Party Origins and Evolution in the United States

William Crotty. Handbook of Party Politics. Editor: Richard S Katz & William Crotty. 2006. Sage Publishing.


Political parties evolved in America quite simply because the new nation could not function without them. Democratic representation depended on a new and unique system linking voters to political office-holders and holding those in power accountable to the mass electorate.

The relationship between theory and practice, with the theory usually preceding, and making the case for, the institutional development to follow, was not the case with political parties. A need to align forces to develop coalitions of interest to elect representatives, including the president, resulted in the uncertain evolution of the party system.

In the United States the parties were not welcome, and to a large degree and despite their utility they remain objects of suspicion and distrust. They are extra-constitutional structures not envisioned by the framers of the Constitution. From the earliest beginnings, they have been objects of criticism. In The Federalist, which was meant to rally support for the new Constitution of 1787, James Madison (1961) warned against ‘factions’ that would divide the new nation and emphasize the economic, regional, and state divisions. The new Constitution had been agreed to in an effort to provide the foundation for a nation and a new system of governance, one that united the colonies and provided a basis for a national accommodation and unity. The parties threatened to undo what had been accomplished.

The parties initially grew out of need. The theoretical justification of the parties followed later. The argument that evolved in time was that political parties are indispensable to a democracy. They fulfill functions that no other organization, then or now, could. These include: representing the interests of the mass of voters; mobilizing them to support candidates and parties; presenting issue alternatives relevant to the problems facing the nation and enacting them once in office; recruiting candidates to run for public office and supporting them in campaigns; and providing the unity and cohesion to make a fragmented governing system perform adequately.

These are not easily achievable objectives. Yet they are crucial to democratic governance. Political parties provided the critical linkage in any society whose ultimate power rests on elections.

A final general point is that the parties are agents of democratization in another regard. In the competitive battle for additional sources of support for winning elections and exercising power, the parties pushed the bounds of the electorate to greater inclusiveness (Keyssar, 2000). The parties extended the reach of the franchise, from a select few in the colonial period, to a mass-based male electorate, to the inclusion of women (denied the vote until 1920), minorities (effectively disfranchised until the Civil Rights and Voting Right Acts of the 1960s), and younger members of the society (the 18-year-old vote in the 26th Amendment to the Constitution).

Parties and the Democratic State

The lineage of parties in America and elsewhere is directly tied to democratizing forces within society. Political parties are agents of democracy critical to any system intending to represent and institutionalize the rule of the mass.

There are a number of ways of making this point. Henry Jones Ford wrote in 1898:

The bane of the Whig ideal of government was party spirit. It introduced principles of association inconsistent with the constitutional scheme. Because of party spirit gentlemen betrayed the interests of their order and menaced the peace of society by demagogic appeals to the common people. Instead of the concert of action which should exist between the departments of government as the result of a patriotic purpose common to all, devotion to party was substituted, and the constitutional depositaries of power were converted into the fortifications of party interest. (Ford, 1967: 90)

Everett Carll Ladd, Jr. (1970: 16-17) puts the matter somewhat differently:

Political parties are children of egalitarianism. They have no place in pre-egalitarian societies, and their presence in some form which denotes the basic commonality of function cannot be avoided in any egalitarian system. … We can … understand the egalitarian revolution and the manner in which it produced the social base for new political institutions like parties by noting its enemy—what it was directed against. It was an attack on ascriptive class societies, societies in which social position was determined by birth. These are commonly called aristocratic since aristocracy is a generic name for the hereditary ruling class of an ascriptive class society. The aristocracy, a small fraction of the population, typically possessed a monopoly of all or nearly all the components of high social position, such as wealth, prestige, and power, and occupied a position of legally defined privilege. Most people in aristocratic societies were blanks, having no say in the social, economic, and political decisions of the system, and were permanently fixed in a distinctly subordinate position.

Changes of such a radical nature towards egalitarianism and an emphasis on the individual’s self-definition of interests in society were revolutionary undermining the old order and replacing it with a new and uncertain social and political structure. For those who held power by reason of birth or wealth, it was a development fraught with fears as to the dissolution of the state and the destruction of society its norms and value commitments as they then existed. Such fears proved to be well founded.

