Are Two Political Parties Really Enough?

The two party system

A Historical Explanation

There is no mention of political parties in the us constitution, and George Washington, who was twice unanimously elected the first president of the country as an Independent, was highly suspicious of them. However, from his first election in 1788-89, there appeared two competing political factions: Federalists and Anti-Federalists, setting the tone for America’s attachment virtually throughout its history to a dual-party political landscape.

During Washington’s first term, his Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, from new York, and John Adams from Massachusetts and other proponents of a strong central government and a national banking system, created the federalist party, with an anti-slavery platform that was pro-business, promoting industrial economic growth. they were elitist, highly suspicious of democracy, believing that the wealthy (identified as the most intelligent) should govern, and in foreign relations, they were politically sympathetic to the united kingdom. the party was geographically concentrated in New England, with backing in some middle Atlantic states.

Opposing the Federalist vision of government was a group led by secretary of state Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the declaration of independence and ideological leader of the group, and James Madison, often referred to as the “father of the constitution”, who proposed a more populist vision, defending slavery, states’ rights, and a decentralized, limited federal government. they created in 1792 the Republican party (it quickly changed its name to the Democratic-Republican party, not to be confused with the current Republican party), which represented rural, agricultural interests (95% of the us population was rural in 1780), including most slave-owning Southern planters. In foreign relations, influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution, they were politically sympathetic to France.

The Federalists party won only one presidential election, of John Adams in 1797, then lost to the Democratic-Republican party during the two-term presidencies of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and James Madison (1809-1817). the federalist party disappeared in 1816, in part because of its lukewarm support of the war of 1812 against the UK, introducing the only eight years in American history without two dominant factions (1816-1824), referred to as the “era of good feelings”, an experiment, led by president James Monroe, to see if America could live without political parties, which he viewed as harmful to the country. in fact, the absence of an opposition party led to the multiplication of regional factions and personal conflict within the government, to the detriment of any national agenda.

The experiment fell apart in the 1824 presidential election, which exposed polarization over the issue of the extension of slavery to new territories, and led to the break-up of the Democratic-Republican party into two major factions, one continuing under the same name, later dropping “Republican” to become the Democratic party in 1844, the precursor to today’s democratic party. the other group became subsequently the Whig Party, winning presidential elections until 1854, when it in turn split between pro- and anti-slavery groups. the anti-slavery faction became the national union party, formed in opposition to the extension of slavery in the new territories and defending a strong central authority against states’ rights, with Abraham Lincoln elected president in 1860 as the first leader of the national union party, which was to become the modern-day Republican party.

Since 1852, either a Democrat or a Republican has won every us presidential election and only once was the loser from another party. the exception was Theodore Roosevelt who had won the 1908 election as a Republican but failed in 1912 to obtain the Republican nomination, so he created his own Bull moose party and ran unsuccessfully for the presidency, splitting the Republican vote and allowing the Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the election.

In conclusion, a summary review of the history of the US clearly shows a virtual permanent attachment to a two-party system.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
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