Cover Story > Cover Story Sidebar

Timeline (1787-1998)

Issue: "Campaign 2000," July 29, 2000

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.

We see you’ve been enjoying the content on our exclusive member website. Ready to get unlimited access to all of WORLD’s member content?
Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.
(Don’t worry. It only takes a sec—and you don’t have to give us payment information right now.)

Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.

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.


You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading


    Power campaigns

    The GOP is fighting to maintain control of Congress…


    Troubling ties

    Under the Clinton State Department, influence from big money…