A second point in this regard: Political parties evolved (they were not planned and, as indicated, were believed to be disruptive and corruptive of a sound order). They were created out of need, instituted as a practical and effective mechanism (whatever their faults) for mobilizing and representing the mass of people. The party systems gave meaning to the Constitution; they incorporated millions of newcomers into the politics of the society; and they made the promise of democratic participation in self-government a universal reality.

The American Experience

The Constitution of the United States does not mention political parties. How the society should mobilize a mass electorate was unknown; the implicit expectation was that individual voters would inform and motivate themselves and decide the public interest. The government would be based on a unified nation and rule in its best interest. It was to be a poor reading of human nature, although one familiar in early theorizing on democracy. It also evidenced a large degree of naiveté concerning the functioning of the new system:

In the process of party building, American founders confronted and effectively solved a long series of political problems. Some were foreseen and some unforeseen, some were at hand from the outset and some emerged only in the course of the work. It was throughout an endeavor of pragmatic adaptation and inventiveness under necessity, guided at the beginning by immediate purposes or a general desire to prove the republican experiment, informed only later by a conception of party as a goal. The problem of establishing the republic and of establishing party overlapped, and in a sense they all involved the practical fulfillment of the nation and democratic promise of the Declaration of Independence. (Chambers, 1963: 10-11).

Parties provided a link between ruled and ruler, and a vehicle to channel representative need upwards. Democratic politics is grounded in conflict. It pits groups, regions, ethnic affiliations, religious denominations, races and even such things as lifestyle commitments against each other. The role of the parties is to allow peaceful resolution of differences and to compromise and accommodate the conflicting interests. The parties help provide a sense of national identification and participation in policy-making necessary to the functioning and adaptability of a democratic system.

The initial impetus for the American party system developed out of just such struggles. The competition was over nothing less than the nature and operation of the constitutional Republic. In many respects it is a curious story one that combines institutional and systemic needs with values that forcefully disparage the form of an agency that could fill those needs.

There was no model of a party system that the founders could adapt to the American situation. It had to be created in response to the pressures for representation and governance. It was to be experimental. Those involved in its creation intended it as temporary.

The Federalist, in promoting the new national Constitution, warned of the necessity of curbing the evils of faction. It was a position shared by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, principal authors of the appeal for a unified nation in The Federalist, and, in short order, among the primary architects of the evolving party system.

George Washington, in his ‘Farewell Address,’ warned against ‘the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party; a conflict that would divide and potentially destroy the new nation’ (Washington, 1896: 218). John Adams, who followed Washington in the presidency, wrote that ‘a division of the republic into two great parties … is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution’ (quoted in White and Shea (2000: 15); on the same subject see McCulloch (2001)). Such warnings came at the precise time the new party system was in its formative stages. Thomas Jefferson was to be the founding force (along with Madison) of the earliest of the mass-based political parties (the Democratic-Republicans or Jeffersonian Republicans, or, more simply, the Jeffersonians, which became the base for the later Democratic party). This party was to compete with the elitist Federalists (then dominant under George Washington and his successor John Adams) and was intended to oppose Adams, Hamilton and their policies by organizing an opposition force of interests and, in 1800, electing Jefferson to the presidency.

The elitist Federalists had little motivation, or belief for that matter, in extending the scope of decision-making and no desire to create any type of permanent party system (as neither did Jefferson nor Madison). The new parties were considered temporary expedients to meet an immediate national emergency. Parties were looked upon as ‘sores on the body politic’ (Chambers, 1963: 68; Hofstadter, 1969).

The divisions that led to the efforts to expand the conflict to a public beyond the bounds of political office-holders and to solidify support for policies enacted, or to be enacted, began at the very birth of the nation. Hamilton, for example, initiated support at the Constitutional Convention for his conception of a strong federal government with financial, budgetary, and economic powers sufficient to stabilize the trade and international dealings of the new country.

There was, of course, opposition. Many believed the farm-oriented, rural nature of the country should predominate in federal policy-making. They also favored a system recognizing the preeminent role of the states in the Union (rather than a centralized federal government). In their minds, and largely consistent with the history of constitutional development in the new nation, a state-centered political system expressed the reality of the American experience. It was the basis upon which the Revolution had been fought. For such advocates, a strong presidency with extensive powers over the states and the nation’s economic and monetary policy sowed the seeds for a return to the monarchy from which they had just freed themselves. Jefferson was to emerge as the champion of this political faction and in 1800 he and his new party (built on a coalition of southern states allied in the North with Governor George Clinton of New York) contested Adams and the Federalists for the presidency and won.

