Political History of the United States


History of Party System

The history of party system in the United States can be traced back to the 1770s. Two different factions emerged during these early years of the American Revolution each having with its own divisive ideology. Although these early factions supported the Revolution and formation of the republican government, they were divided over how far the issue of equality of the state and the federal governments should be carried. The sharp division over this issue led to the emergence of two loose political groupings in the United States. One group was largely entrenched in the conservative ideology that supported giving more powers to the state governors. The opposing faction allied to the populist political ideology opposed granting more powers to the state governments. 

Nevertheless, solid political party system in the United States emerged later in the 1790s. Two main political factions emerged nationally around 1791, largely divided over the economic principles and concepts that should guide the United States political and national economy agenda.  Thus, by 1792, Alexander Hamilton became the leader of the Federalist Party political faction, which perceived and supported the executive branch of the government as the one in need of more power. On the other hand, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson contended that the executive branch of the government already had too much power. The two formed the Democratic-Republican Party, which favored the increment of the legislative powers to curb the excessive powers of the executive branch. Consequently, the first formal United States party system was founded based on the principles of divisions over the powers of the executive. The divisions created two political parties that quickly spread and gained divisive support throughout different states, based on the ideological inclinations of individual states. 

Therefore, the two political parties soon garnered popular support from voters in different states, with the Federalist Party largely appealing to the Northern business-oriented states, while the Democratic-Republican, also popularly known as the Republican, garnered much of its followers from the Southern Agrarian states.  While the two major political parties continued to advance and gain following throughout the country, the areas of major contestation and ideological differences continued to widen. The Republican Southern States became strongly opposed to the strong executive powers of the Federal government while also opposing the formation of a standing national army and navy. The two political parties continued to dominate the national politics through to the 1840s. The Federalist remained dominant throughout the 1790s into 1800, while the Republican became dominant throughout the early two decades of the 1800s.  

The fundamental differences in the political ideology of the Federalists and the Democratic-Republican rested on the control of the presidency, Congress and the State governments. However, the wave of ideological differences would soon fade especially following the declining popularity and conspicuousness of the Federalist Party in the first two decades following 1800 that caused the United States to be largely dominated by the Republican. It is at this point that disputes on the presidential system functions declined in favor of unity and patriotism to the United States. the rise in patriotism occurred especially following the War of 1812 between the United States and the United Kingdom, which united the nation and tone-down the previous sharp political ideological differences.The period spanning 1816-1824 is therefore characterized as a period of Good Era, during which the presidential function was least disputed and the United States enjoyed a period of relative political calm between factions.  However, the Federalist Party influence continued to shrink greatly and its presence was only felt in few strongholds. On the other hand, the Democratic-Republican Party power of influence also diminished in the wake of the party’s split into the Democratic faction and the Whig faction. 

Further development in the history of political parties in the United States would follow later in the 1840s, after the nation was largely divided over the issue of slavery. The United States once again became sharply and ideologically divided over the issue of slavery, their future, and especially in relation to the agenda of freeing the slaves or not. The outcome was the rise of a new political faction supported by the wealthy, which was known as the Whig Party. The party started working against the Democratic-Republican Party’s ideologies that were largely supported by the poor. The divisions in political ideology based on the wealthy and the poor support for political parties lasted through to 1860.

The further advancement of the political party system history in the United States that entrenched the two-party system in the existing to present day would kickoff around 1856, when the North reestablished the Republicans. The United States was therefore defined by a political environment that largely pitched the Democrats faction against the Republicans, with the two factions largely split over the issue of ending slavery. While the Democrats had plenty of support from the Southern states were opposed to the ending of slavery, the Republican galvanized its support from the largely business-oriented Northern states that were in supporting ending slavery. The beginning of the Civil War in 1860 was the hallmark of the political differences between the two parties that entrenched and ushered the United States as a two-party state, comprising the Republicans and the Democrats as the popular political parties existing to present day.

