Republicans and Democrats
A political party is a group of voters who all believe in the same policies as to how the government should run. They believe they know how to run the government better than any other group or party. The party puts forward candidates for different positions in state and national elections. They work very hard with advertising, speeches and personal recommendations to have their candidates elected.
Political parties did not exist in the late 1700's in the United States. George Washington, the first President, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison were not in favor of political parties. However, Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, wanted the federal government to be very powerful, so he surrounded himself with men who felt the same way. They called themselves Federalists. This, then, in 1792, was the first political party. This party was made up of Northern bankers and businessmen.
Thomas Jefferson disagreed with Alexander Hamilton. He and his followers called themselves the Anti-Federalists. They didn't want a strong national or federal government. They wanted more power given to the states. Thomas Jefferson's party was made up of small businessmen, planters, farmers and craftsmen. They wanted the government to leave them alone and not interfere with their lives. This party was called the Democratic-Republican Party.
John Adams was the second president of the United States. He leaned toward the Federalist Party. However, Thomas Jefferson, a Democratic- Republican, followed Adams. After that, the Federalist Party lost power. Instead, different groups appeared within the Democratic-Republican Party. They had varying opinions about taxes on imports and the powers of the first bank of the United States.
In 1828, Andrew Jackson, a Democratic-Republican, became President and changed the name of the party to the Democratic Party. Those people opposed to Andrew Jackson formed the Whig, or National Republican Party. By 1854, the states were divided about the right of the states to choose to have slavery or not. Northerners who wanted to get rid of slavery left the Whig Party. It started to fall apart. Also, the Democrats were divided over the same issue. Southern Democrats favored slavery. They also started to fall apart. A new party, called the Republican Party was formed and elected their first president, Abraham Lincoln in 1860. They were very much anti-slavery.
After the Civil War (1861-1865), the Democrats began to weaken because they were seen to be the party of the South. The Republicans became the major party for many years. They supported business and high import taxes. They expanded federal power by providing money for the transcontinental railroad and the state university system. They were in favor of a big federal government.
In the early 1900's, though, William Jennings Bryan, a leading Democrat, felt that the federal government should take over the role of helping with social problems. This was a change for the Democrats. During the Depression of the 1930's, Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, began many programs to help the poor. These programs were financed by the federal government.
The Democratic and Republican Parties had switched their roles. Democrats became the party of big government. Republicans opposed the role of big government in people's lives, unlike Franklin Roosevelt. They wanted the states and local governments to have control over their own affairs. Today, the parties seem to favor similar goals for the United States but don't agree on the ways to get to those goals. The parties are very divided.
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