American Political Identities: an Historical Brief

June 6, 2021

Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

“Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.”

George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

Let’s indulge a narrative chronology, a preamble to a prospective inquiry respecting the rise and the fall of the GOP: a brief historical examination of American political parties.

The Federalists (1787): created by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and John Adams; this first American political party feared economic and domestic instability. Favoring a strong, centralized, and powerful federal government able to mitigate the selfish and jealous tendencies of uncooperative states in the union. Political leadership considered to have an elitist governing style with leaders who disdained democracy, open elections, and widespread suffrage.

The Jeffersonian-Republican Party (1792): created by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in response to Federalism (also known as the Democratic-Republican Party and the Anti-Federalists); this second American political party feared the power of a strong centralized, federal government. Favoring decentralized power with a limited federal government unable to limit the powers and independence of the states. Political leadership considered to have an ideological governing style with leaders who championed personal liberty and freedom from potential tyranny.

The Jacksonian Democrats aka the Democratic Party (1828): evolved from the Democratic-Republican Party, founded by supporters of Andrew Jackson following an election year when four candidates were running for president for the same political party. The Democratic Party is the oldest political party in the United States. At its political inception, the Democratic Party was known as a party for the common man favoring state sovereignty and individual rights, expanding suffrage to most white men, favoring a Laissez-faire economy, and invested in an American cultural doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

The National Republican Party (1828): also known as the anti-Jacksonian party, evolved from a faction of the Democratic-Republican party that favored John Quincy Adams in the election (along with remaining fragments of the defunct Federalist party). This short lived political party became known as the opposition party with a nationalistic outlook that favored the national interests of the country as a whole over local and individual interests.

The Whig Party (1830): evolved from a dissolving National Republican Party, and positioned in opposition to the Democratic Party, the Whigs favored the power of Congress over the presidency, modernization, meritocracy, economic protectionism, creation of infrastructure, and the creation of a national bank while opposing Manifest Destiny and expansion into additional western territories.

The Free Soil Party (1848): a primarily single-issue political party with a brief existence opposing slavery into the new western territories.

The Republican Party (aka the GOP) (1854): founded in the Northern States by the Whigs and Free Soilers joining forces to create an opposition party to the Democratic Party; the party of Lincoln favored business interests, free market labor over slavery, and opposed the expansion of slavery into the new western territories and any new states joining the Union. The Republican party feared the dominance of slave-holding interests in national politics, and at its inception, had almost no support in the South.

The Prohibition Party (1869): a liminal third party created out of the Temperance movement in favor of alcohol prohibition that declined after the passage of the 18th Amendment with a slight resurgence after its repeal; the Prohibition Party is the oldest third party still in existence today.

The Socialist Party of America (1901): a liminal third party, the social democratic political party evolved with support from groups of labor, trade unions, social reformers, farmers and immigrants that struggled with forming coalitions and fracturing party ideological positions.

The Progressive Party (1912): aka the Bull Moose Party was a third party created by Theodore Roosevelt after he lost the Republican Party presidential nomination to William Howard Taft, revealing a developing rift in shifting Republican Party ideologies concerning social and economic goals when moving into the 20th century.

The Communist Party (1919): established after a split with the Socialist Party, the Communist Party played a prominent role in labor movements of the first half of the 20th century and opposed racism and racial segregation. While the party saw increased membership during the Great Depression, the influence of McCarthyism and the “Red Scare” in the 1950s resulted in a decline in party affiliation.

The American Labor Party (1936): founded by labor leaders and former members of the Socialist Party. The American Labor Party was almost exclusively active in the state of New York.

The Libertarian Party (1971): ideological party of classical liberalism originally founded in opposition to the Nixon administration, the Vietnam War, and Fiat money. The Libertarian Party favors small government, non-interventionism, laissez-faire economics, and civil liberties while opposing taxes, national debt, social welfare safety-net programs, and government regulation of business.

The Reform Party (1995): centrist party founded by Ross Perot after he won nearly 20% of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential election (where he ran as an Independent candidate). The Reform Party favored a balanced budget, paying off the national debt, campaign finance reform, taxation reform, and congressional term limits.

The Green Party (2001): founded as a political movement in the early 1980s, the Green Party favors grassroots democracy, environment sustainability and ecological justice, racial and social justice and equality, and the decentralization of politics and economics. The party ideologies oppose corporate control over government, privatization of education and public services, the death penalty and unequal criminal justice policies, private prison systems, and the sale of weapons to foreign countries.

Americans have created other marginal political parties throughout our 245 years of political history, but with the exception of Ross Perot’s Independent run for president in 1992, no other third party has garnered the remarkable support necessary to frustrate the hegemonic dichotomy of America’s two party political system. History repeats itself: political parties dissolve and evolve, establish new names and altered identities, progress in their thinking and beliefs as changes in social and economic realities require political transformation.

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