American Government/Political Parties

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The country as envisioned by George Washington was to have no political parties. The good of the country on the whole was to be the total and unselfish goal of all. Even the electoral college was idealistically set up to elect the best man with the most votes as president and the second best, runner-up was to be vice-president. This did not allow for the current party system, with a "political ticket" running together as president/vice president.

This ideal quickly dissolved. During the term of John Adams a law called the sedition act came to be which was to limit dissent about the government itself. This desire has followed us into the 21st Century. During the rule of Adams, who also successfully defended the soldiers who, in a state of panic, opened fire on rioters during the Boston Massacre, several writers and others were thrown into jail. (The Boston Massacre was an event of the 1700s in which British troops opened fire on colonial civilians and caused several deaths and injuries. John Adams successfully defended British troops in court, because he did not want anyone to go without legal counsel.)

The Washingtonian ideal was dead when, in the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson ran against John Adams. Jefferson beat Adams, but tied with his vice-presidential candidate Aaron Burr. This led to the electoral college being unable to reach a decision on the winner and the election was forced into the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives balloted 36 times before deciding on Thomas Jefferson as president, which was the clear will of the people. As a result of this election party politics was actively in motion, and the constitution was changed to separately elect the office of Vice President and President.

Third Parties

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There are many third parties in American politics. The Green Party and Libertarian Party are parties that cross countries. These parties exist both in U.S. politics and world politics. While their beliefs are the same, the Green and Libertarian parties in the United States are separate from the parties of the same name in other countries. This same distinction is true of these parties in other countries.

The Greens are progressive. Ecology is only one part of their platform. They also believe in racial diversity, a living wage, and laws and policies expressed in a humanitarian manner, locally, nationally, and globally.

Libertarians believe that citizens should have complete control over their actions as long as their actions do not interfere with the actions of others. In other words, you have your rights as long as they don't interfere with other people’s rights. Libertarians also believe in decentralized government, where the power lies with the States themselves.

Third Party History

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Third Parties have been around since the founding of the United States.

The U.S. Constitution makes no mention of political parties. This was a smart move; it would be anti-Constitutional to show any preference to any political party.

The first two political parties were the Federalists and the Democrat-Republicans. The Federalists believed in a strong central government and the Democrat-Republicans believed in strong states’ rights.

Issues, disagreements, and beliefs are the reasons for the major political parties and the third parties. Some past third parties include: Anti-Masonic Party, Free Soil Party, Union Party (merged with another third party - the Republicans), Whigs, the Know-Nothing Party (also known as the American Party), Dixiecrats (also known as the States' Rights Democrats), the Progressive Party, and the Bull Moose Party.

What did these third parties believe in? What were their causes and goals?

The first third party was the Anti-Masonic party (1831). They were also the first party to hold a national convention.

They didn't like the secrecy of the Masons. They believed this group to be un-American.

William Wirt (Anti-Masonic) ran against Andrew Jackson in the 1832 election. He didn't win but he carried Vermont. This election featured 3 candidates: Andrew Jackson (Democrat), Henry Clay (National Republican), and William Wirt (Anti-Masonic).

Abraham Lincoln (originally a member of the Whig Party) won the presidency as a Republican; a third party that was against slavery in the territories but upheld slavery in the South. Lincoln was also a member of the Union Party whose goal was "the Constitution as it is and the Union as it is". Members of the Whig Party and the Know-Nothing Party formed this party.

This election featured 4 candidates: Abraham Lincoln (Republican), Stephen Douglas (Democrat), John C. Breckinridge (Southern Democrat), and John Bell (Constitutional Unionist). Lincoln won and Douglas came in last behind the Southern Democrat and Constitutional Unionist candidates.

The Free Soil Party (1846–1854) as the name suggests, was anti-slavery. They opposed the expansion of slavery into the new states (the western territories), as they became part of the Union.

Martin Van Buren, the eighth U.S. president and a Democrat, served one term from 1837-1841. He ran as a Free Soil candidate in the 1848 presidential election and lost.

