The Constitution of the United States is ratified, and although political parties are not mentioned, the American party system is born. Throughout the debate about the Constitution-in fact, within President George Washington's own cabinet-two factions appear. The Federalists support a strong national government and the monetary ideas of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. They rally around President Washington and his successor, John Adams, though both men publicly deplore the party system. Members of the second faction call themselves first the Antifederalists, then Republicans or Democratic Republicans. Like their leaders, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, they oppose too strong a national government and a federal bank. They also urge the administration to drop its stance of neutrality concerning the French Revolution.
The Federalist Party itself is short-lived. It begins splintering during the passage of the Alien and Sedition Act, and cleaves in two (High Federalists and Low Federalists) over the XYZ Affair. After the death of Washington in 1799 and Hamilton in 1804, it lacks strong leadership. Democratic-Republicans take control of Congress and the White House in the election of 1800. Many of the Federalist philosophies (and some of the party's leaders) eventually resurface in a new National Republican Party during the presidency of John Quincy Adams.
The party system is in place, but there's no satisfactory way to choose a party nominee. Antifederalist and Federalist members of Congress meet to choose nominees-Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, respectively. But this threatens the separation of governmental branches, so a rough primary system is cobbled together. Local party organizations meet to choose delegates to send to county conventions. As roads and transportation improve, more and more meet in state conventions.
0The popular populist Andrew Jackson is inaugurated President of the United States, sending the National Republicans out into the political wilderness. They soon emerge as the Whig party with Henry Clay of Kentucky and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts at the head. "Whig" comes from the English party that opposed the monarchy; American Whigs decry "King Andrew" and his supposedly heavy-handed governance.
The very first national party conventions: On Sept. 26, 1831, delegates from local Anti-Masonic parties meet in Baltimore to choose a presidential nominee-they pick William Wirt of Maryland. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson's Democratic-Republicans meet. That Anti-Masonic party is worth a second look. It emerged after Freemasonry became increasingly unpopular during the first part of the 19th century (after the death of George Washington, who was a Freemason). In 1826, a New Yorker named William Morgan planned to publish the secrets of the Masonic order he had left; before he could do so, he was found murdered. It was never proved that Masons had anything to do with it, but people began to be suspicious of pubic office-holders who were Masons, fearing a dark cabal that would threaten public participation in the political system. The result in 1832? The Anti-Masonic party draws enough support away from Henry Clay and the Whig Party that President Jackson, a Mason, wins reelection.
The "Log Cabin Campaign" of Whig nominee Gen. William Henry Harrison, against Jackson-picked Martin Van Buren, is raucous. Harrison wins the presidency in 1840, but dies one month after taking office. His successor, John Tyler, is a states-rights Virginian picked for ticket balance, not philosophical integrity. He promptly begins to veto key Whig measures (mainly tariff bills and banking measures). The Whigs kick him out of the party but the damage is done. Meanwhile, the Antifederalist/Democratic-Republican/Jacksonian party makes the Democratic party its official name. Democrats are deeply divided, and not for the last time. For example, some party leaders want internal improvements (such as better roads to the new Western territories) but sometimes are reluctant to advocate large federal expenditures. The dividing line is slavery. Democrats split into two camps: the Barnburners, willing to lose rather than to compromise on slavery (willing to burn the barn to eradicate the rats), and the Hunkers, with such a powerful hunkering for office that they will compromise.
The political cartoon-at least as we know it-is born when the London humor magazine Punch is launched. John Leech's biting sketches satirizing politics and caricaturing political leaders deeply influence a young American, Thomas Nast. Nast originates the use of the donkey and the elephant to symbolize the Democratic and Republican parties. Eventually Nast's cartoons bring down New York's corrupt Boss Tweed.
Famine in Ireland and increasing immigration from other parts of Europe give rise to the Know-Nothing movement. Fearing a secretive, subversive Roman Catholic cabal (the pope is a foreign prince, they charge), the Know-Nothings form their own secret society and gain a nickname: If asked about their own politics or the official group, the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, members say, "I know nothing." This nativist movement draws almost equally from both the Democratic and Whig parties. In 1849 Know-Nothings form an official political party, the American Party, with a platform emphasizing ways to discourage immigration.