The precipitating issues, in addition to economic favoritism for mercantile trade and financial institutions, were the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Both these acts (especially the latter) severely compromised the rights of citizens, including the right to criticize in speech or through the press the government, its leaders, or its policies.

The opposing sides, Federalists and Jeffersonian Democrats, did not consider themselves to be parties in the contemporary sense of offering electors alternative voting choices and as representing group coalitions intended to dominate governance, although of course this is what they did. The divide was far more serious and involved nothing less than what the United States should become as a nation: what the text of the Constitution actually meant in practice; the distribution of powers within the federal system; the rights to be guaranteed to individuals; the manner in which political power was to be exercised; and the economic and political sectors that should, by right, be favored by the government.

There was little give on either side, limited room for compromise, and a belief in the total acceptance of one set of values over the other:

The Federalists and Republicans [Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans] did not think of each other as alternating parties in a two-party system. Each hoped instead to eliminate party conflict by persuading and absorbing the more acceptable and ‘innocent’ members of the other; each side hoped to attack the stigma of foreign allegiance [England for the Federalists; France for the Jeffersonians] and disloyalty to the intractable leaders of the other, and to put them out of business as a party. (Hofstadter, 1969: 8)

The Federalists were a party without a broad mass base. After their defeat in the presidential election of 1800, they soon disappeared, leaving a period of one-party dominance by the Jeffersonians. As an indicator of the totality of the divide between parties, the Jeffersonians believed they had established the nature, limits, and purpose of the new nation: ‘The one-party power that came with the withering away of Federalism was seen by the Republicans [Jeffersonians] not as anomalous or temporary, much less as an undesirable eventuality, but as evidence of the correctness of their view and of the success of the American system’ (Chambers, 1963).

It would take decades, if not generations, before the full conception of competing ideological and policy-making agendas, both representing legitimately contrasting strains of representation, intended to be resolved by the parties’ election outcomes, was to be accepted. Pragmatic tolerance of an opposition, operating within the bounds of constitutionally-validated institutional structure, evolved over time, but its roots were embryonic in the organizations mobilized in the 1790s.

One other point is significant: the party system itself actively and rapidly evolved (more quickly than its popular acceptance). Essentially created (in an uncertain manner) at the birth of the nation and following a period of one-partyism that ended with the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828, it took forms that have come down to us in the contemporary period. Its initial development and permanence in American politics provide testimony to its crucial contributions to a functioning democratic system.

Factors Influencing the Development of Parties in the United States

The American party system has a number of distinguishing characteristics, which have influenced its evolution and served to define its special character, its structures, and its operations.


The American parties had to adapt to a federal structure of government. This ensured a loose structure, a party system sensitive to state and local concerns while attempting to put together coalitions for national office. The parties thus were weakly structured organizations appealing to a variety of interests and attempting to unite political forces within a national entity sufficiently to compete effectively for the presidency. The result was not only that they managed to do this, but their coalitional nature has come to be recognized as a superior mobilizing device, as opposed to single-issue or one-group (religious, ethnic, religious class, regional) parties (however large their membership). The coalitional party helps to promote a more tolerant, compromising, and inclusive democratic electorate.

Another somewhat surprising development, given the basic nature, loose structure, weak incentive and reward systems, and inability to discipline party activists or office-holders (conditions that are the direct opposite of the mass parties of Europe), has been the major parties’ ability, consistently over time, to represent broadly antagonistic and competing coalitions for power. The Democrats, evolving from the days of Jefferson, have generally been more sensitive to the needs of the less well-off in society, the Republicans more representative of wealth, corporate, and financial power.

The United States does not have a true class-based political structure, although the New Deal coalition came close. Still, while emphasizing cross-cutting cleavages, there has been a broad economic and class dimension to the two parties’ coalitions that has been consistent throughout America’s electoral history.

The Electoral System

The United States employs a single member district electoral system with a first-past-the-post decision rule in elections. This is not the most accurate gauge of a populace’s views or its vote (proportional representation systems do this far better). It has been argued that it does contribute to a more decisive electoral outcome and therefore greater stability in governance. It is also a force in pushing for combining into two broad party coalitions.

