CONNECTIONS: Is two-party system at risk?
About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.
In this annual period of predictions, there are a lot of predictions. One is that this is the end of political parties or the end of the Republican Party. Alternatively, we already witnessed the end of the Republican Party as it morphed into the Trump party. Whichever is predicted, the question is: Did an American political party ever die and if so, how?
Like now, at the time of the birth of our nation, there were two parties: the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. Within three decades, one would disappear.
The Federalist Party was the first of our two-party system to form. It was founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1789. Hamilton — the first secretary of the treasury — along with urban bankers and businessmen were principally concerned with fiscal policies. They believed in a centralized national government with strong fiscal roots — a strong federal government — hence the name. They also believed the Constitution was open to interpretation, and one way in which it should be interpreted was to add to the powers of the federal government.
Hamilton’s primary concern was the economy. Mirroring the political goal of a strong federal government, Hamilton wanted to, and did, establish a national bank.
The Federalists stood for: a national bank providing loans to businessmen; encouragement of the industrialization of the United States; and controlling inflation by limiting the amount of money that the federal government issued. This is, the Federalists wanted a strong federal government, stable currency, and progressive movement from an agrarian to industrial economy. Finally, the Federalists were elitists. Federalists, or at least Hamilton, believed only
the wealthiest and most educated white men should govern the country. He feared that working-class.
John Adams was the only Federalist president. George Washington never joined a political party, but his decisions while president usually favored the Federalists. The party ceased to exist at the end of the War of 1812. Why?
Federalists opposed the war for personal financial reasons. They were businessmen who did not want to interrupt trade with England. As the war went on, in 1814, angry Federalists threatened to secede from the United States. By the time the Treaty of Ghent was signed, and the War of 1812 ended, many viewed the Federalists as traitors. The Federalist Party collapsed, leaving the Democratic-Republican Party as the only political party in the United States. That was short-lived as well.
The Democratic-Republican Party was founded in 1792. Formed by Thomas Jefferson with James Madison, the party stood for: political equality and expansionism; states’ rights versus a strong federal government; reduction of both national debt and government spending. A brief 20 years later, as the Federalist Party collapsed, the Democratic-Republicans began to splinter.
The period between 1815 and 1824 was called the Era of Good Feelings years. The nation was a one-party system. Conflict was nonexistent and good feeling reigned. Nonetheless that one party began to collapse. Why?
Evidently, lacking an effective opposition weakened the party. To coalesce, apparently, one party needs conflict with the other. To fill the gap, the Democratic-Republicans divided. By 1824, the two strongest factions, the Democrats backed Gen. Andrew Jackson in the presidential election, and the Whigs, soon called the Republicans, supported President John Quincy Adams.
What do we learn from history? The Federalists teach us not to be so selfish as to appear to be traitors. At that point the public deserts and the party dissolves. From the Democratic-Republicans we learn that we need the tension of opposition to make the differences clear and sustain a two-party system. As the two major political parties duke it out, it is interesting to note that perhaps the Republican Party will not disappear as long as the battle rages. On the other hand, perhaps the observers are more accurate than the predictors, and the Republican Party is already gone, replaced by the party of Trump.
Endnote: With great sincerity, without sarcasm or gloat, from the heart, I implore all Trump supporters, please, get him help. The speech slurs and defects, the mispronunciations, and lack of full word recognition are symptoms. He needs a full medical work up, accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. For those we love and support, we must act on their behalf. Even those who dislike or disapprove of him, please request and support proper medical care.