ANSWER TO THE QUESTION
American History: Question 2
The period between what came to be widely known as the “Revolution of 1800” and the Civil War was characterized by a plethora of political changes especially with regards to the political party systems in the United States. During this era, the third-party system was predominantly in use. On one side of the divide were the Federalists, Whigs, and Republicans, while the Democratic-Republicans and Democrats formed the other faction. The system was primarily typified by significant advances in matters of race, modernization and American nationalism. The present-day Republican Party dominated the system as it claimed credit for successfully saving the union, doing away with slavery, and emancipating the freedmen while implementing various Whiggish contemporary agenda including social spending, the establishment of railways, national banks, homesteads, and high tariffs.
Several events and issues precipitated the changes observed in the party systems. Some of the notable changes during this period include the disappearance of the Federalist Party, the rise and fall of the Whig Party, and the formation and evolution of the Republican Party. Additionally, Democratic-Republicans/Democrats shifted from Thomas Jefferson’s party to
Andrew Jackson’s to John C. Calhoun’s and eventually to Confederate sympathizers. Notwithstanding all this political dynamism, the Republican and Democratic Parties continued to evolve even after the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Disappearance of the Federalist Party
One of the first political parties in the history of the United States was the Federalist Party. The party, however, declined and disappeared following the War of 1812 stemming from the Hartford convention (Hershey 17). For a long time, the Federalist Party was pro-peace with the British and supported antagonism with the French. Contrarily, the Democratic-Republicans held the exact opposite sentiments. Ultimately, the behavior of the British towards the Americans during its war against France culminated in anti-British and anti-Federalist feelings. Once the war had broken out, the New England Federalists were antagonized and resented for their continued opposition to the war. Extreme Federalists organized the Hartford Convention to deliberate on the formation of a New England Confederacy to safeguard their interests and to express their aggravations resulting from the war. Moderates outnumbered the secessionists during the convention, and the resulting recommendations were mostly rational.
Some of the final suggestions included pleas to terminate the Three-Fifths Compromise (which saw the South overrepresented in Congress); to block naturalized citizens from holding offices; and to implement the requirement of two-thirds of the two houses of Congress prior to the declaration of war, imposition of bans on foreign commercial services, or pronouncement of new states. By the time the above-mentioned final recommendations of the Hartford Convention were presented officially to the capital at the end of the war, details about the battle of New Orleans had heightened the feeling of patriotism among the Americans. Consequently, the Federalists were deemed as selfish, unpatriotic, and treacherous based on their proposals. These events put a black mark on the reputation of the Federalist Party. Several reasons have been given to explain the decline of the Federalist Party, among them being the fact that Federalists were neo-mercantilist.
Rise and Fall of the Whig Party
The growth of the Whig party can be attributed to three main factors. First, the decline and ultimate death of the Federalist Party for almost two decades with no apparent replacement triggered the rise of the Whigs. This is because former Federalists had been looking around for a suitable party to join, making the Whigs party a viable option. The second reason for the rise of the Whigs was the relocation of settlers into the West. These individuals were seeking the assistance of the government regarding infrastructure or internal improvements to enable them access better markets. Being that the Democrats were not in approval of government expenditure on such overheads, the Whigs party served as the best advocate for the needs of these individuals. Finally, and most imperatively, was the unity of the early Whig Party against Andrew Jackson. As a matter of fact, this is where their name originated from, as the party advocated for reduced power for the monarch.
The emergence of new issues including anti-slavery, prohibition, and nativism in the political scene led a few individuals to consider the disintegration of the Whig Party as a solution. The 1852 election marked the beginning of the decline of the Whigs. During the same year, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay died. Their deaths weakened the party severely. The Compromise of 1850 had divided the Whigs along the lines of anti- and pro-slavery, with the former faction being dominant enough to deny Fillmore the Whig Party nomination in 1852 (Holt 598). In an attempt to regain their lost glory, the Whigs nominated a favored candidate, Winfield Scott who unfortunately suffered an immense loss to the Democrat’s candidate. The decisive defeat rendered most of the Whigs distraught, and some of the members openly expressed their disappointment in the party declaring it dead (Holt 951). Additionally, the Kansas-Nebraska Act which was passed in 1854 prompted the practice of slavery in the new territories (Holt 804). The act enjoyed support from the Southern Whigs whereas the Northern members remained opposed to it. Divisions broke out within the party’s ranks, and various members opted to join other parties.