The Electoral College was meant to break the impasse at the Constitutional Convention among big and small states, national and state-oriented forces and those favoring popular democratic election. The compromise solution was that a form of filter on the public will and indirect decision-making by a group of elders or more politically astute electors was included in the Constitution. With the possible exception of George Washington, preordained as the first president, it has never worked well and has been a constant object of proposals for reform, amendment, or replacement by direct election. It does serve to reemphasize the winner-takes-all nature of single member districts in electing presidents, and therefore pressures voting blocs into one party or the other. It serves to reemphasize the coalitional nature of party politics and that an election in the United States can be won only by one of the two major voting blocs. In the process, third, minor, and splinter parties have little or no chance of success.

Third Parties

In any given election of consequence, there will be a number of third or minor party candidates on the ballot. More recently, minor candidacies have made a practice of competing in presidential and state party primaries as a means of promoting their views and gaining support for their positions (abortion, limits on taxation, animal rights, environmental concerns, anti-vivisectionism, fundamentalist religion, and family values being some of the causes promoted). These are basically ideological and policy-driven, single-issue groups who use the elections to further public awareness of their positions. V.O. Key Jr. (1964) has labeled them ‘ideological interest groups.’ They are not serious threats to unseat or replace the dominant parties. In addition, the major parties’ electoral superiority has been reemphasized by state and local regulation as to registration requirements and ballot access provisions. These work to minimize or eliminate minor party candidacies and, not by accident, decisively favor the principal parties.

There has, of course, been limited evidence of third party success. Abraham Lincoln and the new Republican Party managed to win the presidency within 6 years of the party’s founding. It is a feat that proves an exception to one of the most enduring rules in the political landscape. It is constantly cited by any serious alternative party that challenges the major parties. A three-way split in 1912, brought on by Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose party, led to the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson in an era of Republican dominance. The breakaway of liberals (the Progressive party of Henry Wallace) and of states-rights, anti-civil-rights Dixiecrats (under Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina) from the Democratic party in 1948 was predicted to derail the reelection of Harry S. Truman. Truman won a close race. Alabama Governor George Wallace ran a similar (to Thurmond) race-based law-and-order campaign focused primarily in one region (the South) in 1968 and 1972 that developed some national support. Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 financed his own Reform Party that attracted (for a third party) an impressive share of the vote (18.9 percent in 1992; 8.4 percent in 1996). Others have run as small party candidates with little success: Ralph Nader’s candidacy in 2000 did affect the election’s outcome by drawing enough support to give the pivotal Florida popular vote, and with it the Electoral College, to George W. Bush. Lyndon LaRouche, a perennial candidate with an authoritarian streak, has contested a number of elections and party primaries. John Anderson was a liberal Republican who contested the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. A number of other minor candidates, such as Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes, and the Reverend Al Sharpton, have run in the primaries of one party or the other.

Primary Nominations

The most radical democratic initiative was opening the parties’ nominating process to mass-based influence through the primaries. The primary largely replaced caucuses (the first system used) and conventions. The national convention remains as the official party vehicle for deciding presidential nominees, but its function in the contemporary period is to legitimize decisions already made in the primaries. Caucuses and conventions are still used in the states on a limited basis. The primaries include all party activists (and in some states, any elector who chooses to vote in the prenomination phase) and the decision of these party activists is binding on delegates to the national conventions.

One consequence is to include more voters in the most important of party decisions, the selection of its nominees for public office. It replaces a mixed nominating system composed of conventions, caucuses, and largely advisory (‘beauty contest’) primaries. The final decision in the older system was mostly influenced by party regulars, their leaders, and the major interest group representatives important to the party in its campaign for office. Opening the nomination system has significantly reinforced the broad and flexible nature of party coalitions while further lessening the structural and institutional coherence of the party itself. Curiously, perhaps, it has not diluted the partisan differences in policies or ideology that separate the core identifiers of the two parties (Miller, 1988; Miller and Jennings, 1986). In addition, it has indirectly weakened the need or capacity of third parties to contest elections. A variety of choices on a range of issues, one left-leaning in the American political mainstream, the other right-leaning, are offered to primary participants.


This was once the primary force in shaping party agendas and coalitions and the issues and groups to which the parties directed their appeals. Regionalism faded in the 1920s, although it has still had some relevance (the South in its Republican vote being the most prominent example) in recent generations. The New Deal led to more nationalized and class-based politics and the issue-driven campaigns of recent generations, and regionalism has fallen to a decidedly second-level influence.

