No parties existed when George Washington was made president in 1789, or when he ran again in 1792. Both times he ran, he won every vote in the Electoral College. But George Washington was an unusual person. He was beloved by everyone.
Washington was concerned that political parties would weaken the country.
But from the beginning, leaders disagreed. Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State, was a farmer and a plantation owner. He didn’t want government telling him what to do. He thought that keeping the federal government small was very important to individual liberty.
Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, was from New York City and was a banker and a lawyer. He thought the federal government should be strong. He started the U.S. mint, a federal bank, and taxes. His policies helped northern merchants, manufacturers, and businessmen. He got his friends involved and they formed the Federalist Party.
James Madison and Thomas Jefferson formed the Democratic Republican party. Their party favored small government and was strongest in the south.
In 1796, the two parties ran against each other in the presidential election. Jefferson lost to John Adams, but won in the next election in 1800. Political power went back and forth between the two parties.
When Hamilton died in 1804, the Federalist Party faded away.
In 1824, the Democratic Republican party broke into two groups because members disagreed. These two groups became the Democratic and Republican parties.
Since almost the beginning, two parties have dominated elections, although there have been other smaller parties.
Mint: where money is made
Merchant: someone who trades and sells goods
Questions and Answers
Question:Do voters have to choose one party or the other?
Answer:Many voters do choose a party and stick to it, but voters don’t have to always vote for one party or the other. Some voters register as independent, which means they don’t belong to either the Democrat or Republican Party.
Political parties have been around almost since the United States began. There are several political parties, although two parties dominate elections.
The Democratic and Republican Parties are the two major parties in the United States.
Thomas Jefferson founded the Democratic Republicans in 1792, opposing a powerful central government. That party later broke into two parties, the Democratic and Republican parties. Originally, the Democratic Party supported limited federal government. Andrew Jackson was the first Democratic president.
The Republican Party, also known as the Grand Old Party, developed in the 1850s. The Republican Party opposed slavery and especially did not want slavery to expand to new states. Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.
As time went on, the two parties’ ideas and ideals changed.
For the last 100 years, the Democrats have been more liberal. Most democrats believe the federal government has a responsibility to help people. They support using taxes for things like Social Security, schools, and healthcare. Most believe in taxing corporations and the wealthy as a way to benefit everyone.
The Republican Party is more conservative. Republicans believe in lower taxes for everyone. Republicans believe government should stay small so individuals can grow and become successful through hard work. Republicans do favor paying taxes for a strong military.
Liberal: in politics, liberal means supporting taxation for social programs
Conservative: in politics, conservative means supporting limited government and low taxes
Questions and Answers
Question: Do voters always agree with their chosen party?
Answer: No. People often believe in some of their party’s core values, but not all of them. Voters may like certain parts of both parties. Up to 40 percent of Americans don’t belong to either the Democratic or Republican parties.
Instead, they belong to smaller parties or don’t belong to any parties at all (Independent). Independent voters can vote in general elections, but not in primary elections.
After the Revolutionary War, leaders had to decide how the country would run. The thirteen states (previously colonies) joined as one country. Each state was a little different, but to be a united country, they needed to agree to the same laws.
George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and others spent months in Philadelphia writing a plan, which they wrote down as the Constitution.
The Constitution begins with the phrase, “We, the people of the United States,” to remind us that our country’s laws are based on what we, the people, think is best.
The Constitution was written to allow enough power for the national government to make decisions, but not so much that it could take away the fundamental liberties of the people.
To do this, the Constitution lays out three branches of government: the executive branch (the president and his or her officials); the legislative branch (Congress); and the judicial branch (judges and courts).
Each branch has certain rules and limits (checks and balances) that help ensure that no branch becomes too powerful.
The goal of the Constitution’s framers was to write a document that would “form a more perfect Union (unite the states), establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
The early leaders knew that times would change and that they couldn’t write a document that would consider every possible future need. So, they wrote in the Constitution that updates and changes could be added in the future if enough people wanted them. These changes are called amendments.
