Understanding the Origins of the Two-Party System
A Necessary Evil
The two-party system in America was not created by the stroke of a feathered pen. Many of our founding fathers abhorred the concept of factions as they were called back then, others deemed them a necessary evil, but nowhere in our Constitution is a two-party system espoused.
When the men gathered for the Grand Convention in 1787, they quickly discovered that they were not going to strengthen the Articles of Confederation, as had been proposed. Hamilton and Madison wanted an entirely new constitution, both inspired by different visions. Madison supported a “grand depository of the democratic principle” in an elected legislative branch while Hamilton thought that the executive branch or president would be a “safer depository of power.”
The Birth of a Tradition
So, two men with different perspectives are in large part responsible for ushering in this great new form of republicanism. They believed that the constitution would bond these different visions into a functional government. And it has.
Their differences did not prevent both men from signing the Constitution, and herein lies the strength of our nation.
This is America’s greatest tradition. No ideology in our history has come close to being as important as this single element. No one walked away from the Constitutional Convention a winner. Many signed it only, with the understanding that the Bill of Rights was going to fix this less than acceptable document.
When the States ratified the Constitution, they each had to settle for something less than what was the best for their state. It is that sacrifice each state made that is the glue that holds the Constitution together.
The two-party system began evolving when the Constitution had to become a means to govern. Hamilton supported a stronger federal government, Madison and Jefferson (Jeffersonians) fought for stronger State representation. Hamilton, the pragmatist, went to work. As Treasury Secretary he instituted systems that gave him great power, and Madison began to mistrust Hamilton, suspecting him of subverting the Constitution for private gain.
Hamilton doggedly pursued his policies that strengthened the federal government. This disadvantaged the Southern farming states and strengthened the Northern merchants and traders. Hamilton’s disregard towards this inequity drove Jefferson and Madison’s mistrust. In turn Hamilton’s penchant for doom bred his suspicion of Madison and Jefferson into frenzied attacks on Jeffersonians.
As a result, the men became arch enemies, not because they had ideological differences, but because of distrust. Both Jefferson and Madison, during their presidencies, reversed most of Hamilton’s policies, including letting the charter of the Bank of The United States expire in 1811.
After the War of 1812, Madison re-instated many of the same systems when it became clear that these policies and institutions were necessary for the nation to prosper. A hybrid version of The First Bank of The United States was recreated with the chartering of The Second Bank of The United States in 1816. By this time the mistrust of Hamilton had been lifted. He had been killed in 1804 in a duel with the Vice President, leaving his family in financial ruin. Hamilton had not subverted The Constitution for private gain.
Divisiveness was born, not of intellectual or ideological differences. The perceived need to split into two political entities was grounded in the lowest elements of human tragedy; it was speculation, mistrust, and passions ruled by human’s lowest tribal instincts, that divided us into two parties.
If you think that being Republican today is any different, you are terribly misguided. Today’s social-media attacks are as venomous as the public insults in the early years.
While Republicans compete with the ideology of the other party, it also, unnecessarily drives the divisiveness that plagues our country. We are again at a place in our history where mistrust is gnawing at our strength. The benefactors are our enemies, the one-party one-ideology countries who, on the world stage, compete with those ideals we consider self-evident.
Being Republican has no value when the party becomes autocratic in its approach to governance, thereby subverting the other party’s ideals to that of an enemy of the state. This approach espouses a one-party system. That is communism.
To grow in strength, we must accept that The Common Good of the country is far more important than our party.
While our two-party system gives clarity to the different visions of our country that have existed since its birth, the strength of the Nation must remain supreme. Partisanship is not a bad thing, but we are not a one-party state. We must embrace that the other party is critical to our identity as a nation.
To be American we must fight for our Greatest Tradition, The Common Good. The Grand Ole Party can only be a means to this end.
The American Eagle needs two wings to fly. The strength of its wings is harnessed by The Common Good.