How the Two-party System of USA Formed

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How the Republican and Democrat party developed in the Confederation, Confederacy, Civil war, and Abolition periods

1. ‘Federalist’ and ‘Anti-Federalist’

The Confederation Period (different from 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, as well as 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-Federalist.

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.

  • Federalist – “Big Government” with an open intepretation of the constitution.
  • Anti-Federalist – “Small Government” with a limited interpreation of the constitution.

Although the “great compromise” during the 1787 convention satisfied both sides, the issue of “big and small government” will divide the nation during President’s Biden term because of the vaccine mandate. [NY Times]

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]

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 Black slaves.

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) – Mostly women, young and old, worked in mostly textile factories.
  • Southern states (Pro-slavery) – Black slaves worked in mostly 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 anti-slavery 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 (who were against slavery) became known as 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 merge and dissolution of political parties

The opposition of 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 opposed to the “tyranny” of President Andrew Jackson.
  • 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 coalesced into the Democratic Party.
  • They opposed the civil and political rights of African Americans until 1960s.
  • Federalist wanted a strong central government and less power to the state government, much like the Democrats today.
  • The Democratic-Republicans are the antecdent 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 antecdent of today’s ‘Conservative-Republicans.’

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

3. Confederacy vs. the Union

The Union (Anti-Slave)

  • The Union comprised of 20 united states at that time, 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)

  • These were 11 southern pro-slaves states who 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. Ulysess Grant) on April 9, 1865—ending the Confederacy and 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.

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 anti-slavery, 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 slaves, initially from the rebellious, defeated states.

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Act

In his inaugural address, Lincoln pledged not to interfere with slavery from non-rebellious states. Two years after, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The first African-American members of congress were “23 Black Republicans.” [Rep. Matthew Wasniewski]

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

In 2018, GW High School in California removed two George Washington murals because it was offensive. By 2021, the San Francisco school board voted to remove the names of Washington, 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.

Democratic party abandons support for legal segregation

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

Republicans & Democrats today

The two-party system of the USA is also known as Conservative-Republicans & Liberal-Democrats today. While the issues of a divided north and south have long been gone, the political divide is on the following matters:

  • Abortion
  • Border policy
  • Capitalism vs. Socialism
  • Climate Change mitigation
  • Gun ownership
  • LGBTQ Rights
  • Free speech
  • Immigration policies
  • Religious freedom

DIFFERENCE OF REPUBLICANS & DEMOCRATS.

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