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Political parties have changed since the birth of our country. The founders of the Constitution were fearful of the rise of factions, groups in society that organize to advance a political agenda. They designed a government of checks and balances that would prevent any one group from becoming too influential. James Madison famously warned in Federalist No. 10 of the “mischiefs of faction,” particularly a large majority that could seize control of government. The suspicion of parties persisted among political leaders for more than a half century after the founding. President James Monroe opined in 1822, “Surely our government may go on and prosper without the existence of parties. I have always considered their existence as the curse of the country.”
Despite the ambiguous feelings expressed by the founders, the first modern political party, the Federalists, appeared in the United States in 1789, more than three decades before parties developed in Great Britain and other western nations. Newspaper cartoons depicted conflicts that arose between the Federalists and Republicans, who sought to control government. Since 1798, the United States has only experienced one brief period without national parties, from 1816 to 1827, when infighting following the War of 1812 tore apart the Federalists and the Republicans.
Political parties were first evident in presidential elections in 1796, when Federalist John Adams was barely victorious over Republican Thomas Jefferson. During the election of 1800, Republican and Federalist members of Congress met formally to nominate presidential candidates, a practice that was a precursor to the nominating conventions used today. As the head of state and leader of the Republicans, Jefferson established the American tradition of political parties as grassroots organizations that band together smaller groups representing various interests, run slates of candidates for office, and present issue platforms.
A true political party system with two durable institutions associated with specific ideological positions and plans for running the government did not begin to develop until 1828. The Democratic-Republicans, which became the Democratic Party, elected their presidential candidate, Andrew Jackson. The Whig Party, an offshoot of the National Republicans, formed in opposition to the Democrats in 1834.
The two-party system consisting of the Democrats and Republicans was in place by 1860. The Whig Party had disintegrated as a result of internal conflicts over patronage and disputes over the issue of slavery. The Democratic Party, while divided over slavery, remained basically intact. The Republican Party was formed in 1854 during a gathering of former Whigs, disillusioned Democrats, and members of the Free-Soil Party, a minor antislavery party. The Republicans came to prominence with the election of Abraham Lincoln. The donkey and the elephant have been symbols of the two major parties since cartoonist Thomas Nast popularized these images in the 1860s.
Parties were especially powerful in the post–Civil War period through the Great Depression, when more than 15 million people immigrated to the United States from Europe, many of whom resided in urban areas. Party machines, cohesive, authoritarian command structures headed by bosses who exacted loyalty and services from underlings in return for jobs and favors, dominated political life in cities. Machines helped immigrants obtain jobs, learn the laws of the land, gain citizenship, and take part in politics.
Machine politics was not based on ideology, but on loyalty and group identity. The Curley machine in Boston was made up largely of Irish constituents who sought to elect their own. Machines also brought different groups together. The tradition of parties as ideologically ambiguous umbrella organizations stems from Chicago-style machines that were run by the Daley family. The Chicago machine was described as a “hydra-headed monster” that “encompasses elements of every major political, economic, racial, ethnic, governmental, and paramilitary power group in the city.” The idea of a “balanced ticket” consisting of representatives of different groups developed during the machine-politics era. Because party machines controlled the government, they were able to sponsor public works programs, such as roads, sewers, and construction projects, as well as social welfare initiatives, which endeared them to their followers. The ability of party bosses to organize voters made them a force to be reckoned with, even as their tactics were questionable and corruption was rampant.