Party Loyalty

There is no clear indicator of an individual’s party allegiance. In the American context, aggregate party loyalty is a fuzzy concept based on registration figures (often inadequate and outdated), the division of the vote in any given election, or people’s statements as to which party they support. There is no such thing as a mass-based, dues-paying loyal party membership. Party ‘members’ are free to affiliate with and support the candidates of their choice (in or between parties). The system allows a significant degree of cross-party votes in elections, often one predictor of the likely winner.

The most accepted and analytically useful indicator of party support has been the concept of party identifications developed in The American Voter (Campbell et al., 1960). As explained in The New American Voter (Miller and Shanks, 1996: 120), an update of the original study:

Party identification is a concept derived from reference and small group theory positing that one’s sense of self may include a feeling of personal identity with a secondary group such as a political party. In the United States, the feeling is usually expressed as ‘I am a Democrat’ or ‘I am a Republican.’ This sense of individual attachment to party need not reflect a formal membership in or active connection with a party organization. Moreover, one’s sense of party identification does not necessarily connote a particular voting record, although the influence of party allegiance on electoral behavior is strong, and there is evidence of a reciprocal relationship in which voting behavior helps establish, and solidify or strengthen, one’s sense of party allegiance. The tie between individual and party is psychological—an extension of one’s ego to include feeling a part of a group. Party identification can persist without legal recognition or formal evidence of its existence; it can even persist without resting on or producing a consistent record of party support either in one’s attitudes or one’s actions.

It is a measure of an individual’s psychological identification with one party or the other. It has proven remarkably consistent in identifying the intensity and voting loyalties of various categories of identifiers and, if not the major force in voter decision-making, it rivals issue positions and candidate perceptions in importance. Its role is central as an explanatory variable in explaining both voting outcomes and party ties: ‘personal identifications with the Republican or Democratic party are more stable than any other variable and play a major role in shaping most other political attitudes as well as vote choice’ (Miller and Shanks, 1996: 18).

Stages of Party Development

Five broad stages of party development can be identified. Each phase served historically different needs for the nation and evidenced different patterns of party support.

The first stage involved the creation of the political parties. It extended from the 1790s to what could be called the reinvention, or revitalization, of the party system after the collapse of the Federalists and the one-party era of Jefferson and Madison’s Republican-Democrats (the early Democratic party) up to 1828. In this era, the ‘parties and the party system appear to have served particularly significant integrative functions in the period of nation-building’ (Chambers and Burnham, 1975: 7).

The second stage, begun with the Jacksonian presidency and continued to the Civil War, witnessed the development of the party structures, from state and national nominating conventions to party institutions and campaign operations and approaches. These initial institutional forms have come down to the contemporary period (with the addition of the direct primary in the early years of the twentieth century and the opening of party operations in the late 1960s and early 1970s) in forms recognizable since their adoption. It is during this period that parties set their competitive patterns as well as the institutional forms that have endured.

The Democratic party fragmented in the 1840s and 1850s over questions of slavery, the role of the states in the Union, interpretations as to the divisions of constitutional powers, and expansionist issues the political system had been attempting to deal with since the nation’s founding. The era also witnessed the failure of the Whigs, a party with a policy agenda and roots broadly similar to the early Federalists. This left the initiative to the new Republican party, and its 1860 presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln, to unify and mobilize sentiment in the North to resolve the cleavages over the states’ place in the national system and, during the Civil War, to end slavery, an issue that had divided the nation since its birth, and one the Constitution did little to resolve permanently.

The most significant development, from a party and representative standpoint, of the second period may well have been the establishment of an enduring mass base to the party system, the national government, and policy-making (Chambers and Burnham, 1975: 11). The ends of an inclusive, representative democracy came to fruition during the years 1828-60. To these could be added ‘those of egalitarianism,’ symbolized by the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828, in contrast to the elitist oligarchies of Massachusetts and Virginia that had held power to this point.

The third stage of party development encompassed the years 1865-1932 and is referred to as ‘a derivative stage,’ that is, a period of ‘adjustment rather than creativity’ (Chambers and Burnham, 1975: 14). It was also a period that saw the nationalization of American problems and the incorporation of vast numbers of immigrants into the nation’s politics, parties, and democratic value structures. In these regards, it was a dynamic period of expansion and economic development for the country, one the party system both adapted itself to and encouraged.

