How Our Parties Switched: Part VII (Conclusion)

Against all odds, you’re back. Despite the last six parts of this series, you’re here for the seventh. I’m humbled. As your reward, today I really will tell you How Our Parties Switched.

For those that arrived here as a result of a googling accident, let’s recap my last two posts. Parts I through III focused on the words “liberal” and “conservative,” including how parties congeal around each of these ideologies, a pattern in our country that goes back to the 13 American colonies. Parts IV through VI then walked you through the evolution of our two-party system, from the federalists and antifederalists arguing about the Constitution, to the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans splitting on their interpretations of that Constitution, to the Federalist collapse, to the Democratic-Republican fracture, to the quick rise and fall of the Whigs, and finally to the founding of the Democratic and Republican parties, our two major parties since the 1850s.

I also noted how historians organize this party evolution. We’ve covered a few “party systems,” which so far have reflected the different stages of American partisanship:

  1. The First Party System (1792-1824) reflected the fight between our first two official parties, the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, culminating in the former’s collapse and the latter’s hegemony over American politics.
  2. The Second Party System (1828-1852) is organized around the next battle, triggered by Andrew Jackson’s divisive leadership fragmenting the Democratic-Republicans. His followers became the successors of the Democratic-Republicans and called themselves the Democratic Party, which exists to this day. Their anti-Jackson opponents formed the short-lived Whig Party.
  3. Next, the Third Party System (1856-1892) is the first stage during which we have our modern two parties. The Democrats continued, but the Whigs, as a result of their softness on slavery, were replaced by the abolitionist Republicans.

An important element of these evolutions was that the regions of the country, despite the partisan transformations outlined above, retained remarkably consistent ideologies. Although I determined it was in appropriate to call any of our major parties purely “liberal” or “conservative,” I did try to isolate a pattern that we could use:

The last few paragraphs of Part VI arrived at the early twentieth century, when Democrat William Jennings Bryan, in the presidential election of 1908, lost to Republican William Howard Taft. In that election, the Democrats still swept the “Solid South,” while Republican popularity remained up north.

However, despite the parties’ continuity from the late nineteenth to twentieth century, I noted that the “winds of change” had already begun blowing across the American political landscape.

So, dear and dedicated readers, we are finally read for…

Part VII: How Our Parties Switched

Continue reading “How Our Parties Switched: Part VII (Conclusion)”

How Our Parties Switched, Parts IV-VI

Parts I through III of “How Our Parties Switched” was all about context. I unpacked the historical meanings of “liberal” and “conservative.” We took a look at the political tendencies of the British-American colonists up through the American Revolution and Articles of Confederation period, each a victory for liberals who wanted to change traditional systems of government by giving power to individual states, with voters having power over those states.

I left off with the drafting of the Constitution in 1787, which attempted a conservative course-correction by re-centralizing authority into a federal government while limiting the people’s power over that government. However, not all Americans trusted this turn toward the right, so a debate emerged across the 13 states: to ratify or not to ratify?

It is in this debate where we see the emergence of two political factions that become the progenitors of our two major parties. It’s best to first familiarize ourselves with these two factions if we want to understand How Our Parties Switched.

Continue reading “How Our Parties Switched, Parts IV-VI”