The role of the political parties in the United States has been that of shaping the nation’s ideology, cutting across the economic, political, social-cultural and foreign policy fronts.  In this respect, the major differences between the Democrats and the Republicans emanate from the ideological variations in matters of economy, foreign policy and international relations, federal powers and state functions. Additionally, the political parties have played a pivotal role in shaping the debate, ideology and polices related to the welfare systems, minority agenda, immigration and working-class agenda for the United States.

History of Congress

The history of Congress in the United States is traceable back to 1774, when the first continental congress of the 12 colonies of the American territory was held, with each colony sending a representative to the congress. This first congress drafted and compiled a list of grievances related to their colonies and sent the grievances to the King of England, asking that the British colonies in American be granted the right to self-governance. Nevertheless, it is the second continental congress of 1775 that can officially be termed as the first congress of the United States, considering that it is during this congress that the 12 colonies sent their representatives to the congressional meeting to discuss the fate of the British American colonies. The congress came up with a resolve to agitate for the independence of the British American territories, and a year later, on July 4, 1776, the second continental congress declared the 13 colonies of the British American territory as free and independent, granting them the banner name of the United States of America.  Therefore, the second continental congress acted as the first government of the United States starting 1781, ratifying war, diplomacy and adopting the first Articles of Confederation that were ratified by the states in 1781. Due to the fact that there was no executive position of presidency following the declaration of independence of the American colonies, the second continental congress went ahead to take the role of the government and govern the nation until 1789.

The Articles of Confederation that had been adopted by the second continental congress had established a loosely weak but central government that would govern the newly formed United States, but the states did not ratify the articles until 1781. Nevertheless, the central government system established by the articles of confederation was a unicameral system, where each state had equal right to one representative. Thus, the unicameral congress served as the central government, with its powers extending to those of controlling foreign affairs and military engagements, but did not have the powers to regulate the interstate commerce, collect taxes or even enforce laws to the states. Thus, in the absence of a judicial arm and the executive branch of the government, the first congress of the state representatives was not effective because it could not quell the economic disputes between states or handle the state political mutiny. Following these shortcomings, the Congress convened a convention in 1787 to make a discussion and resolution on the effective ways of controlling commerce between the states and enforcing equal laws among the states, through amending the Articles of Confederation. However, instead of the convention amending the articles of confederation, Congress decided to abolish the articles altogether and instead draft a new document that would govern the United States as well as the relationships among the states of the Union. 

It is during this convention held in Philadelphia that the first Congress adopted the responsibility of enacting the United States Constitution. Under the constitution, the initial unicameral congress was replaced by a bicameral congress, which would consist of the lower chamber known as the House Representatives that was to be elected by the people, while the upper chamber known as the Senate would be elected by the state legislatures. Further, the constitution conferred more powers to the central federal government. The central government was tasked with the role of controlling and regulating the interstate commerce, while another arm of the government was created known as the judiciary, to entrench the principle of separation of powers. Thus, following the convention that created the United States Constitution, three arms of the government emerged comprising the executive, judiciary and the bicameral congress legislature that was tasked with the responsibility of enacting laws for the United States.

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The legislative process in the congress entails enactment of bills into law under several stages, starting with the introduction stage. A bill can only be introduced by a member of the house, after which it is designated a specific number to kick-start the process of its enactment into law. However, while the representatives to the bicameral Congress have the right to introduce bills into the house, the right to introduce bills related to taxes is reserved for the House of Representatives. 

Once a bill is introduced, the next stage is the referral to the committee stage, where the bill is referred to the respective committee of the house to evaluate it. The third stage of the legislative process is the committee action, where the committee can refer the bill to subcommittees for hearing, discussion or voting, or even kill the bill by failing to act on it at all. If the bill passes through the committee action stage, it proceeds to the fourth stage of the legislative process which is referral to the full house or senate for debate and voting.

The fifth stage of the legislative process of the congress is the house debate and voting, which entails members of the House of Representatives or the Senate debating on the merits and demerits of the bill, and eventually taking a vote to pass or not to pass the bill. During the debate and voting stage, the rules of debating and voting in Congress are made by the rules committee that can limit the debates and number of amendments to be made to the bill. However, there is no house rules committee in Senate, which means that bills in the senate are open for as much debate and amendments as the Senate members may wish. 

