Political parties contributed to the development of national unity in the United States between 1790 and 1840 mainly through what is known as the principle of legitimate opposition. After the American Revolution, the Constitutional democracy set up by the founding fathers had no precedent in historical governments. The people began...
Political parties contributed to the development of national unity in the United States between 1790 and 1840 mainly through what is known as the principle of legitimate opposition. After the American Revolution, the Constitutional democracy set up by the founding fathers had no precedent in historical governments. The people began to have a powerful voice in designating government authority, and political parties allowed people with fervent political principles to align themselves with likeminded individuals in opposition to others with differing viewpoints. Although the text of the Constitution did not specifically mention political parties, they grew rapidly out of the differences of opinion of the men in the process of forming the new government.
Not all of the founding fathers were in favor of political parties. George Washington, for instance, was vehemently opposed to them. He was concerned that the factionalism that they created would pose a significant threat to the unity of the country. The opposite, however, proved to be the case, as the two-party system provided a legitimate outlet for differing opinions.
The first presidential election that prominently featured two political parties in opposition to each other was the election of 1796. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, featured John Adams as the presidential candidate. This party was popular in the northeastern states of New England, and its followers were mainly merchants, creditors, and other participants in the growing commercial economy. In opposition to the Federalists were the Democratic-Republicans, led by presidential candidate Thomas Jefferson. This party drew its support mainly from wealthy tobacco growers in the south, as well as farmers and other segments of society. The Federalists believed in a strong federal administration, while the Democratic-Republicans were in favor of a decentralized government in which power resided mainly in the states.
The Federalists and John Adams narrowly won. The main point to be drawn from this example, though, is that the existence of the two parties allowed people with differing viewpoints to express themselves within a framework of legitimate opposition. This set a precedent for future elections in which political parties could express their opinions through organized platforms. The names and platforms of political parties underwent changes after the election of 1796, but the principle of legitimate opposition remained as a unifying factor in national government.