How the Two-party System of USA Formed


History of how the Republican and Democrat parties developed during the Confederation, Confederacy, Civil War, and Abolition periods formed

1. ‘Federalist’ and ‘Anti-Federalist’

The Confederation Period (different from the Confederacy) officially began in 1781 when the Article of Confederation was ratified. It did not include a president. In 1788, a new Constitution took effect and a new form of government—Federalism.

A federalist system created a strong central government with three equal branches. However, not everyone preferred a government with so much power—reminiscent of British rule. Hence, they were called anti-Federalists.

Split in Washington’s cabinet paved the first two political parties

Two parties developed during the term of the first POTUS, George Washington. The critical issue was the power and size of the federal government. They were known as “Federalists and Anti-Federalists.” [The Americans, Littell, p186]

The second split of political parties that developed almost a century later was based on the issue of Black slavery.

Shay’s Rebellion (1786-1787): They were farmers who protested high taxes and foreclosures in Massachusetts, led by former captain Daniel Shay. It exposed the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation—prompting the Constitutional Convention of 1787. As a result, more power was given to the ‘Federal government,’ such as a stronger army, to quell future uprisings.

Federalist (Big Government)

  • “Big Government” with an open interpretation of the Constitution.
  • They wanted a strong central government to have enough control over the people—to “protect them.”
  • The executive branch should have more power.
  • They did not want the Bill of Rights.
  • Advocates: J. Adams, King, Marshall, Pickering, Pinckney, and Hamilton.

Anti-Federalist (Small Government)

  • “Small Government” with a limited interpretation of the constitution.
  • They wanted a “weaker” central government.
  • The people should have more power.
  • They demanded the Bill of Rights (they preferred the Declaration of Independence).
  • Advocates: Henry, Mason, S. Adams, Winthrop, Monroe, and Jefferson


Thomas Jefferson and American Federalism

Thomas Jefferson helped develop American federalism, although he was an anti-federalist. He favored a strict interpretation of the Constitution yet expanded his executive power by asserting “implied power” to justify the Louisiana Purchase. [Manifest Destiny]

Louisiana Purchase: In 1803, President Jefferson pushed the acquisition of (present-day) 15 states offered by France for 15 million, doubling the nation’s farmland which put to a test the constitutional power of the executive branch.

Manifest Destiny: Coined by John L. O’Sullivan in 1845, Manifest Destiny was the belief that the U.S. was destined to expand westward. It justified the Louisiana Purchase, subsequent acquisition of Texas and California from Mexico, and the forced relocation of natives.

Industrial economics divided America

Although Americans were free from British tyranny, Blacks remained slave laborers. The northern states had local and European immigrant workers, while the South had enslaved Black people.

Both sides benefited from Black slavery. But when the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published, it became clear that the end did not justify the means.

  • Northern states (Anti-slavery) – Young and older women mostly worked in textile factories.
  • Southern states (Pro-slavery) – Enslaved Black people worked mostly in cotton plantations.

2. Kansas-Nebraska Act: A defining moment for the future Democrat and Republican parties

In 1820, the Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery above the Missouri line (northern states). But in 1854, Democrat Senator Douglas authored the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It split the territory into antislavery and pro-slavery states.

As a result, a great debate ensued among politicians. It caused the “Bleeding of Kansas,” or the “Border War,” a violent civil confrontation in the territories.

Those who refused to overturn the compromise (against slavery) became the Republican party, with Abraham Lincoln as its prominent figure.

Map of the southern pro-slave states and anti-slave states in the north. The Kansas-Nebraska act later defined the borders of Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, and the Dakotas. PHOTO: Library of Congress, Chicago, Ill.: McConnell Map Co., [1919]

The merger and dissolution of political parties

The opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act splintered the Democratic Party. The Whigs party dissolved. Northern Whigs and antislavery Democrats merged as the Republican Party. Democrats survived as the only national party. [History]

Democratic-Republican Party

  • Democratic-Republican Party (1801-1825) was organized as the Republican Party in 1792.
  • It was the first political opposition party and the oldest in the United States.
  • The “majority faction” of the Democratic-Republicans coalesced into the “modern Democratic Party,” while the “minority faction” formed the core of what became the Whig Party.

Whig Party

  • Formed in 1834, it opposed the “tyranny” of President Andrew Jackson.
  • It dissolved in 1854 when the Missouri Compromise was repealed, dividing its pro and anti-slave leaders.