In August, anti-slavery leaders Salmon P. Chase and John P. Hale meet in Buffalo, N.Y., and form the Free-Soil Party. They choose a presidential nominee: former president Martin Van Buren, one of those Democratic Barnburners. Van Buren loses, but the party does manage to win nine seats in Congress-yet even this one-issue party is divided between the Free-Soilers who believe slavery should not be extended to the new U.S. territories, and abolitionists who believe slavery must be ended everywhere.
Dissatisfied with the Democrats, the Whigs, and the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, a pro-choice slavery measure that left the decision to individual territories, opponents of slavery come together to form a new Republican Party. Its first presidential campaign comes in 1856, with John C. Fremont at the top of the ticket. The two-year-old party, with its slogan, "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men, Fremont," pulls an impressive one-third of the popular vote.
Horror about the Supreme Court's dreadful Dred Scott decision, which not only said Congress can't limit slavery in the new territory but also that the Missouri Compromise was invalid, pushes members of the Free-Soil Party into the Republican Party.
In an 11th-hour effort to forestall the Civil War, some dusty old Whigs and dissatisfied nativists form the short-lived Constitutional Union Party. Wanting the issue of slavery taken out of the political arena, they offer voters a vague, pro-Constitution platform of beliefs. John Bell of Tennessee leads the party ticket and carries the states of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee (where residents had the most to lose from a war), but Abraham Lincoln is elected. When war comes in 1861, the Constitutional Union Party crumbles.
The Prohibition Party is founded in Chicago. This wasn't the start of the movement; prior to 1869, 13 states had passed laws to regulate or prohibit liquor. Prohibitionist fervor had dimmed during the Civil War, but is soon revived. Rev. John Russell of Michigan organizes the convention, which is the first national political convention to include women as voting delegates. By 1872 it's ready to nominate a presidential candidate, James Black of Pennsylvania. He wins a little more than 5,000 popular votes, but the party soon gets a big boost: the Whiskey Ring scandal during the Grant administration (basically a massive tax fraud on the part of a group of distillers friendly with Grant). When the party joins forces with the new (and very vocal) Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon league, its influence grows. In 1884, its candidate pulls enough votes away from the Republican Party in New York that Republicans lose both the state and the presidential election that year. The party declares victory in 1919 with the passage of the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the sale and distribution of intoxicating liquors.
The demoralized Democratic Party watches as the Republicans under President Ulysses S. Grant splinter. Grant, pushing Reconstruction policies, turns Southern whites solidly Democratic. A group of party activists, forming the Liberal Republican wing to oppose Grant, nominates newspaper editor Horace Greeley. The Democrats don't even bother nominating their own candidate-they endorse Greeley. When he loses, some Liberal Republicans join the Democrats, who almost win the presidency in 1876. In 1884, the Southern states vote with East Coast urbanites to put New York Gov. Grover Cleveland, a conservative Democrat, in the White House.
The return of the nativists: A new American Party, also railing against immigrants (Catholics and Eastern Europeans in particular), holds a convention in Washington, D.C. It calls for a 14-year waiting period before immigrants are eligible for citizenship, and demands that all socialists, anarchists, and other "dangerous persons" be kept from entering the country. In November, the party receives a grand total of 1,591 votes nationwide, and promptly disappears.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt, unhappy with his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft, runs again for the Republican nomination for president, but is stymied by the Taft-controlled party machine. But TR is unbowed-indeed, "fit as a bull moose" as he declares himself-so he forms the Progressive Party (the Bull Moose Party) in an attempt to unseat Taft.
The Senate rejects President Woodrow Wilson's bill to give women the right to vote, but the issue doesn't go away. Instead it inspires suffragettes such as Alice Paul to imitate their British sisters by chaining themselves to public buildings. After women's service in World War I, however, Congress is convinced, and passes a constitutional amendment in 1919 giving women the right to vote. It is ratified in August 1920.
Division dominates the Democratic national convention. Democrats required two-thirds of the delegates to endorse a nominee, but this year delegates are polarized. The two most popular candidates for the party nomination are William Gibbs McAdoo-an anti-liquor, pro-League of Nations Protestant favorite of the then-politically potent Ku Klux Klan-and Gov. Alfred E. Smith of New York, an anti-prohibition, anti-communist Catholic favored by urban political bosses. After 103 ballots on the convention floor, delegates nominate a weak compromise candidate, John W. Davis. He loses to the Republican incumbent, Calvin Coolidge.
