U.S. Political Parties: Purpose, History, Organization & Structure

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  • 0:01 Party Time
  • 0:30 Political Parties in America
  • 2:19 America's Major Parties
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the history and structure of American political parties, including the current dominant groups. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Party Time

Today, we are talking about political parties. So grab the confetti and the streamers, I'll get the cake, and let's do this! I know it's not that kind of party, but I'm excited about this. I say we make a party out of these political parties.

A political party is an organization of people united by shared political values. Political parties unite the people who believe in a political cause to help them raise support for political candidates who also represent those beliefs.

Political Parties in America

For much of American history, there have only been two dominant political parties at any given time. However, it was not always like this. The United States Constitution doesn't say anything about how many political parties are or are not allowed in the U.S. This is because in 1787, when the Constitution was drafted, there were no political parties in America. It wasn't until a little later that political parties began to form as a way to win over voter support on certain issues. By the early 1800s, the United States was divided into two major parties.

Our first president, George Washington, once warned against a two-party system for the United States. He felt that this would divide the nation into two sides that could not work together. Like that would ever happen. Anyway, although the nation has been generally controlled by two major parties, there were several important other political parties across history. Between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, America had a labor party, as well as a communist party, to protect the rights of workers. At this same time, the Populist Party fought for the rights of farmers. Today, we have the Green Party, which supports environmental issues, and the Libertarian Party, who believe in limiting the power of the federal government.

One of the primary goals of political parties is to endorse candidates who support their values. Political parties hope to get these candidates elected to positions in government in order to pass laws and policies to direct the nation towards their ideals. This becomes especially important in Congressional and Presidential elections. Congress has the power to veto the President, and the President has powers over Congress, so political parties try to get as many of their candidates into both offices as possible. During the national conventions, the parties come together to choose which candidates they will support for different national offices, such as the presidency.

America's Major Parties

One of the two major American political parties is the Democratic Party, a moderate liberal group. Democrats support government intervention in social issues like welfare and believe in regulating the economy. The Democratic Party is the oldest of the surviving political parties in America; it was officially formed in 1828. There have been 15 Democratic presidents, starting with Andrew Jackson in 1829.

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