The rise of enduring political parties in the United States began with several disagreements between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson/James Madison. They had very different beliefs on government. Hamilton’s financial plan, the formation of political newspapers and “clubs,” the Whiskey Excise, the Jay Treaty, and the Election of 1796 all caused the differentiation between the parties to escalate. The Alien and Sedition Acts also related to these parties, as well as the challenges presented to them.

The financial plan Alexander Hamilton presented to Congress and the president gave initial direction for our nation’s debt problems. Madison and Jefferson were only able to modify such decisions, but the series of events that followed showed them how to gain control of the government, and consequentially form a political party. When these plans were ready to go into effect, Madison and Jefferson made strong efforts to gather people to oppose him. Jefferson tried to make his opinions and advice known to the president, as Hamilton so often did. He succeeded in putting the Mint under the State Department, but failed in getting friends appointed to positions and claiming the Post Office for his area. In 1792, Jefferson and Madison went as far as to call themselves the Republican Party. The others remained Federalists (not technically a party). Their source of power came from George Washington and his support for Hamilton.

Another factor was the creation of different newspapers for each political party to voice its views. Before 1791, the Gazette of the United States was the only political newspaper around. The editor was a devout Hamiltonian, which persuaded Madison and Jefferson to want another news source. They got Philip Freneau to create the National Gazette, which gave news from a Republican view (often attacking those of the Hamiltonians). Democratic Clubs were also formed, which were similar to Jacobin societies in revolutionary France.

After the incredibly unpopular Whiskey Excise was put into effect, rebellion occurred in western Pennsylvania. Washington eventually had to send 15,000 troops out to stop things, and gave a speech about how he disapproved of these clubs (even though it wasn’t necessarily them doing the rioting). After Washington’s show of disapproval, these “societies” dissolved. Not only did he stop the Democratic Clubs with this speech, but he also showed Hamilton how great Washington’s power was and that he should use it to the best of his advantage.

The next major event in the story of the feuding parties is the signing of the Jay Treaty. After much disapproval, Washington signed the Jay Treaty anyway. The Republicans, however, wouldn’t take no for an answer. They marched to the House of Representatives demanding something be done, and even though it wasn’t in their power to do anything, they rejected the proposal anyway. Then came the Election of 1796. This was the time when the Republicans could finally challenge Hamilton. The Jay Treaty setback was not on their side, though. The candidates came down to Jefferson for the Republicans and Adams for the Federalists. These candidates were chosen because they had a large citizen following. The outcome of the election was not in the favor of the Republicans, however. Adams became the president, and Jefferson became the vice president. Some people were quite weary of this combination.

The Alien and Sedition Acts related to the development of the political parties, because it showed how different the two groups were in their views. By passing laws making it illegal to criticize the federal government or the president and restricting people from other countries, the Federalists were intentionally targeting Republicans. This, of course, angered the Republican Party, because their beliefs were not being respected, and the Federalists were going against the Enlightenment and the Constitution. They felt the Constitution was being violated.

For this reason, John Madison persuaded the Virginians to declare these laws unconstitutional. Kentucky followed suit after a visit from Jefferson, saying the laws were “void and of no force,” but they were the only states. The other states let the laws expire on their own terms. Even though these declarations weren’t very effective, the question of where sovereignty lied was once again brought into the spotlight.

The two political parties that were so different during this time shared different views on almost everything. Things that fueled the evolution of these groups were Hamilton’s financial plan, the formation of political newspapers and “clubs,” the Whiskey Excise, the Jay Treaty, and the Election of 1796. The Alien and Sedition Acts also outraged the Republicans, and the Kentucky and Virginia challenges to these laws opened up more questions to be answered.

To take this discussion a bit more global...

Political parties are not, of course, limited to the discourse of politics in the United States. In truth, the United States actually has a rather unremarkable width to the political spectrum, with the two major political parties mostly being located in the middle of that spectrum. Other countries exhibit far greater ranges.

The political spectrum of course goes from the far left to the far right. As an example, we can take the case of Mexico. In Mexico, we have a variety of political parties, most of which have distinct ideological positions and occupy discrete places onthe political spectrum. AMong these are the : PARM (Partido Autentico de la Revolucion Mexicana), PAN (Partido Accion Nacional), PRI (Partido Revolucionario Insitucional), PSUM (Partido Socialista Unido Mexicano), and the PTM (Partido de Trabajadores Mexicanos). Roughly, their political ideologies are far right, right, right of center, left, and far left.

Of course, there are many other examples. Political parties in parliamentary systems usually include some version of the greens, social democrats, standard conservative, chrisitan democrats, communists, socialists, and anarchists, plus the occasional "weirdo" political party. All of these parties, for example, can be found in both the British and German] political arenas.

An addendum sparked by themusic's note: You couldn't be more wrong. In most multi-party countries, significant differences exist between the political parties. This is especially true in countries that have proportional representation.

While I agree that political parties are, generally, a world-wide phenomenon, today, much of what we now associate with these groupings comes from American history.

It is all the more a shame, and very sad that in most, even, and especially democratic countries, the real difference between political parties has disappeared.

Whether Bob Rae and the Ontario NDP, Tony Blair and British Labour, and, of course, Bill Clinton and the new Democrats (always such a strange term for Canadians), this is a phenomenon that has eroded the democratic process--all because some people want power, and will do anything to get it.

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