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Standard 1.0 Political Science

Topic A. The Foundations and Function of Government

Indicator 2. Analyze the impact of historic documents and practices that became the foundations of the American political system during the early national period

Objective f. Describe the development of political parties and their effects on elections and political life


Political parties are groups of people that join together to elect candidates to serve as government officials. Members of political parties usually have similar views about government and the issues of the day. Believing they were dangerous factions, the Framers were opposed to the idea of political parties. They feared that political parties and other types of factions could gain control of the government and then the government would serve the interests of the factions instead of the people (Madison famously writes about factions in Federalist 10).

When George Washington became the first President in 1789, the nation faced many problems. Officials within Washington’s administration and across the country had different ideas about how to deal with these problems. Alexander Hamilton, whom Washington appointed as Secretary of the Treasury, believed in a strong federal government. He favored taking a broad view of the meaning of the words in the Constitution, particularly of the “necessary and proper” clause. Hamilton believed that the Constitution created a national government to solve national problems, and that any powers that were needed to address these issues were constitutionally permissible. On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson, Washington’s Secretary of State, believed in small, local, government. He favored taking a narrow view of the words in the Constitution. To Jefferson, “necessary and proper” meant “absolutely necessary.” Jefferson feared that a strong national government that could define its own powers through an expansive reading of the Constitution would threaten the liberty of the people. Hamilton and Jefferson also disagreed on foreign affairs, particularly after war broke out between Great Britain and France in 1793. Following the American alliance with France during the Revolutionary War, Jefferson wanted to maintain close relations with the French. As a result of the U.S.’s British heritage, Hamilton sought a close relationship with Great Britain. In time, advocates of Hamilton’s perspective formed the Federalist Party, while Jefferson’s supporters became the Republican Party (which is not the same as today’s Republicans).

The election of 1800 marked the first time in U.S. history that political parties supported candidates in a presidential election. The Federalists backed incumbent John Adams’s bid for re-election, while the Republicans supported Thomas Jefferson. Although the election was bitterly contested, the Federalists accepted Jefferson’s victory. For the first time in modern history, control of a government was transferred from one political party to another as the result of a democratic election. The American political party system had been established.

Since the days of Hamilton, Adams, and Jefferson, and in spite of the fears of the Framers, political parties in the United States have carried out a variety of important functions in the political system. They provide citizens with a means for joining with others of similar interests to influence the government. They provide a structure and processes for nominating candidates to run for public office. They provide people with a choice of candidates and platforms. Finally, they serve as an important check on the power of their counterparts.

Resources for Objective 1.A.2.f:
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