However, the political party system in the United States wasn't always this way, and was never meant to be a partisan system. First President of the United States George Washington was not a member of any political party, and had hoped that the system could continue without political parties, fearing that could hinder change. Despite this, the party system was created under Washington's administration, beginning with the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington, formed the Federalist Party, while James Madison and Thomas Jefferson founded the Democratic-Republican Party in response. The Federalist Party preferred a strong national government, while the Democratic-Republicans favored state rights and less federal control.
Since then, the political parties have changed many times over, with new parties sprouting up in opposition to others, promoting various styles of government. The Democratic-Republican Party divided into two opposing groups around the election of 1824. The Democratic Party, then called the Jacksonian Democrats for President Andrew Jackson, along with the opposing Whigs dominated the political scene in the first half of the century. The Whigs fell out of favor in the 1850s, but the Republican Party soon grew in its place, adopting many of its policies.
The early Democratic Party placed emphasis on morality and was generally considered conservative, while today's Democrats are considered liberal and progressive, with emphasis on personal liberties and human rights. The Republican Party of the 1850s was anti-slavery and fairly progressive, electing Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in the 1860 election.
Today's major political parties, the Democratic Party and Republican Party, are based on the parties formed in the 1850s, though their policies have shifted over time. The Democratic Party is the oldest U.S. political party. The Republican Party, which also goes by the GOP or Grand Ole Party, has dominated the White House, with a majority of former presidents considering themselves Republicans. Today, the Republican Party is the conservative party, favoring fiscal conservatism, fewer government regulations, and lower taxes with a focus on morality.
The Donkey and the Elephant
The Donkey first came to represent the Democratic Party around the 1828 Presidential election of Andrew Jackson, who opponents had attempted to label him as a jackass. Jackson decided to adopt the animal as his campaign mascot. Political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, later used the animal as a symbol of the Democratic Party to represent the stubbornness he believed the party leaders showed. Nast also used the symbol of the elephant, stamped with the words “Republican Vote,” to represent the Republican Party.
Any political party in the United States other than Republican or Democratic is considered a third party or independent party. Because of the U.S. electoral system, in which most states follow a winner-take-all model, third parties do not often receive a substantial number of electoral votes. However, third party candidates are effective in another way. They often bring attention to important issues, including problems with the two main political parties, when they receive protest votes. The winning politician can then see that a significant number of constituents care about the particular issue, and can address it. Third parties can also affect election results by taking away votes from the Republican or Democratic candidate.
The main third parties in the United States are the Green Party, Libertarian Party, and Constitution Party. Other third parties include a U.S. Socialist Party, Communist Party, and Reform Party. The many third parties fall all along the political scale, from conservative to progressive, along with single-issue groups, which focus on a specific issue.