The institutional developments did see the advent of the urban boss and the political machines. They also saw a level of corruption in all phases and all forms of government activities not experienced before or since.

The period was characterized by a one-party Republican dominance outside the South, and by competitive two-party elections nationwide with the Republicans normally victorious. The presidential election of 1876 (Hayes-Tilden), decided by the Congress, ended efforts (until the 1950s and 1960s) to integrate the races in the South and established the primacy of Democrats in the region. It would turn out to be a mixed blessing in that, while critical to the Democratic Party’s success in national elections, this rise of Southern Democrats added a conservative and often racist component to what was the nation’s more liberal party.

The election of 1896 (McKinley-Bryan) pitted a populist (Bryan) against a conservative, expansionist, and pro-corporate interest Republican. The Republican Party won overwhelmingly and cemented its position as the nation’s dominant party up to the New Deal and the candidacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Republican control of the presidency after 1896 was broken by Woodrow Wilson’s two terms (1912-20), brought on by a split among Republicans (between Teddy’s Roosevelt’s Bull Moose party and the Republican Party ‘regulars’ as represented by incumbent William Howard Taft).

The fourth stage of party development was the New Deal era symbolized by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s victory in 1932 and to a large extent a product of the Great Depression. The New Deal party system was built on a class division, the less well-off voting Democrat, the better-off economically voting Republican. This division had been present throughout American political history, but the New Deal gave it a voice and meaning previously not apparent.

Among the consequences were the creation of the social welfare state, the regulation in the public interest of financial and corporate activities, and an expansion of the federal government and its powers. The New Deal permanently established Washington as the centerpiece of American politics.

The fifth stage of political development is basically the post-New Deal era with the full incorporation of African-Americans into politics and American society, and an end to the expansion of the welfare state. It led to a Republican ascendancy from 1968 on (broken by the presidencies of two southern centrist Democrats, Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) and Bill Clinton (1993-2001).

Dominant in this stage of development, beginning with the Nixon presidency and developed most determinedly in the Ronald Reagan administration and pursued by the presidency of George W. Bush (2001-09), has been an effort to curtail social programs and spending, revise the tax code to redistribute wealth upwards (a contrast with the policies of the New Deal era), run budgetary deficits of historic proportions, a greater militarization, and, in the second Bush’s term in office, the necessity of dealing with global terrorism.

The new era has seen a weakening of party bonds, a seismic increase in the cost of politics, a polarization of the electorate, the growth of an independent vote, a rise in the importance of issue voting, and candidate-centered (as against party-centered) campaigns. The political party in this era remains a symbolic attachment for most Americans but its actual influence over voters and office-holders has declined:

the modern mass party retained a virtual monopoly over one key component—access to office for ambitious politicians—and with that political careers remained party centered. It was this virtual monopoly that disappeared in the critical era of the 1960s, and with its disappearance, the modern mass party also disappeared as an institutional form. It was a casualty of social, political, and technological changes and its own weakening institutions; but it was above all the loss of its virtual monopoly control over campaigns as candidates were able to develop an alternative to the party-centered campaign—the candidate-centered campaign organization—that made the modern mass party collapse … With that the century and a half of party-centered elections ended and the contemporary era of candidate-centered elections began. (Aldrich, 1995: 269)

The contemporary era has seen a refocusing of party efforts and a decrease in the party’s powers to influence elections, manage and finance campaigns, and choose through nomination processes its preferred candidates. The trade-off has been an increased role in party decision-making by the party’s base and a freedom to organize campaigns and seek elective office by respective candidates. Such changes in the political environment have not been universally acclaimed. They may be inevitable and unquestionably establish more demanding barriers for the parties to surmount.


The party system was created out of necessity. Its development mirrors the expansion and increasing democratization of the nation. It has never been a welcome addition to American politics, although the services it provides a democratic society are invaluable. The system began in the efforts of the 1790s to mobilize support for the competing conceptions of government and to answer the policy demands of opposing constituencies. The two parties’ coalitions and policy agendas when in office continue to respond to the same dynamics.

The parties of the contemporary era reflect their births and the pressure for representation and national development within a society in constant change. The weakening of party ties and institutional structure in the modern period introduces a new period of adaptive and political stress to institutions that have served the nation well.