Republicans, who had ridden the economic boom of the 1920s, come crashing down with the Great Depression. Republicans renominate Herbert Hoover, who is blamed for the depression and wins less than 40 percent of the popular vote, carrying just six states. The rout in Congress is even worse: Democrats gain 313 seats, while Republicans hold on to just 117. Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal emerges in 1933, and some Republicans, including the ousted Hoover, blast every aspect of the massive government effort. Others drop their opposition to some of the more popular New Deal measures. In 1936 the party nominates Kansas Gov. Alfred M. Landon for president; he supports many programs but criticizes the underlying philosophy. This time, the GOP takes only two states, and loses nearly 30 more seats in the House. Republicans do not regain control of Congress for another decade.
A seemingly minor rules adjustment forever changes the face of the Democratic party. From their beginnings as Democratic-Republicans, delegates had always selected nominees with a convention ballot requiring a two-thirds majority. In 1936 this is changed to a simple majority. The result is that Southern states, generally more conservative, no longer have an effective veto power. Liberal candidates can now win the party nomination without the support of the Southern states.
Polls suggest that New York Gov. Thomas Dewey, the Republican candidate, will win big. The polls and jump-the-gun newspapers are both wrong. Reelected President Harry S Truman has the pleasure of holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the headline "Dewey Defeats Truman."
The Republican party is now visibly divided into conservative and moderate camps that can be traced back to the split over how to respond to the New Deal. Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio leads the conservatives, while Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower advances at the head of the moderate faction. A fight over floor rules breaks out at the convention, but in the end, Eisenhower wins on the first ballot. He goes on to defeat Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson for the presidency.
Sen. John F. Kennedy beats Republican nominee Richard M. Nixon in the century's closest election. He wins by a margin of 113,000 votes (out of 69 million).
The classic convention battle occurs: Republican moderates led by New York Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller face off against conservatives, led by Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater. Goldwater wins the nomination, but loses to the Democratic candidate, incumbent Lyndon Johnson. The result is an even more troubled Republican party, with moderates blaming conservatives for the defeats. But it is Richard Nixon, with a foot in both camps, who regains the White House for Republicans in 1968.
The Democratic Party holds its convention in Chicago, and mishandles its radical wing; the riots and arrests are broadcast nationally. The party whose leaders began the war in Vietnam is now considering anti-war politicians for the top of its ticket: Minn. Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Sen. Robert Kennedy both run, though Kennedy is assassinated on June 5, the night of his California primary win. The nomination goes to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who loses to Richard M. Nixon in the general election.
Richard Nixon wins reelection with 60.8 percent of the vote, defeating Democratic nominee George McGovern.
The Watergate scandal causes Nixon to resign. Vice President Gerald Ford takes office, only to lose it two years later to Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter. But President Carter's perceived weaknesses-whether on economic issues or in international affairs, such as the hostage crisis in Iran-pave the way for the Reagan Revolution.
Vocal conservative and charismatic California Gov. Ronald Reagan engineers a convincing win over the Democrats. He successfully taps into that new political force, college students, and brings together the Rockefeller Republicans and Goldwater conservatives. The landslide is even more pronounced in Reagan's 1984 reelection. But Americans begin to show an unwillingness to give a single party control of both the White House and Congress. In 1986, Democrats win control of the Senate and solidify control of the House.
Moderate Republican George H.W. Bush, Reagan's vice president, wins the presidency, but the party loses some crucial seats in both the House and the Senate. He campaigns on Reaganesque principles, such as "no new taxes," but he raises some taxes and, yes, even creates some new ones. His 1992 reelection campaign energizes no one. The recession is partly to blame, of course, and the dangerously disgruntled H. Ross Perot puts together a new Reform Party that draws Republican votes. But the bottom line is both a lack of new ideas and charisma. The result: Bill Clinton.
Though dismissed by the media and mocked by Jay Leno, the Contract with America, a slate of conservative proposals from Rep. Newt Gingrich, proves popular enough that Republicans regain control of both houses of Congress, something it hasn't had since 1954.
After a year-long Monica Lewinsky scandal the House of Representatives impeaches Bill Clinton. The Senate in 1999 does not convict him.