Thirty nine of the 55 delegates signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787. Several of the delegates refused to sign it because it didn’t include a Bill of Rights describing specifically the fundamental rights of U.S. citizens. At least one refused to sign it because it allowed the practice of slavery.
Fundamental: at the core
Posterity: children, grandchildren, etc.
Questions and Answers
Question: Is the Constitution still important today?
Answer: The Constitution is the foundation of our democratic government. Leaders must consider it before making any decisions or laws.
Conflict didn’t end when the Americans defeated the British. The American leaders and people had a lot of work to do to figure out what kind of government they would have.
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay published 85 essays between 1787 and 1788.
The essays described and explained various parts of the Constitution.
These essays were published in newspapers in New York. Their purpose was to convince New Yorkers to ratify the Constitution.
The Federalist Papers are still used today to help us understand the Founding Fathers’ original intent.
Both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were part of the Constitutional Convention so we can feel fairly confident that they knew what they were talking about.
Essay: a written composition
Constitutional Convention: the meeting in which the Constitution was discussed and written.
Questions and Answers:
Question: Did everyone like the Constitution?
Answer: Actually no. Just like today, people were divided about what should happen in the country. Some people wanted a small federal government and strong state governments. Others wanted a strong federal government.
The leaders talked for a long time, each offering points and arguments. As they talked through potential problems, they came to solutions and compromises. This process of thoughtful public discourse is sometimes known as rhetoric.
The Articles of Confederation was the first American government, developed during the Revolutionary War.
The Articles of Confederation were first written in 1777 in the middle of the Revolutionary War.
The leaders did not want to create a government like Britain’s, which was a monarchy, so they developed the Articles of Confederation as the first American government. It had some good things and some bad things—more bad than good.
For one thing, the federal government had no power. There was no president and no court. States had all the power and could veto anything they didn’t like. The federal government had no ability to levy for taxes.
The Northwest Ordinance passed in 1787 was the most positive thing to come out of the Articles of Confederation. It set up a system for western areas, such as Ohio and Indiana to become states. More important, though, it forbade slavery to expand into these areas.
When the Congressional delegates met in Philadelphia in 1787, they planned to change the Articles of Confederation to make it better. Instead, they decided to start over.
The process wasn’t easy, because each state delegate had a different idea of what the new government should look like.
The Virginia Plan (proposed by Virginia) would give advantages to larger states with more people. The New Jersey plan was meant to make sure smaller states were treated fairly too.
Then Roger Sherman offered the Great Compromise which would establish a two house congress based on each state’s population. Eventually, this was the plan that was used to develop the Constitution.
The story doesn’t end there though. Not only did the leaders disagree about what the new government should look like, but the people disagreed too.
Federalists were educated, wealthy city people. They wanted a strong federal government that would develop trade ties with Britain and be good for the economy.
Anti-federalists favored a small federal government and strong state governments. They believed state leaders could best decide what each state needed.
The Federalists won the debate, but with a compromise that a separate Bill of Rights would be added to the Constitution which would specifically outline the rights of individuals.
Levy: to require
Delegate: a representative
Questions and Answers
Question: How did the Federalists win the debate?
Answer:They were wealthy and had more money and organization than the Anti-Federalists. They published essays, known as the Federalist Papers, in New York newspapers describing the Constitution and the new government. These essays helped them gain the people’s support.
The First Amendment ensures freedom of religion, that people can worship how, when, and what they may, publicly and privately. It also ensures that people, including journalists, can speak freely, assemble peacefully, and complain to the government when they’re unhappy with a law or decision.
The Second Amendment grants the right to keep and bear arms (to own guns) so that the country can have a ready militia.
The Third Amendment says that people can’t be forced to house soldiers in their homes. Before and during the Revolutionary War, the colonists were required to house British soldiers. They didn’t like that.
The Fourth Amendment says that the government can’t search people’s property or seize it without a justified cause (investigators usually need a search warrant to enter someone’s property).
The Fifth Amendment says that we can’t be tried twice for the same crime or forced to testify against ourselves in court).
