Thursday, August 2, 2007

WtP: Unit 3 — How did the values and principles embodied in the Constitution shape American institutions and practices?

Presented by Dr. Scott Casper — University of Nevada, Reno

Through primary document research, we learn more about the thinking behind the basis of our government. For example, to understand a single aspect of the Constitution, it is helpful to read the Federalist ad Anti-Federalist papers. Scott provided us with a list of web-based repositories of primary source documents. The sites included on the form were:

I also recommend Kathy Schrock's primary source documents site and my social studies webliography where I am trying to archive all these resources.

Political Parties in 1787

Scott presented on three separate viewpoints from the late 18th century.
  1. Factions/political parties were evils that should be repressed.
  2. Factions/parties will exist, but they must remain in check. They are controlled by the few that can become corrupt. No single faction can take over so all must be balanced in some way.
  3. Factions/parties are people working together on a particular issue. When there are factions within the government, there will be a process of discussion and reasoning that will result in the "truth." If these faction exist, instead, in the republic (outside of the government), it is means for civil war. Therefore, factions can be a good thing.
Scott walked us carefully through Federalist #10 and diagrammed its main concepts. See the diagram we created during the lecture below.

The Two Party System

Political parties are lasting coalitions of people that seek offices in government. Their mission is to link leaders in government to a significant population. A party is a link between the center of government and the people at large. Each party has a specific agenda. A competitive party system is system in which there are parties that cannot discount each other because each party is powerful. The public good in this system is obtained by addressing myriad issues. Both parties in a bi-party system seek the public good, but there is a recognition that there may be different methods of reaching the common good.

Factions do not have to be durable and they can exist within or outside of a political party. Faction politics is fluid — they come and go, sometimes being successful, sometimes addressing only contemporary issues. Political parties are more deliberate and organized than factions.

The History of Parties in the United States

The origin of the two-party system in the U.S. date to the 1790s. The Federalists and Anti-Federalists disbanded after the ratification of the Constitution because they no longer had a cause to support it. The individuals in these factions remained in politics following the ratification, even though they had very different views.

Division occurring following the ratification were the argument over a Bank of the United States and the proper method for dealing with the French Revolution. In terms of the French Revolution, Washington recommended neutrality. Many saw this as "selling out" the French and individuals and small groups began to meet to address the issue. People in the administration supporting neutrality called themselves "federalists." Those wishing to support the French came to be known as republicans. In the election of 1796, John Adams (a federalist) became President and Thomas Jefferson (a republican) became Vice President. The democratic republican clubs began to develop. Adams and Jefferson despised one another and Jefferson started bankrolling newspapers that criticized Adams.

The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed. They stated that speaking against the government was considered sedition and printing anti-governmental ideas led to imprisonment.

In the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr (both republicans) were elected and tied so the House of Representatives had to make the decision . Alexander Hamilton argued that Jefferson was the lesser of the two dangers ("I detest Jefferson, but Burr is dangerous"). Jefferson was, therefore, chosen to be President.

In Jefferson's inaugural address of 1801, he says "we are all federalists; we are all republicans." He was seeking to combine everyone into a single party seeking the common good. By 1804, the federalist party had disintegrated. In 1820, Monroe supported the idea of not having political parties. The basis for disagreement then became their state affiliation. In 1824, states put up their own candidates, but none of the candidates received a majority. The three candidates receiving the most votes were sent to the House of Representatives, and Adams was selected to be President (even though he didn't win the vote of the electoral college).

Politics mostly worked by family affiliations and the families with which individuals aligned. Martin VanBuren believed that it would be better to align with people with common political views, rather than familial affiliations. He argued that the people should have the opportunity to choose a belief system to support, not a single person. Then, the winning individual could choose to bring in his own supporters into the cabinet. He suggested the development of a political party that would represent Jacksonian ideas. Van Buren thought a political party that would unite the people across state lines. This would create a stronger republic and would assist in overcoming the slavery issue.

Jackson engages in many controversial issues like raising tariffs and threatening to send in troops to support his issues. He engaged in enough controversial activities around the country that a faction formed to show their dislike of Jackson. This party became the whig party and they rallied around trying to win the presidential election. The republicans also wanted to win the election.

By the 1850s, the whig party was disbanding because their common interests had changed. The major dividing issue was slavery. Northern whigs, northern democrats, and anti-slavery advocates joined to call themselves the republican party in 1854. By 1856, the republicans were able to become the second major political party, replacing the whigs.

In 1896, the parties are separated along state lines which are further separated by the north and south.

Roosevelt's New Deal brought the mid-western farmers, southern whites, and northern workers into the Democratic Party. This was called the New Deal Coalition and the democrats won most of the elections between 1932 and 1964 when the Civil Rights Movement began. After the Civil Rights era, southerners started to split into whites choosing the Republican Party and the blacks choosing the Democratic Party. Today, Democrats tend to win the west coast and north and Republicans tend to win the mid-west and south.

The history of the American party system:
  1. Federalists versus Jeffersonian Republicans
  2. Almost everyone calls themselves Democrat Republicans (1801-1824)
  3. Democrats versus the Whigs (1855-1896)
  4. Democrats and Republicans (1896-1928) — The republicans maintained the majority in all but two elections
  5. New Deal Coalition (1932-1964)
  6. Democrats versus Republicans (1980s-today)
The agenda of the democratic and republican parties have almost completely "flip-flopped" over the last century.

The Point of Political Parties

Political parties provide glue between our separate branches ensuring that the checks of the system will not always stop the development of new legislation. The party systems works together while the Constitution tries to keep keep things separate.

Parties also connect the people with the national government by serving as a communication avenue between the two entities.

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