Not everyone benefited from political machines. There were some problems that machines either could not or would not deal with. Industrialization and the rise of corporate giants created great disparities in wealth. Dangerous working conditions existed in urban factories and rural coal mines. Farmers faced falling prices for their products. Reformers blamed these conditions on party corruption and inefficiency. They alleged that party bosses were diverting funds that should be used to improve social conditions into their own pockets and keeping their incompetent friends in positions of power. The mugwumps, reformers who declared their independence from political parties, banded together in the 1880s and provided the foundation for the Progressive Movement. The Progressives initiated reforms that lessened the parties’ hold over the electoral system. Voters had been required to cast color-coded ballots provided by the parties, which meant that their vote choice was not confidential. The Progressives succeeded by 1896 in having most states implement the secret ballot. The secret ballot is issued by the state and lists all parties and candidates. This system allows people to split their ticket when voting rather than requiring them to vote the party line. The Progressives also hoped to lessen machines’ control over the candidate selection process. They advocated a system of direct primary elections in which the public could participate rather than caucuses, or meetings of party elites. The direct primary had been instituted in only a small number of states, such as Wisconsin, by the early years of the twentieth century. The widespread use of direct primaries to select presidential candidates did not occur until the 1970s.
Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program for leading the United States out of the Great Depression in the 1930s had dramatic effects on political parties. The New Deal placed the federal government in the pivotal role of ensuring the economic welfare of citizens. Both major political parties recognized the importance of being close to the power center of government and established national headquarters in Washington, DC. An era of executive-centered government also began in the 1930s, as the power of the president was expanded. Roosevelt became the symbolic leader of the Democratic Party. Locating parties’ control centers in the national capital eventually weakened them organizationally, as the basis of their support was at the local grassroots level. National party leaders began to lose touch with their local affiliates and constituents. Executive-centered government weakened parties’ ability to control the policy agenda.
The Cold War period that began in the late 1940s was marked by concerns over the United States’ relations with Communist countries, especially the Soviet Union. Following in the footsteps of the extremely popular president Franklin Roosevelt, presidential candidates began to advertise their independence from parties and emphasized their own issue agendas even as they ran for office under the Democratic and Republican labels. Presidents, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, won elections based on personal, rather than partisan, appeals.
Political parties instituted a series of reforms beginning in the late 1960s amid concerns that party elites were not responsive to the public and operated secretively in so-called smoke-filled rooms. The Democrats were the first to act, forming the McGovern-Fraser Commission to revamp the presidential nominating system. The commission’s reforms, adopted in 1972, allowed more average voters to serve as delegates to the national party nominating convention, where the presidential candidate is chosen. The result was that many state Democratic parties switched from caucuses, where convention delegates are selected primarily by party leaders, to primary elections, which make it easier for the public to take part. The Republican Party soon followed with its own reforms that resulted in states adopting primaries. Democrat Jimmy Carter, a little-known Georgia governor and party outsider, was one of the first presidential candidates to run a successful campaign by appealing to voters directly through the media. After Carter’s victory, candidate-centered presidential campaigns became the norm. he unintended consequence of reform was to diminish the influence of political parties in the electoral process and to promote the candidate-centered politics that exists today. Candidates build personal campaign organizations rather than rely on party support. The media have contributed to the rise of candidate-centered politics. Candidates can appeal directly to the public through television rather than working their way through the party apparatus when running for election. Candidates use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to connect with voters. Campaign professionals and media consultants assume many of the responsibilities previously held by parties, such as developing election strategies and getting voters to the polls.
This history of our political parties in the US helps to show that Parties change. The original Republican party shared the name only with out current Republican party. Party alignments also change. The original Democratic party was pro-slavery, now it wants reparations for slave ownership. The Democratic party of the later part of the 1900’s was the party of the working people and tended to be a little more liberal. Now since we have entered into the new millennium is very liberal, actually leaning into socialism. You have candidates that are moderate, liberal and extreme left in the same party. While the Republican party in the 1860’s was abolitionists of slavery. In the later 1900’s their constituency were mainly big business and the more affluent population with college educations. Again you had Far Right, Conservatives and moderates alike in this party. Since the election of President Trump to office, the Party is now the party of the working class, law and order, non college graduates and lovers of the Constitution. There is also several third party groups out there. Some years they have candidates running for president, other times not. George Wallace and Ross Perot are two of the more famous candidates.