The Sixth Amendment grants the right to a fair and speedy trial by jury.
The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a trial by jury in a private (not criminal) or civil case.
The Eighth Amendment makes excessive fines or bail and cruel or unusual punishment illegal.
The Ninth Amendment allows for changes or amendments to be made to the Constitution.
The 10thAmendment that any power not given to the federal government in the Constitution belongs to the people and the states
Questions and Answers:
Question: Are these the only amendments?
Answer:No. There are currently 27 amendments in all. The government is very careful about adding amendments to the Constitution and doesn’t do it often
What if every time the country or individual states needed to make a new law or decision, they had to consult every person in America? We’d never get anything done. Instead, each state elects representatives to represent each state. These representatives vote based on the people’s will in their state.
The Constitution says very little about how elections should work.
States determine when and where elections will occur.
Elections are useful because they offer competition in leadership. During election campaigns, politicians should be honest about what they plan to do if they’re elected. If they’re not honest, their opponents challenge them.
Elections are also useful because they give us a way to get rid of bad leaders.
Elections vary from state to state, but in many states, people can choose to mail their ballot ahead of time or go to a polling station to cast their vote.
Some amendments were written specifically about voting. The 24thAmendment eliminated a poll tax. People shouldn’t have to pay to vote and the poll tax discouraged those who were poor from voting.
The 26thAmendment changed the required age to vote from 21 to 18.
The Voting Act of 1965 made it easier for minorities, especially Black people, to vote.
Opponent: someone whom you are competing against
Polling station: where voting occurs (usually a school or city building)
Questions and Answers
Question: Does voting really matter?
Answer: Voting doesn’t mean that you will like everything the government does or agree with every leader, but it is the best way to protect democracy and let people have a voice. Voting is a very important right.
Every town or community needs services to keep it running and to keep people safe. These include people in charge of street maintenance, animal regulation, traffic control, garbage collection, and parks, as well as fire fighters, police, and others. Town and city governments are responsible for these people and many other things.
In most towns and cities, a mayor is elected by the people, along with a city council.
The city council prepares rules, which the mayor approves to become laws.
The city hires directors to manage different things, such as a director of street maintenance, parks, or the library. These people all answer to the mayor and the city council.
The larger a city, the more complex its government. Small towns might have only a few city employees, while large cities might have thousands of employees.
Some cities don’t have a mayor, but might have council members, or alderpersons. Some cities might have a commission of a few people working together or someone called a manager instead of a mayor.
During council meetings, council members discuss important items, such as new buildings, water issues, or street repairs. People in the community can come to these meetings. Sometimes people can vote on certain issues, such as whether to allow a new neighborhood to be built.
Each city or town is in a county, which is in a state. The county has a government too. This government takes care of things like roads, hospitals, water, electric services, and school districts. The county government might prosecute serious crimes or keep records for births and deaths.
Mayor: elected leader of a city or town
Council: group of elected officers that work with the mayor
Prosecute: take to court
Questions and Answers
Question: Where does the city get its money?
Answer:Cities are funded mostly by taxes and fees collected from the people who live in the city. We pay taxes on our houses (property taxes), the things we buy (sales tax), and our vehicles.
We also pay fees for car licenses and car registration, as well as business licenses and other things.
A mayor and city council makes decisions for towns and cities, but there are lots of decisions that affect an entire state. States need governments too.
Every state elects a legislature and a governor.
The legislature is made up of people from different parts of the state. This is a good idea so that people in every part of the state have a voice and chance for their opinions to be heard.
The legislature has two parts—the Senate and the House of Representatives.
These two bodies of government work in separate rooms in the state capitol.
The governor works with the legislature to make laws that are fair for everyone. The governor also works with city and county governments.
Governors must think about business, agriculture, factories, roads, crime, and many other things.
The governor has a team of appointed and elected people to help him or her. The attorney general works on legal issues. The treasurer handles the budget and money. The secretary of state keeps records. When the governor is traveling, the lieutenant governor steps in as governor.
