance to any political parties; as they had not yet truly been established as political forces. Taking that into consideration, out of the remaining 14 presidents prior to the Civil War, 9 of them were somewhat aligned behind the Jeffersonian belief of limited government, and the other 6 were Whigs; which is the precursor to today’s Republican Party.

Before I go any further I must bring up the subject of slavery; for it has a lot to do with what happens next. Although there are some who believe that slavery was justified by Biblical text, and R.L. Dabney’s book A Defense of Virginia and the South goes into great detail regarding that viewpoint, it is my belief that the holding of any man in bondage to serve as a slave for another is evil; denying the premise that all men are created equal.

Yet we cannot deny, or whitewash the truth about slavery either. Slavery existed and it must be taken into consideration when discussing how it affected political party platforms; but that discussion must be honest and thorough, without bias or prejudice.

Slavery came to America as early as the first British settlers, so to say that it was established by, and the fault of the South is disingenuous, at best. By the time the American Revolution took place slavery was pretty well established as an institution in the U.S. Yet there were those who felt that slavery was a sin against the rights of men. among them the drafter of our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.

I’m willing to bet that most people don’t know that the copy of the Declaration of Independence on display at the National Archives is not the one Jefferson wrote, it is an edited version. Of the many things taken out before being presented to the Continental Congress was a passage laying the blame for slavery at the feet of King George III himself, “…he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold…”

Yet numerous times Jefferson commented that the answer was not to simply abolish slavery, but to educate, free, then relocate the slaves outside the country. In his Notes on the State of Virginia Jefferson explained his reasoning as follows, “It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expence of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.”

Now that might sound racist and prejudicial, but hold on, I’ll get to that in a bit. In another instance Jefferson wrote, “As to the method by which this difficult work is to be effected, if permitted to be done by ourselves, I have seen no proposition so expedient on the whole, as that of emancipation of those born after a given day, and of their education and expatriation at a proper age. this would give time for a gradual extinction of that species of labor and substitution of another, and lessen the severity of the shock which an operation so fundamental cannot fail to produce. the idea of emancipating the whole at once, the old as well as the young, and retaining them here, is of those only who have not the guide of either knolege or experience of the subject. for, men, probably of any colour, but of this color we know, brought up from their infancy without necessity for thought or forecast, are by their habits rendered as incapable as children of taking care of themselves, and are extinguished promptly wherever industry is necessary for raising the young. in the mean time they are pests in society by their idleness, and the depredations to which this leads them. their amalgamation with the other colour produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character can innocently consent.”

Again, that sounds racist in comparison to popular attitudes today, and again I’ll get back to that in a bit; just keep on reading.

Whatever your thoughts may be on slavery, those who fought our War for Independence were too timid to condemn it in their universal Declaration of Independence, and later those who drafted the Constitution also kicked the can down the road; so to speak, by not introducing language in it that would have abolished slavery permanently. If you’ll read the Constitution the only mention of slavery, and they don’t even have the integrity to call it what it is, is found in two places; the 3/5’s Clause, and Article 1, Section 9, where it states, “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight…” Keep that in mind as we continue our discussion, for it will become quite pertinent in regards to the formation of the Republican Party.

So slavery was legal under the Constitution; at least in the States where it already existed; and Congress could take no action to abolish it until 1808. During the early years of our young country slavery existed throughout the States, with the Northern States shipping interests doing most of the importation of slave labor.

At this time in our history the two political parties were not what you could call sectional; meaning confined to specific regions of the country. There were Democrats as well as Whigs in the North, and there were Republicans and Democrats in the South, although the South was predominantly Democrat.

As the country began to grow, first with the Louisiana Purchase, followed by Texas, then Oregon, then the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in which we acquired most of the Western States. Every time new land was added to the nation the question of whether slavery was to be permitted in these new territories/States came up, and always the Missouri Compromise came up; which had established Maine as a slave free State and Missouri as a slaveholding State. The Missouri Compromise also established the 36°30′ parallel as the dividing point between free and slave States; with all States North of that boundary being free, and all those below it being slaveholding States.

