Political discussions and debates tend to revolve around the ideas and policies promoted by various political parties. In the US, this usually means a conflict of ideas between Democrats and Republicans, since those are two dominant political parties in this country. Would it be possible, though, for the American political system to function without parties? Might we be better off without the conflicts that arise from competition between political parties?
Party Politics and the Constitution
It should be noted that the US Constitution does not mention political parties, nor does it assume that the federal government will be controlled by any one party.
Article I deals with the legislative branch. Article II describes the powers and duties of the executive branch. Article III explains the judicial branch.
None of these three articles mention political parties. Article II, for example, describes the process of electing a president and vice president. Every presidential candidate in living memory has selected a “running mate” to campaign with them for the White House and become his or her vice president. All these candidates for president have selected a running mate from his or her own party.
Section 1 of Article II says that electors from each state shall vote for two of all the candidates running for president. If a single candidate comes out ahead, he or she becomes president. The candidate with the next highest number of votes becomes vice president. If this original system were in use today, it is likely that every president would be elected along with a vice president from another party.
Why do we have political parties at all, then? The idea is as old as politics itself. People who share common views form parties so that they can work together and coordinate the way they vote on certain issues. Their common interests lead them to work as a group to better influence the creation of laws. Put simply, a group of people working together can wield more political power than any one individual.
The Origins of American Political Parties
Though the first American president, George Washington, did not belong to a political party, the first parties were formed while he was president. The federalists believed that the federal government should have most of the political power, while the anti-federalists thought that political power should be divided between the federal government and state governments.
The anti-federalists eventually triumphed in this disagreement and became known as the Republican Party, led by Thomas Jefferson. They were, in fact, also known as Jeffersonian Republicans. Later, the party was renamed the Democratic-Republican Party.
In 1824, due to differences of opinions about the direction of the country, the Democratic-Republicans split into separate factions. One faction eventually adopted the name Democratic Party and the other main faction called themselves the Whig Party. In the 1850s, a faction of Whigs who opposed slavery, along with some former Democrats and a smaller party known as the “Free-Soilers,” formed the Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln was the Republican Party’s first president. The Whig Party disappeared altogether and, since that time, American politics has been dominated by just two parties: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
While it makes sense that politicians who share common goals would work together, it has become increasingly difficult for Congress to address major issues. The main reason for this is that the two dominant parties of today appear locked in a constant struggle for power that, to them, has become more important than creating solutions to the big problems.
That power struggle has influenced public opinion in a very negative way, one could argue, and many Americans now feel a great deal of hostility toward those who support the other party, whether Democrat or Republican. Is it possible that America, as a nation, would be better off with the same political system described in the Constitution and no political parties? Would politicians do better if they had no party loyalty to worry about and focused only upon doing the best thing for the people they were elected to represent?