There are also many other people that work in state agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Department of Public Works.
State governments make rules designed to protect and help people, such as requirements for doctors or rules about driving a car safely.
Governors also have to make decisions in times of danger or natural disaster. They can call in the National Guard or issue a quarantine (such as during a pandemic).
Legislature: the bodies of government that make laws
Lieutenant governor: acts in the governor’s place
Questions and Answers
Question:Do states control schools?
Answer: State school boards do make decisions for schools, as well as local school districts. Federal laws control some aspects of education.
Think about the rules you have at home and school. If you didn’t have rules what might happen? Chances are, there would be fights, messes, and even accidents. It would be easier for bigger kids to take advantage of or bully smaller ones.
Laws are even more important in our cities, states, and country because there are so many of us and we all have opinions and things we want. But guess who makes the laws. You do.
We the people help make laws when we vote for leaders. If we’re doing our research and actively participating, we have a pretty good idea of what is important to candidates. We can vote for candidates that best represent our own opinions.
When we’re unhappy (or happy) about a law, we can let elected leaders know our feelings. We can write letters, make phone calls, speak at a town meeting, or even protest.
Lobbies are organized groups that represent certain ideas, professions, or goals. There are lobbies for teachers, doctors, lawyers, businesses, environmentalists, and many more. These lobbies try to persuade leaders to hear and agree with their point of view. Sometimes lobbyists help raise funds for political campaigns. In exchange politicians might agree to listen to lobbyists.
Getting new laws made takes time and hard work. This is because we know that too many laws can actually be a bad thing. It’s important to consider all perspectives and think about potential downsides before we make laws.
Lobby: an organized group that aims to influence political leaders
Downside: a negative consequence
Questions and Answers
Question: How are state laws passed?
Answer: A state law starts out as a bill, which is just a written document that outlines what the potential law is about. The bill is introduced to the Senate or House of Representatives by one of the members.
Sometimes the public is invited to a public hearing to share their opinions about the bill. Then the bill goes to a committee that considers it and sometimes makes changes called amendments.
After that, the Senate or House votes on the bill. If it passes, it goes to the other house for a vote. If it passes there, it goes to the governor. Sometimes the governor signs the bill and it becomes a law.
Sometimes the governor might veto the bill (or refuse to sign it). If this happens, it goes back to the Senate and House. Two-thirds of the members of both houses must vote in favor of the bill. If this happens, it becomes a law.
Mayors work for a town or city at the City Hall, while governors work in the Statehouse. The President lives and works in the White House and is responsible for the entire country.
In order to qualify to run for president, candidates must be at least 35 years old. They must also be natural-born citizens, and have lived here for 14 years.
The president’s office is called the Oval Office because of its shape.
S. presidents are very busy. Along with Congress, they command the military, choose judges, and send ambassadors overseas.
S. presidents have the power to veto bills they disapprove of. They give speeches, answer letters, make pardons, and host ceremonies. They stay knowledgeable about what’s going on in our country and around the world. They meet with people every day.
A president has to think about making good choices for our country, but also consider what other countries around the world need. A U.S. president must develop good relationships with world leaders and promote peace.
Presidents are elected by the people’s vote and by members of the Electoral College. They serve one term of four years, unless they are re-elected for another term. Eight years is the most time a president can be in office.
The vice president helps the president with some duties and can preside in the president’s place.
Natural born: someone born in this country
Ambassador: a representative from one country to another
Veto: say no to a bill or law
Questions and Answers
Question:What qualities make a good president?
Answer: Being president is a hard job that requires someone who wants to serve the country, rather than just gain power. A good president should be honest, wise, just, and kind.
She or he must understand the Constitution and democracy, and have experience in working with others.
It’s important for the president to know and understand what’s happening in the country and in the world. That’s why the president has a “cabinet” of people to help him.
These people are the highest-ranking members of the government. They’re experts in their fields, chosen by the president, and approved by the Senate.