So you can see alliances change with time. Parties come and go, and go through radical swings in their platforms. If you were a democrat voting in the 1980’s and were for the working class, you might want to change parties.
It is now more important than every to be a well informed voter. This election in 2020, is without a doubt the most important election in the last 100 years. Simply voting along old party lines is no longer a good thing. 30 or 40 years ago there really wasn’t a great deal of difference between the Republican and the Democratic Presidential candidates. Now the difference is night and day. Just like no company can make all the best products in their product line, not all political parties have the best candidates. You need to do your research and make sure the candidates you are choosing align with your beliefs. You may have to cherry pick the ballots and pick a few Republicans and a few Democrats and yes even a Libertarian, if they have policies that you believe in. Many of the Democratic candidates are very far left and may be too extreme in their beliefs for you. Don’t feel like you have to vote all or none. That is what is great about America, you can vote for who ever you want.
We have been doing location or polling voting for 250 years.* It has been system that for the most part has worked consistently all those time, and has become the model that all free countries strive for. Don’t allow the fear of the Pandemic deter you from doing location voting. You shop at a grocery store don’t you? Why can’t you go out and vote? There is a lot less of a chance for voter fraud that way.
en.wikipedia.org, “Polling Place”; courses.lumenlearning.com, “History of American Political Parties”;
*A polling place is where voters cast their ballots in elections. The phrase polling station is also used in American English and in British English, although polling place is the building and polling station is the specific room (or part of a room) where voters cast their votes. A polling place can contain one or more polling stations. Since elections generally take place over a one- or two-day span on a periodic basis, often annual or longer, polling places are usually located in facilities used for other purposes, such as schools, churches, sports halls, local government offices, or even private homes, and may each serve a similar number of people. The area may be known as a ward, precinct, polling district or constituency. The polling place is staffed by officials (who may be called election judges, returning officers or other titles) who monitor the voting procedures and assist voters with the election process. Scrutineers (or poll-watchers) are independent or partisan observers who attend the poll to ensure the impartiality of the process. The facility will be open between specified hours depending on the type of election, and political activity by or on behalf of those standing in the ballot is usually prohibited within the venue and immediately surrounding area.
Polling places used to gather and count ballots in elections have changed significantly over the past 250 years. Advances in technology have played a major role in changing the polling places because as the type of ballot changed, the venue in which the ballots are counted also changed. One of the main reasons for advancement was to be able to access the results quicker. First was the word ballot, then came the different types of paper ballots, and today we have the electronic balloting systems. Before there were paper ballots, people would simply call out their selection at the polling place. This polling place was typically the county courthouse or town hall. Sometimes these polls were taken outside of the venue in a more informal fashion. When the voters came to the town hall to announce their choice, they would get in line to see the judge and swear in. Once the voter put his or her hand on the Bible and swore to the judge, they would be allowed to cast one ballot per election. The judge acted as the only form of voter identification and it was up to them to be able to identify individuals that had already voted and exclude them from voting again.
The use of paper and electronic ballots have been the most widely used form of capturing votes in recent history. When paper or electronic ballots are used, the polling place must be professionally organized in order to ensure that the ballots are not tampered with and are accounted for accurately. These polls are held inside a building that has been set up in stations to assist voters. When the voter arrives he or she will be asked to show a form of voter identification (ID may be required in some U.S. states). Once the voter has been properly identified he or she goes to a voting booth where the votes are captured. Once all the votes are captured the voter then verifies his or her voting ticket and then submits the ballot to the poll worker, ballot box, or on the computerized ballot. If voters are allowed to vote at any of a number of different locations in the county or district etc., this will increase voter turnout. Sometimes a voter’s most convenient voting location is near his or her workplace, not necessarily the closest to their residence. Having a more open policy of allowing multiple possible locations for a person to vote would encourage those individuals who cannot feasibly commute back and forth from work to vote. Having a large conspicuous polling location will ensure that the voters know where they are supposed to vote. This will cut down on unnecessary signage and eliminate clutter and confusion.
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