This election featured 3 candidates: Zachary Taylor (Whig), Martin Van Buren (Free Soil), and Lewis Cass (Democrat). Taylor won the election with Van Buren finishing second.

The Know-Nothing Party (also known as the American Party) was popular during the 1850s. They believed in setting limits to immigration and naturalized citizenship. They received their moniker by adhering to a simple rule - if people asked them about the party, they were told to say that they know nothing.

The party dissolved in 1856. The pro-slavery members joined the Democrats and the anti-slavery members joined the Republicans.

The Whig Party was formed in opposition to President Andrew Jackson. Andrew Jackson was very popular, had a strong personality, and was not afraid to use it.

His opponents interpreted his strong personality negatively and saw him as a king. They also believed in a strong national bank; Jackson didn't believe in a central bank. He favored state banks.

Andrew Jackson was a popular and strong candidate. His presidency was the beginning of the modern Democratic Party.

The Whig Party dissolved over the issue of slavery. The Northern Whigs (anti-slavery) joined the Republicans and the Know-Nothing Party and the Southern Whigs (pro-slavery) joined the Democrats.

The Republican Party incorporated a variety of different political parties. These parties included: the Free Soil Party, some of the Know-Nothing Party, and some of the Whigs (the Northern Whigs).

Theodore Roosevelt served nearly 2 full terms as a Republican president from 1901-1909. In 1912, he accepted the nomination of the Bull Moose Party. This party believed in progressive politics. The party consisted of a group of liberal Republicans who were against the conservative policies of the Republican president William Taft.

The 1912 election was a 4-person race. It included the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, the Republican, William Taft, the Bull Moose, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Socialist, Eugene Debs.

Roosevelt lost, but received 25% of the vote. Woodrow Wilson won the election with Roosevelt finishing second.

Strom Thurmond ran as a Dixiecrat (also known as the States' Rights Democrats) in the 1948 presidential election. The Dixiecrats were an extremely conservative faction of the Democrat Party. They opposed the Democrats' civil rights program. They were alarmed at the changes being wrought by the Truman Administration, which included desegregation of the Armed Forces in 1950.

The 1948 election featured 4 candidates: Harry Truman (Democrat), Thomas Dewey (Republican), Strom Thurmond (Dixiecrat), and Henry Wallace (Progressive Party). Truman won the election but Strom Thurmond received over 1 million votes, carried 4 states, and won 39 electoral votes. Henry Wallace was once a friend of Truman's but had become radical, and in some quarters, was considered a Communist. Truman's great fear was with the Democrat Party effectively splitting into three factions, one moderate, one right of center, and one left of center, the Republicans would have a cake walk. In fact one newspaper called for Dewey before all the results were in, so convinced were they Truman had lost. This is an important reason why Third Parties can be instrumental in the incumbent President losing the election. Truman won and was able to continue his plan of following New Deal principles laid down by former President Roosevelt.

Third parties are essential ingredients for our political process. They draw attention to issues and causes that the major parties ignore. They invigorate and introduce people to the political process. They are a perfect example of free speech.

Many citizens join third parties because they believe both the Democrats and the Republicans don't represent them. If it weren't for third parties, they wouldn't be part of the political process.

Third parties also spotlight the question - Can a two party system represent the interests of all Americans? Most countries have a parliamentary form of government. Parliaments have many parties representing both diverse and minority points of view. While there will be no parliament in the United States, maybe there needs to be more parties to represent the diversity of the United States. James Madison had always maintained, however, that majority rule was against the principles laid down by the Founding Fathers. With majority rule, one party and then the other, may achieve an unassailable majority to enact controversial legislation. Madison believed people should stand for a time as representative of their community, and in turn elect senior law makers and governors who would quorum to enact legislation. Once these people had served, they returned to lives in the local community, thus making them reflect the interests of their constituents rather than some spurious political ideology compelled on them from above.