Yet every time a new territory was being considered as a new State the question of whether the 36°30′ parallel was applicable, with Northern abolitionists/exclusionists seeking to limit slavery to the States where it already existed. They did this for two reasons. First they wanted the new States to be, not only slave free, but black free as well. They wanted these new States to be while only States; for that is what the underlying principle behind exclusionism was, the exclusion of blacks. Secondly, they did not want slavery to be introduced into new States because it would lessen their power in government due to the 3/5’s Clause; because most slaveholding States typically voted Democratic.

As I mentioned earlier there had always been schisms, or divisions among the political parties, but it was in the 1850’s that these schisms were used to their advantage by those who would form the Republican Party. In the 1850’s there were many divisions among what would become the Republican Party; there was the Whig Party, which was slowly dying; there was the Free Soil Party that focused primarily upon the exclusion of slaves; and there was also the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, (and yes that was their name.)

Although these factions often disagreed with one another on which issues should be of primary importance, they had two things in common. First they were becoming increasingly sectional; meaning they were predominantly Northerners, and secondly, they all steadfastly opposed Southern Democrats. As these factions weakened their political power, a few designing men sought to consolidate all the factions into one single party which would focus primarily upon exclusionism, while also adhering to the concept of protective tariffs for Northern business interests. This consolidation was the genesis of the Republican Party. Those who sought Exclusionism were prone to lying, insults, and outright violence to achieve their goals. Sound familiar?

Some of you might not be familiar with the name Charles Sumner, but he was a leading Republican Senator during the period leading up to, and throughout the Civil War. In Volume II of Howard Ray White’s 4 part series on that period of history he writes the following regarding Charles Sumner, “And, although a brilliant man in many ways, Sumner’s mind had no capacity for judging what was true and what was false. The moral outrage that possessed Sumner’s ‘soul’ stemmed from his complete conviction that the propaganda he was receiving was truthful.”

I mention Sumner because he, and what was taking place in the Kansas territory at the time, were key in the Republicans consolidating power and establishing a purely sectional party. In May of 1850 Charles Sumner gave a two day speech in which he insulted the South, and many of his fellow Senators from Southern States. Northern newspapers, which were owned and operated by those sympathetic to the cause of Exclusionism praised Sumner for his fiery oration in defense of their cause.

Yet some of his fellow members of the Senate did not take so kindly to his insults to their colleagues. Edward Everett, a fellow Northerner from Massachusetts, stated, “Language equally intemperate and bitter is sometimes heard from a notorious parliamentary blackguard, but from a man of character of any party I have never seen anything so offensive.”

But it was Preston Brooks, a relative of Andrew Butler, one of the Senators Sumner had insulted, that elevated Sumner from just another loudmouthed politician to a hero for the cause. Two days after Sumner delivered his speech to the Senate Brooks confronted Sumner, and beat him repeatedly over the head with a walking cane. Although Sumner was bleeding profusely from the assault, his wounds began to heal rapidly under the care of Doctor Cornelius Boyle, but that simply would not do for the fledgling Republicans; they needed a martyr, and Sumner was their man.

Dr. Boyle was quickly replaced with Dr. Marshall Perry to take over as attending physician for Sumner. Sumner was quickly whisked off to the home of Francis Blair, another Northern Exclusionist, where he would remain out of sight until just prior to the 1860 Presidential election; the one that saw Abraham Lincoln elected as the first Republican President.

The other event that led to the consolidation of power was the struggle going on in the territory of Kansas; often referred to as Bleeding Kansas for all the violence that occurred there. Among those involved in the events was one John Brown, who would later attempt to confiscate the federal arms stored at Harpers Ferry, Virginia and to lead the slaves in a slave uprising. Brown would be hung for his efforts, but not before he left a bloody trail of corpses behind him in Kansas.

