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Most of the Founding Fathers rejected political parties as divisive and disruptive. By the 1790s, however, most joined one of the two new parties, and by the 1830s parties had become accepted as central to the democracy. By the 1790s, the First Party System was born. Men who held opposing views strengthened their cause by identifying and organizing men of like mind. The followers of Alexander Hamilton, were called "Federalists"; they favored a strong central government that would support the interests of national defense, commerce and industry. The followers of Thomas Jefferson, the Jeffersonians took up the name "Republicans"; they preferred a decentralized agrarian republic in which the federal government had limited power.

By 1828, the First Party System had collapsed. Two new parties emerged from the remnants of the Jeffersonian Democracy, forming the Second Party System with the Whigs, brought to life in opposition to President Andrew Jackson and his new Democratic Party. The forces of Jacksonian Democracy, based among urban workers, Southern poor whites, and western farmers, dominated the era.

In the 1850s, the issue of slavery took center stage, with disagreement in particular over the question of whether slavery should be permitted in the country's new territories in the West. The Whig Party straddled the issue and sank to its death after the overwhelming electoral defeat by Franklin Pierce in the 1852 presidential election. Ex-Whigs joined the Know Nothings or the newly formed Republican Party. While the Know Nothing party was short-lived, Republicans would survive the intense politics leading up to the Civil War. The primary Republican policy was that slavery be excluded from all the territories. Just six years later, this new party captured the presidency when Abraham Lincoln won the election of 1860. By then, parties were well established as the country's dominant political organizations, and party allegiance had become an important part of most people's consciousness. Party loyalty was passed from fathers to sons, and party activities, including spectacular campaign events, complete with uniformed marching groups and torchlight parades, were a part of the social life of many communities.

By the 1920s, however, this boisterous folksiness had diminished. Municipal reforms, civil service reform, corrupt practices acts, and presidential primaries to replace the power of politicians at national conventions had all helped to clean up politics.


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