Democratic Party

  • Andrew Jackson led a faction of Democratic-Republicans that ultimately merged into the Democratic Party.
  • They opposed the civil and political rights of African Americans until the 1960s.
  • Federalists wanted a strong central government and less power to the state government, much like the Democrats today.
  • Democrats were mostly pro-slavery, and when Lincoln took office, who was an anti-slave Republican, sparked the Civil War
  • One reason for the Civil War was the secession of eleven Southern states that formed the Confederate States of America (another country). They were Democrat states who refused to give up slavery.
  • The Democratic-Republicans are the antecedent of today’s ‘Liberal-Democrats.’

Republican Party

  • Towards the 1800s, anti-Federalists began calling themselves Republicans.
  • They will later be defined as the opposing party to Black slavery.
  • When the Whig Party was dissolved, its anti-slave leaders formed the Republican Party on March 20, 1854. Some anti-slave politicians from the Democratic party joined them.
  • Anti-Federalists wanted a “weaker central government” to support a “strong state government,” much like the Republicans today.
  • Republicans are the antecedent of today’s ‘Conservative-Republicans.’

Today, many assume that the Democrats were “antislavery.” While Republicans were “pro-slavery,” the opposite is true. However, USA Today’s fact check asserts that the party split was for geographical reasons than partisan.


3. Confederate South vs. the Union North

The Union (Anti-Slave)

  • The Union comprised 20 united states, governed by a central government.
  • The ‘Union Army’ fought against the ‘Confederate Army’ of the South. Hence, the Civil War.
  • President Abraham Lincoln squashed the rebellion, enabling him to enforce the Emancipation Act.

The Confederate State of America or Confederacy (Pro-Slaves)

During the 19th century, the Democratic Party held a notable presence in the Southern states, where it enjoyed a significant base of support. It is worth mentioning that within the party, there were members who advocated for and supported the institution of slavery.

  • These were 11 southern pro-slave states that seceded from the Union in 1860.
  • They governed themselves separately and rebelled against the Union.
  • Gen. Robert Lee, who led the Confederate army, surrendered to the Union (led by Gen. Ulysses Grant) on April 9, 1865—ending the Confederacy state and the Civil War.


Civil War
FLowchart of the beginning and end of the American civil war from April 12, 1861 – April 9, 1865. Courtesy of Dr. Lee Jimenez.
FLowchart of the reconstructions following the Civil War. Courtesy of Lee Jimenez.


4. Ending Black Slavery

Abraham Lincoln (Republican) was the 16th POTUS. His name was removed from the ballots of some southern states. Still, he won the election by electoral votes.

Lincoln’s platform centered on antislavery, but he couldn’t enforce his plans all at once. First, he had to score a victory against the South (Civil War; Battle at Antietam, 1862).

As “spoils of war,” he was able to demand to free the enslaved people, initially from the rebellious, defeated states.

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Act

In President Lincoln’s inaugural address, he pledged not to interfere with slavery from non-rebellious states. Two years after, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

The first African-American members of Congress were 23 Black Republicans. [Gov. Info]

On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer, shot the president after hearing Lincoln promote Black voting rights. “That means nigger citizenship… the last speech he will ever give,” Booth wrote in his diary.

first BLACK members of congress were 23 Black Republicans.

The history of slavery in America has been distorted. Democrats are for the white man, and the Republicans are for the black negro.

Postbellum era

Blacks may have been “freedmen,” but persecution followed with the KKK, a white supremacist group that used God’s name to justify their evil.

Scalawags and carpetbaggers, who supported the Republican party, took advantage of the reconstruction and political instability of the postwar South. These whites used freedmen to justify their (corrupt) plans.

Despite emancipation, Black segregation was yet to follow. By the late 1960s, the National Democratic Party abandoned its former support for “legal segregation.”

In 2018, G. Washington High School in California removed two George Washington murals because a group said it was offensive. By 2021, the San Francisco school board attempted to remove the names of Washington and Lincoln, among others, from its 44 public schools.

A Missouri Democrat Rep. suggested the Lincoln Memorial statue should come down in the same year. In 2020, Lincoln’s statue (Freedman’s Memorial) was removed.

UNPOPULAR FACTS: The Republican Party abolished slavery and granted African Americans the right to vote, while the Democratic Party was responsible for founding the KKK and largely supported slavery.

Republicans & Democrats today

The two-party system of the USA is also known as Conservative-Republicans and Liberal-Democrats today or the “Right and Left.”

A “divided north and south” is history, but today’s political divide is replaced by social justice, equality, gender ideology, and other moral issues:

  • Pro-life vs. Abortion
  • Strict border policy vs. Open borders
  • Capitalism vs. Socialism
  • Climate Change mitigation
  • Gun ownership
  • LGBTQ Rights
  • Limits to “free speech”
  • Immigration policies
  • Religious freedom


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