The sixth stage of the Congress legislative process is the conference committee, where the two different versions of the bills produced by the house of representative and the Senate are referred to a conference committee appointed by both houses for harmonization. Once the conference committee harmonizes the bill, it presents a report to the Congress, which then votes on the final bill. Once a bill is voted for, it passes to the final stage of the process, which is the presidential assent or veto of the bill. 

The presidential stage entails the president either assenting to the bill making it a law, or vetoing the bill by returning it to Congress for further action. However, once sent back to Congress, the Congress may fail to act on the President’s recommendations and instead pass the bill into law through a two-thirds majority of each chamber.

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History of Voting Right

The history of voting right in the United States dates back to the declaration of independence of 1776. The declaration made the British American territories free from colonial governance, effectively establishing the right of self-determination. Immediately after the declaration of independence, the Articles of Confederation conferred the right to vote to the white property owning males of 21 years and above, while women, white males who did not own property and the slaves were denied the right to vote. The right to vote was also attached to the religious affiliation of the white property owning males, with the Protestants reserving the right to vote. 

The right to vote remained largely with the white property owning males for almost the next two decades, until in 1792, when New Hampshire abolished the property requirements attached to voting, extending the right to vote to all white adult males in the state.  Freed slaves were also granted some limited rights to vote in some of the Northern States, while women were also allowed the right to vote in the New Jersey state until 1807 when women lost their rights to vote. Later on, the right to vote was extended further through the removal of the religious requirement in different states. By 1828, Maryland became the last state to lift the religious restrictions on voting, effectively allowing all the adult white males in the United States the right to vote. 

Nevertheless, the right to vote started gained more restrictions again in the decade leading to 1850, when different states started passing legislations that limited the right to vote back to the white property owning males. In 1848, the right to vote was restricted based on the literacy, English proficiency and property requirements especially in states like California, Texas, Arizona and Nevada. The following few years saw a limited section of the United States population allowed the right to vote. However, in 1856, the right to vote was expanded again through the elimination of the property requirement restriction, providing all the adult white males with the right to vote. Nevertheless, the right to vote for the African-Americans offered by few states was stripped once again in 1857, when the US Supreme Court ruled that the Africans had no right to citizenship in the US and equally no right to vote. 

However, in 1866, a profound change came in the history of the right to vote in the United States through the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Under this law, all people born in the United States were granted the right to citizenship, regardless of their race, color or religious affiliation. Despite being granted the right to citizenship however, the right to vote remained restricted until later in 1869. The passing of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by the Congress in 1869, followed by the ratification of the amendment by all state by 1870, granted the right to vote to all males who were United States citizens.

The right to voter for all male citizens would however be short-lived, considering that the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 once again stripped the Chinese citizens of their citizenship rights, as well as the right to vote. More restrictions on voting rights, this time targeting the African-Americans were introduced in the Southern states. Poll taxes and literacy restrictions were enacted to reduce the number of black males who could vote in those states. Further, Louisiana and Oklahoma enacted the grandfather’s law providing that no person whose grandfather could not vote had the right to vote, effectively stripping the African Americans and the other non-white citizens the right to vote.

Nevertheless, following the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment to the constitution by the Congress, all the American citizens were granted the right to vote regardless of their race, gender, color or religion. Despite this inalienable right to all citizens, the Native Indian Americans did not enjoy the right to vote until later in 1924, when they were fully recognized as Americans citizens with equal rights to vote. Finally, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed all election-restrictive laws passed by states and required that such laws must acquire the federal government’s approval before they could take effect. The passing of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution in 1971 set the legal voting age limit at 18 years and over for all United States citizens. 

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Did you like this sample?
  1. Office of the Secretary of State. “History of Voting Rights in America”. Office of the Secretary of State, 2010. 
  2. Reichley, James. The Life of the Parties: A History of American Political Parties. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.
  3. United States, Linda Grant De Pauw, and William C. di Giacomantonia. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America: March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791 Vol. 14. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U.P., 1995.
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