Political Parties Timeline
How It All Went Down
Dissatisfied with President George Washington's foreign and domestic policies, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson resigns. Other critics of the administration, such as James Madison, look to Jefferson to assume leadership of the growing opposition. The split between Jefferson and Washington will lead to the growth of the first American political parties.
George Washington's Farewell Address
In his Farewell Address, George Washington condemns the growing partisan spirit that "agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection."10
Jefferson Defeats Adams
Republican Thomas Jefferson defeats Federalist John Adams for the presidency. Adams's Federalist Party will decline rapidly and all but disappear as a national party by 1820. Jefferson's Republican Party will dominate national affairs until the late 1820s.
Andrew Jackson Elected
Balloting for president, which began in October, ends, and Andrew Jackson is elected President of the United States by a coalition of southern, western, and mid-Atlantic voters. This coalition, soon labeled the Democratic Party, is committed to a small federal government, an agrarian economy, and western expansion through the relocation of Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi River.
Lincoln First Republican President
Abraham Lincoln is elected President of the United States as a candidate of the recently formed Republican Party. Opposed to the expansion of slavery into western territories coveted by northern farmers, the Republican Party will take advantage of the removal of Southern legislators during the Civil War to enact legislation promoting the interests of these northern farmers.
The United States Congress passes the Pendleton Act, introducing an examination system for selecting federal civil servants. This act will reduce the ability of political parties to use patronage (the distribution of government jobs as rewards to political supporters) as a means of building party loyalty. Initially, only 10% of all federal appointees are made subject to this process of selection by examination. Today, more than 90% of all federal government positions are distributed through competitive hiring processes.
McKinley Defeats Bryan
Republican William McKinley defeats Democrat William Jennings Bryan for the presidency of the United States. McKinley runs strongest in the Northeast and is perceived as the "pro-business" candidate. Bryan draws farmers to the Democratic Party by supporting the free coinage of silver, a position first advanced by the Populist Party.
The Wisconsin legislature passes a law authorizing the nation's first presidential primary—a state election in which common citizens directly vote for the candidate they want to represent their party in the presidential election.
Franklin Roosevelt is elected President of the United States. The "New Deal Coalition" of union members, immigrants, minority and low-income voters, non-Protestants, Southerners, urbanites, and intellectuals will re-elect Roosevelt to three more terms of office and continue to vote Democrat for the next thirty years.
Roosevelt Seeks Third Term
Delegates to the Democratic National Convention draft Franklin Roosevelt to represent the party and seek an unprecedented third term after hearing "the voice from the sewer."
Buckley v. Valeo
The United States Supreme Court rules in Buckley v. Valeo that the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment protect the right of Political Action Committees (PACs) to spend unlimited amounts of money indirectly on political campaigns. The government may restrict direct contributions to a candidate, but it may not limit the amount spent on a candidate's behalf so long as the PAC's efforts are not coordinated by the candidate's campaign committee.
Ronald Reagan is elected President of the United States by uniting economic libertarians and social conservatives within the Republican Party. This coalition will enable the Republican Party to retain control of the presidency and the Senate for 20 of the next 28 years.
Ross Perot's Independent Candidacy
Texas billionaire Ross Perot announces on CNN's Larry King Show that he will run for President of the United States as an independent.
Blanket Primary Unconstitutional
In Democratic Party v. Jones, the United States Supreme Court declares California's blanket primary unconstitutional. In the blanket primary adopted in California in 1996, voters were not restricted to participation in only one party's primary. All ballots listed candidates from all of the parties and voters were able to vote for individuals from different parties. The Court rules that this violates a political party's First Amendment right to freedom of association.
Democrat Barack Obama is elected president of the United States by winning states that traditionally vote Republican. Political analysts suggest that his election marks a new realignment within the American electorate.