What were the major political parties in the early United States?

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Main topic: Humanities
Other topics: U.S., Politics
Short answer: The first two parties in the U.S. were formed in 1789. They were the Federalist Party and the Anti-Administration party.

When the country was first born, there were no political parties. George Washington was not a member of any political party, and is the only President in American history to hold that distinction. However, the first two parties, the Federalist and the Anti-Administration parties began to take shape during his administration.[1] The Federalist Party formed around Alexander Hamilton and some of his supporters in 1791, although it began to coalesce in 1789. They were proponents of a strong central government, and their policies were supported by Washington.[2] The Anti-Administration Party coalesced around Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. It was not an official party, but rather a loose collection of politicians who supported a weaker central government.[3] The public leader of this faction was Madison, as Jefferson refused to speak negatively about Hamilton while both were serving together in Washington's administration. But he did work behind the scenes to subvert Hamilton's policies.[4] By 1793 this party was being called the Democratic-Republican or Republican Party.[5] This is known as the First Party System in American politics, and lasted until approximately 1824-1828.[6]

1828 would see the beginning of the Second Party System in American politics, which would last until approximately 1952-1954.[7] This period was dominated by the Democrats and the Whigs. The 1824 Presidential election was run without political parties, although all four major candidates were known as Democratic-Republicans. The Democratic-Republicans split into different factions. The National Republican Party arose out of the faction which had supported John Quincy Adams in the election. It was also known as the Anti-Jacksonian Party.[8] The Democratic Party, the oldest party still in existence, arose out of the faction which supported Andrew Jackson, although it was mostly organized by Martin Van Buren.[9][10][11] In 1828, an anti-Freemasonry movement began in the United States, and the Anti-Masonic Party came into being.[12] They remained a national party through 1838, but then dissolved, mostly into the Whig Party, and were non-existent by 1840.[13][14] In 1833 the Whig Party came into existence, comprised mostly of the members of the National Republican and Anti-Masonic parties.[15]

In 1839-40, the Liberty Party, an abolitionist party, was formed.[16] The American Party, also known as the "Know Nothings", had its roots in an anti-Catholic sentiment in the U.S. during the 1840s. By 1855, they were a formal party.[17][18] The Free Soil Party was a short-lived party, forming in 1848, their major issue was preventing the spread of slavery into new western states,[19] and they also absorbed the Liberty Party. The Republican Party began in 1854.[20][21] The American Party and Free Soil Parties (the anti-slavery wing) merged into the Republican Party between 1855-1860.[19][22]


  1. "Political Parties". George Washington's Mount Vernon. Retrieved 2022-10-05.
  2. "Federalist Party | Definition, History, Beliefs, & Facts | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 2022-10-05.
  3. Wood, Gordon S. (2009). Empire of liberty. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 56–58. ISBN 9780195039146.
  4. Wilentz, Sean (2005). The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 150–151. ISBN 0-393-05820-4.
  5. "Untitled". The Aurora General Advertiser. April 30, 1795. p. 3.
  6. Chambers, William, ed. (1972). The First Party System: Federalists and Republicans. New York: Wiley. pp. 6–7. ISBN 9780471143406.
  7. Shade, William G. (1983). "The Second Party System". Evolution of American Electoral Systems: 77–112.
  8. "State Journal - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com. Retrieved 2022-10-05.
  9. M. Philip Lucas, "Martin Van Buren as Party Leader and at Andrew Jackson's Right Hand." in A Companion to the Antebellum Presidents 1837–1861 (2014): 107–129
  10. "The Democratic Party, founded in 1828, is the world's oldest political party" states Kenneth Janda; Jeffrey M. Berry; Jerry Goldman (2010). The Challenge of Democracy: American Government in Global Politics. Cengage Learning. p. 276. ISBN 9780495906186
  11. Michael Kazin, What It Took to Win: A History of the Democratic Party (2022) pp 5, 12.
  12. Vaughn, William Preston (1983). The Antimasonic Party in the United States, 1826-1843. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 21–34. ISBN 9780813184678.
  13. Remini, Robert Vincent (1991). Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 528. ISBN 9780393310887.
  14. McLaughlin, Andrew Cunningham (1914). Cyclopedia of American Government, Volume 1. D. Appleton. p. 49.
  15. Cole, Donald B. (1993). The Presidency of Andrew Jackson. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. pp. 211–213. ISBN 9780700609611.
  16. Willey, Austin (1886). The History of the Antislavery Cause in State and Nation. Portland, ME: Brown Thurston and Hoyt, Fogg, & Donham. pp. 131–132.
  17. Sean Wilentz. pp. 681–2, 693
  18. Billington, Ray A. The Protestant Crusade, 1800–1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism (1938), pp. 337, 380–406.
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Free-Soil Party | Definition, History, & Beliefs | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 2022-10-05.
  20. "Republican Party | Definition, History, & Beliefs | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 2022-10-05.
  21. Brownstein, Ronald (2017-11-22). "Where the Republican Party Began". The American Prospect. Retrieved 2022-10-05.
  22. Anbinder, Tyler (1992). Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 270. ISBN 9780195072334. OCLC 925224120