Updated: Dec 13, 2020
No truly free democracy has ever existed without competing factions within it. Because of this, political parties are a fact of life for the average American. But where did the political parties we have today come from? To answer this question, we must first go to our nation's founding.
Once our nation had secured its independence, the population more or less split into two political parties. The Federalists, and the Democratic-Republicans. While these political parties were different from the ones we have today, due to different issues being more prominent in the late 18th century than the ones we have in the early 21st century, to put it broadly, the Federalists were more right-leaning authoritarians, while the Democratic-Republicans were more left-leaning libertarians. I explain this terminology more in-depth here.
There was only ever one Federalist president. The Federalists were always in the minority, and after John Adam's unpopular administration, the party more or less collapsed, leaving the Democratic-Republicans with nearly no competition for the better part of thirty years.
However, as is the case all throughout history, in the event of a total victory for one faction, the victor always becomes divided among itself in the absence of a common enemy. The Democratic-Republican party split into two. One side retained the Democratic-Republican title, though they would officially become simply "Democrats" in 1844, while the other party began calling themselves the "Whigs".
The Whig party took on most of Federalist economic views, though they were slightly more libertarian, as the Democratic-Republican party had shifted more authoritarian as their power had grown. Similar to their Federalist predecessors, however, they were not long for this world. The Whig party was more of a coalition against the newly dubbed Democrats than it was a coalition for any kind of cause. The creation of the Republican party in 1854 led to the end of the Whig party.
The Republican party was founded in 1854 by several anti-slavery Whigs. Their primary goal of the time was to create a coalition of people who were against the evils of slavery. In the following election, Republicans gained a majority in the House of Representatives due to their firm anti-slavery policies. They eventually won their first presidency with Abraham Lincoln in 1860.
Since the Civil War, Democrats and Republicans have maintained very similar platforms when it comes to policy. Having fulfilled their goal of abolishing slavery, Republicans became the dominant party of the right. They were libertarian by nature and believed that big government endangered civil liberties.
Democrats had been and would remain the dominant party of the left. They were
more authoritarian by nature and believed that big government was not a danger to civil liberties, but an opportunity to help better the lives of its citizens.
These issues have remained prominent all the way up until today, and likely will remain prominent for years to come. Political polarization is common when a system has only two political parties. It was before, and it is today a very deeply rooted and disturbing issue. But remember, no matter your personal beliefs or positions on economic policy, we are all Americans, and we all believe we are fighting to better our country in our own way.
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