Political Parties

Alexander Hamilton, L. Thomas Jefferson, R.

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson had a contentious relationship, from their time serving as Secretaries in Washington’s administration forward. That contentious relationship manifested itself, at least partially, in the fact that they had crucial ideological differences. At first, those ideological differences were not reflected by different memberships in political parties. During the time they were Secretaries in Washington’s administration, there were no political parties.

When the two political parties, the Federalists and the Republicans, were created, Hamilton and Jefferson both had overblown ideas of what would each other’s party intended. Jefferson feared that Hamilton wished to implement a monarchy, and Hamilton feared that Jefferson intended to overthrow the government of the United States. As a general matter, the Federalist government feared that any Republicans or individuals with different views were determined to undermine the existence of the government and determined to bring an end to the system that the majority of Americans had worked so hard to create.

In fact, however, the Republican party did not see itself as a political party, and the Federalists did not view themselves as members of a political party in those early years. For example, the Federalists saw themselves as the vast majority of people who were concerned about the state of the country. Those in the Republican party ultimately began making Democratic-Republican Societies throughout the country, which demanded changes from the status quo of the predominantly Federalist government.

What a change the political party system has undergone since the late 1790s. Many would attribute the success of America’s political system to the fact that two main parties, now the Democrats and Republicans, have consistently vied against each other, generally agreeing to move the country forward by meeting in the middle. As Hamilton and Jefferson exaggerated the intentions and beliefs of the opposing party, modern Democrats and Republicans tend to do the same, at least to an extent.

That healthy debate between two adversaries has sustained not only the court system from ancient days to modern days but also the American system of politics. An adversarial contest between two parties prevents a cacophony of voices that tend to overwhelm multi-party political systems. Rather, it places two parties against each other, creating competition, encouraging debate, and having the net effect of putting the country on a moderate path, with gradual changes coming over the course of decades. Perhaps that gradual, conservative nature of progress has been the cause of America’s prolonged success.

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