Formation and Evolution of the Republican Party
The Republican Party, is the second oldest political outfit currently in existence in the United States. The party emerged in 1854 in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act which disregarded the Missouri Compromise terms and permitted the emergence of slavery and the determination of free status by popular sovereignty in the territories (Richardson). The Republican Party as it currently is, came into being before the Civil War, a period during which the liberal elites in the north deemed the party as an appropriate outfit for their abolitionism campaigns. As a party of the northern elites, the Republican Party evolved naturally and became the advocate of laissez-faire capitalism. This metamorphosis took place for the duration of the Gilded and Progressive Ages.
Despite the party’s Depression-era change of direction towards fiscal policies that more closely resemble those of contemporary conservatives (primarily opposition to regulation and taxation and being in favor of low government spending), it still did not fit the description of conservativeness in an up-to-the-minute sense. Some of the most significant changes in the Republican Party occurred in the Post-War period. The party’s affiliations with big corporate establishments at the time compromised its rapport with the labor movements, which primarily comprised of urban liberals. In a bid to get more allies, and on facing the risk of losing relevance, the party got on with the Southern Strategy and channeled the cultural conservatism and racist animus of the former southern Democrats. This translated to the now-decipherable conservative economic policies of the Republican Party.
Shift of the Democratic-Republicans/Democrats
The Democratic-Republican Party was formed by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to counter the new Federalist Party’s centralizing policies. The Democratic-republicans were also referred to as Jeffersonian Republicans. Jefferson stood against Alexander Hamilton’s financial programs and denounced them as precipitants of monarchy and against the principles of republicanism. The commitment of Democratic-Republicans ensured that they ascended to power in 1801 following the 1800 presidential election that was won by Thomas Jefferson. The Republicans mostly took control over the First Party System.
The partisanship faded off after 1816 due to internal feuds. Following the collapse of the First Party System, the Democratic-Republican Party had been divided into four by 1824 and it lacked a central figure. In 1830, a newer Second Party System emerged and triggered the realignment of old factions. A group of the former Jeffersonian Republicans decided to follow Martin Van Buren and Andrew Jackson by 1828 to form the new Democratic Party (Ratcliffe). Another camp under the leadership of Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams came together in the same year to create the National Republicans Party, which later on metamorphosed in 1835 to the Whig Party. Under Martin Van Buren who firmly believed in political organization, the Jacksonians established strong and elaborate local and state organizations all over the United States. The old Republicans primarily backed Jackson and teamed up to ally with the followers of John Calhoun making Andrew Jackson president after the 1828 election.
Evolution of the Republican and Democratic Parties after the Civil War and the Reconstruction
The Reconstruction had far-reaching changes in the American political life. In an attempt to adjust to the changing times and especially following the end of the Civil War, both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party had to make significant changes within their organizations to give them more interracial and non-discriminatory outlooks. After the Civil War, the political system was dominated by the Republicans for a long while. This dominance was changed by the push for change at all societal levels which was primarily referred to as progressivism. Divisions arose within the Republican Party after Theodore Roosevelt vied for the presidency on a Progressive ticket – a third party. For this reason, the Democratic presidential candidate won the elections. Notwithstanding the fact that the Democrats had once again gained dominance in the political system, Wilson’s strong progressivism principles triggered the beginning of a cascade of radical changes in the policies of the Democratic Party. Traditionally, the party had been known for favoring limited government spending. However, under Wilson’s leadership, the Democrats became almost as accommodative to the idea of government involvement in the economy as their Republican counterparts.
Summarily, the American political system has undergone and continues to experience significant changes. The Revolution of 1800 and the Civil War notably played a critical role in shaping the political situation in the United States. Ever since its independence, several political parties have been formed by individuals with shared interests. The Federalist Party, for instance, was one of the earliest political parties in America. Despite the successes it achieved, the party declined following the rise of anti-Federalists who considered the former selfish and non-patriotic. Following the death of the Federalist Party, the Whig Party gradually gained popularity as the decline of the Federalist Party created a gap that no other political outfit seemed ready to fill. Nevertheless, differences in ideals, especially regarding slavery precipitated internal wrangles among the Whigs making them split up. Various reasons inspired the formation of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party; two most dominant political parties in the US today. Since their establishments, they have undergone significant changes in major policies to make them what they are known for presently.
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