Originally, George Washington had only four cabinet members, the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, the secretary of defense, and the attorney general. Today, there are more cabinet members.
The secretary of state is the most senior cabinet member. This person knows about foreign affairs and has the power to make treaties and agreements with other countries. The secretary of state is in charge of the Department of State and oversees undersecretaries in charge of human rights, political affairs, arms control, etc. Ambassadors from the United States work in embassies in countries throughout the world. Their job is to represent the United States in foreign countries. Consuls are also part of this department. They help our citizens when they’re abroad.
The secretary of the treasury oversees the department that manages the country’s money, which includes trillions of dollars. This department is also responsible for making coins and printing money.
The secretary of defense is responsible for the military and runs the (DOD) at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. This person makes sure the armed services are trained and prepared to defend our country.
The attorney general and the Department of Justice (DOJ) is in charge of crime prevention and law enforcement.
With the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), this department brings people accused of crimes to trial.
The secretary of agriculture is responsible for millions of acres of national forests. This person, with the Department of Agriculture, does food safety inspections, and helps farmers and farming companies with their crops.
The secretary of commerce is responsible for things related to business, such as patents and trademarks, technology, coastal waters, and jobs.
The secretary of health and human services deals with child, drug, and domestic abuse, makes laws about food and drugs, and does medical research.
The secretary of homeland security’s job is to run the Secret Service, oversee immigration processes, prepare for natural disasters, and prevent terrorist attacks.
The secretary of labor looks out for workers, making sure that they have safe, healthy work environments fair salaries, and equal rights for employment.
The secretary of transportation deals with all types of transportation, maintaining federal highways and looking into plane crashes.
The secretary of education oversees public education, developing policies, approving national standards, and allocating money for schools.
The secretary of energy is charged with developing safe, reasonably priced energy systems for the country.
The secretary of housing and urban development’s job is to help people find affordable housing.
The secretary of the interior manages and protects public lands, such as national parks and wildlife refuges, as well as resources like water and minerals. This person also works with tribal nations.
The secretary of veterans’ affairs oversees medical care and support for veterans.
The vice president is also a member of the president’s cabinet.
Cabinet: a group of experts supporting the president
Tribal nation: Native American groups
Questions and Answers
Question: How does the president choose cabinet members? What are the rules?
Answer:Traditionally, the president chooses people who are well-known and well-respected in their fields of expertise. Although the Senate must approve cabinet members, the president can remove them at will.
Cabinet members, along with the vice president, can also declare a president unfit for office.
Every day we use services and materials provided by local, state, and federal governments, such as clean water, safe roads, and good schools. We appreciate teachers, firefighters, governors, and others who work for the country. We visit public buildings, such as libraries, colleges, and even hospitals. All these things are paid for with taxes.
At home in your own community, your family pays a local property tax each year. This property tax helps pay for schools and other important things right where you live.
Most states charge a sales tax on things you buy at stores. Most states also charge a tax on income, or the amount of money you earn.
We also pay federal income taxes every April 15. This money goes into the U.S. Treasury to be used by the government.
The payroll tax goes into an account to pay people when they become too old or sick to work (Social Security).
There are also special taxes on some items, such as gasoline, cigarettes, and airline travel.
Income: money earned from a salary, investments, or inheritance
Federal: at the level of the country, as opposed to local or state
Questions and Answers
Question: I hear adults complaining about taxes. Are taxes a bad thing?
Answer: Most people would like to keep as much of their money as possible, which is one reason people complain about taxes. People are also unhappy if they disagree with how the money is spent or believe taxes are too high.
It’s true that sometimes tax money probably isn’t used as efficiently as it could be. On the other hand, we get a lot of benefits from our taxes.
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MLA Style Citation
Declan, Tobin. " History of the United States Political Parties - American History for Kids ." American History for Kids, Jan 2021. Web. 20 Jan 2021. < https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/history-of-government/ >.
APA Style Citation
Tobin, Declan. (2021). History of the United States Political Parties - American History for Kids. American History for Kids. Retrieved from https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/history-of-government/