Last November fifty-two percent of the American voters blindly voted for Barack Obama for President with enough Democratic Senators and Congressmen to give him a veto-proof majority in Congress. Millions of Americans are now waking up to find their country on the verge of becoming a Democratic-Socialist country similar to those of Western Europe. As they emerge from their stupor they are asking; “What happened to my country?” The answer should be no surprise. We did not go from a free republic to a socialist oligarchy overnight. We have been moving in that direction for the past hundred years and the closer we get the faster we move.
The Rise of Political Parties
Political parties are essential to the institution of government. Governments are essential to the establishment and preservation of an ordered society. Both are detrimental to individual liberty and must be accountable to the people governed. Otherwise, they always combine to subjugate those governed to complete despotism.
The first organized political party in America was founded by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams in 1789. In response, a second party was founded in 1792 by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Party founded by Hamilton and Adams was named “The Federalist Party” and the one founded by Jefferson and Madison was called “The Democratic-Republican Party”. The names were chosen for political reasons and are somewhat misleading.
For example, “Federalist” suggests a loose federation of independent states similar to the one formed after the Declaration of Independence under the Articles of Confederation. Most Americans at that time feared a strong central government and generally thought of their home state as their “country” rather than the “United States”. Someone referring to their “country” in personal correspondence was usually referring to their particular state rather than all the states combined.
In the debates during and after the Philadelphia Convention, the term “Federalists” was applied to those who favored the Constitution and a strong central government. Opponents who wanted strong state governments protected by a “Bill of Rights” were called Anti-Federalists. What is usually overlooked by most historians is the fact that a majority of the participants in the Convention were in favor of a “national” government rather than a “federal” government. If not for the Anti-Federalists, our Constitution would have been quite different from the final product.
Political parties are associations of like-minded people organized for the purpose of promoting their shared philosophy of government. Since the founding of our nation there have been over 150 recognized political parties active in America at various times. All of them can be placed into one of two categories; (1) Statists who favor an intrusive, all-powerful central government with subordinate state governments; and (2) Anti-Statists who favor strong local and state governments with a central government limited to matters that cannot be effectively attended to by the states.
The Federalist Party at the turn of the nineteenth century would fall into the former category and is the philosophical precursor of today’s Democratic Party. The Democratic-Republican Party was an anti-statists party and is the philosophical precursor of today’s conservative base within the Republican Party.
The Federalists elected only one President, John Adams, who served one term before being defeated in 1800 by Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. The Party ceased to exist in the early 1820s and most of its members joined with the nationalistic wing of the Democratic-Republicans. The Democratic-Republican Party succeeded in electing four successive Presidents, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and John Quincy Adams. Without the leadership of Jefferson and Madison, and without the opposition of the Federalist Party it began to dissolve in the mid-1820s.
The nationalist faction of the Party was revived under the leadership of Andrew Jackson as the Democratic Party and continues until today. It succeeded in electing Jackson as President in 1828. On taking office in 1829, Jackson institutionalized the “spoils system”, whereby federal jobs were awarded on the basis of party loyalty and work performed on behalf of the party, rather than on experience or merit. This greatly increased the power of the party by making party loyalty a condition of employment and other favors. The patronage system of “spoils” soon spread throughout the entire political system as a way of strengthening party influence and longevity.
It also led to widespread corruption as party loyalists competed for prime political appointments and worked to promote the party in order to hold on to their jobs. Attempts at reform generally proved ineffective until a rejected office-seeker assassinated President Garfield in 1881. Garfield’s death brought about the Pendleton Act of 1883 and the establishment of the Civil Service Commission. The spoils system continued in state and local politics however, and is still the primary source of power for big city Democratic political bosses to this day.
In spite of the Pendleton Act and the later Hatch Act, patronage continues in most of our Democratic controlled major cities. With the Shakman Decrees of 1972 and 1983, the City of Chicago agreed to end the patronage system. However, as late as 2006 violations of the decrees were alleged in the Congressional campaigns of Rom Emanuel and others. Chicago now has a “Shakman Monitor” appointed by the courts and operating with debatable results; i.e., the recent “hired-truck” scandal resulting in the conviction of several city executives.
The Republican Party
The National Republican Party was organized in 1829 in opposition to the autocratic Presidency of Andrew Jackson. The NRP went out of existence in 1833 to be replaced by the Whig Party, made up mostly of former members of the Democratic-Republicans and National Republican Parties. The Whigs continued until 1856, electing two Presidents, both of whom died within a year of taking office.
The best-known Whigs were William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln. Millard Fillmore was the last Whig to hold the office of President. Ultimately, the Party was wrecked over the question of slavery. Many former Whigs, including Abraham Lincoln, were instrumental in organizing the Republican Party of today.
Since the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the American Political system has been dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Third party candidates mostly function as “spoilers” to the major candidate of the party most aligned with their point of view. Today the two major parties act as a shadow government rivaling the powers of the constitutionally appointed government in virtually every segment of political life.
The major source of political power for today’s political parties comes from a residue of the spoils system and campaign contributions extracted from corporations and others as protection from targeted tax codes and bureaucratic regulations that have the ability to determine the profitability of businesses and the personal liberty of individuals.
The next few years will show whether the American people have the will and the ability to take back their country from the statist ideology that dominates it in the twenty first century. To do that we have to regain control of the two major political parties and demand that they too abide by the founding principles on which our government was established.