The story of how Kansas became a State dates back to the presidency of Thomas Jefferson when be bought the vast track of land known as the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon Bonaparte. I don’t think people truly grasp the immense size of the land purchased by the government in 1803; it begins like the funnel of a tornado in New Orleans and widens as it travels northward, covering all of modern day Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and portions of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota and North Dakota.

Little by little sections of that vast territory had been accepted into the Union as States, and it was with the entrance of Missouri that the Missouri Compromise which was signed into law by President James Monroe in 1820. But it was Kansas which saw fierce fighting between Southerners who sought to emigrate there and make it a slaveholding State, and Northerners who sought to do the same, only making it an Exclusionist State.

Typically when a territory wishes to become a State it makes its desires known to Congress, which then passes an enabling act that grants that territory the authority to establish a State Constitution and choose State officers. Once these acts are accomplished Congress then debates whether to accept or reject that territories request to become part of the Union.

What happened in Kansas is that pro-slavery settlers had written a constitution, but anti-slavery exclusionists wrote an alternative constitution which prohibited slavery within the territory. The anti-slavery faction was receiving aid, and arms, from northerners and sought to use any means at their disposal to ensure that their constitution was adopted, and hopefully chase off all pro-slavery settlers.

Enter John Brown. Brown was born in Connecticut and had lived in other places as well. He was a staunch, almost fanatical abolitionist/exclusionist, and he made frequent trips to the Kansas Territory to stir things up and ensure that it become a slave free State.

Violence often erupted between the two factions in Kansas, with beating, and even killings taking place when tempers flared. It was difficult to maintain law and order in Kansas; particularly in Lawrence which was the hub of Exclusionism as they had fortified the town and did not recognize federal authority to enforce the law.

Sheriff Samuel Jones had attempted to lead a posse into Lawrence to arrest those charged with violence against pro-slavery settlers, but was shot in the leg one evening while camped outside the town. Later, when Jones had healed, he returned to Lawrence with federal forces. The leader of the federal forces had told Jones to remain at the encampment, but he had a score to settle, and took some men, and cannon, into Lawrence. He destroyed the two newspapers in the town; which had been major sources of anti-slavery propaganda for men like Charles Sumner, and he burnt down the Free State Hotel and the home of Charles Robinson; who had been elected governor by the Exclusionists.

John Brown was infuriated after hearing of the events in Lawrence, and decided to make pro-slavery settlers pay dearly. On the night of May 24, 1856 Brown and two other men murdered 5 pro-slavery settlers in cold blood; cleaving in their heads with swords and piercing their sides; leaving their bodies outside their homes with the female members inside were left to wonder the fate of the men.

Brown and his men were never brought up on charges for these murders, and Northern newspapers swept the story under the rug, while the events in Lawrence horrified Southerners. The atrocities committed by Brown that evening were a glimpse into the bloodshed that would be spilled beginning 4 years later with the inauguration of the Civil War.

However, not only was Brown almost fanatical in his Exclusionist ideology, members of Congress from the Northern States were just as bad; and the events in Kansas Territory only strengthened the up and coming Republican Party. By the time the 1860 presidential election rolled around the Republican Party would have complete control of Northern politics, and Abraham Lincoln would be their chosen one to push forward the Exclusionist agenda.

I think now would be a good time to take a break. I knew this would cover a lot of information, and therefore be rather long, but I’m only about halfway done and don’t want to make this into a book. So ponder what I’ve said so far, and stay tuned for the conclusion…

About Br'er Rabbit

I'm just one person out of millions of others. The only thing different about me is that I don't walk around with my head up my ass.
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3 Responses to The History of Political Parties in the U.S.

  1. Roman says:

    Damn good article Neal.

  2. Neal says:

    Thanks. Stay tuned for Part 2

  3. Jamie says:

    Great, my friend!

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