The Life of the Parties: A History of American Political Parties

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Americans disillusioned with a divided government and an ineffectual political process need look no further for the source of these problems than the decline of the political parties, says A. James Reichley. As he reminds us in this first major history of the parties to appear in over thirty years, parties have traditionally provided an indispensable foundation for American democracy, both by giving ordinary citizens a means of communicating directly with elected officials and by serving as instruments through which political leaders have mobilized support for government policies. But the destruction of patronage at the state and local levels, the new system of nominating presidential candidates since 1968, and the increased clout of single-issue interest groups have severed the vital connection between political accountability and governmental effectiveness. Contending that a restored party system remains the best hope for revitalizing our democracy, Reichley uncovers the historic sources of this system, the pitfalls the parties encountered during earlier efforts at reform, and how they arrived at their current weakened state. Reichley recalls that the Founders took a dim view of parties and tried to prevent their emergence. But by the end of George Washington's first term as President, two parties, one led by Alexander Hamilton and the other by Thomas Jefferson, were competing for direction of national policy. The two-party system, complete with national conventions, party platforms, and armies of campaign workers, developed more fully during the era of Andrew Jackson. The Civil War Republicans, led by Abraham Lincoln, were the first to achieve true party government, and Franklin Roosevelt produced a second golden age of party government in the 1930s. Reichley asserts that Louis Hartz was only half right in arguing that the parties are philosophically indistinguishable. Rather, Reichley argues that the republican and liberal traditions, on which the two parti
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Reichley, a former political editor of Fortune , contends that the two-party system in the U.S. still offers voters a meaningful choice. The Democratic and Republican parties, he argues, represent a natural division between competing ideological traditions going back to the conflict over ratification of the Constitution in the 1780s. While he is not likely to persuade the disaffected, this colorful, careful history of American party politics does pinpoint two distinct traditions: a liberal creed extending from antifederalists to modern Democrats, stressing economic and social equality; and a republican (or conservative) ethos, from Federalists and Whigs to Republicans, emphasizing free-market capitalism, individual rights and traditional morality. Reichley, who opposes a multi-party system, maintains that party politics, now in decline, can be reinvigorated. His recommendations to that end include free TV and radio time for candidates, outlawing of political action committees, and a new presidential convention system whereby all members of Congress and all governors would automatically become delegates, with national primaries to elect additional delegates. (Aug.)
Library Journal
There could hardly be a more appropriate time for Reichley's cogent analysis of the development of our two parties and their futures as H. Ross Perot campaigns as the ultimate outsider ``tainted by neither major political party.'' As one would expect of a Brookings scholar of his reputation, Reichley has produced an in-depth study, tracing the development of political parties from the early Federalists (pre-GOP) and the Jeffersonian-Republicans (later Democrats) of the founding era through the post-Civil War period (1860-1932) of Republican domination to the New Deal Democrats and, finally, to the ``contemporary'' system. Reichley contends that the current state of deterioration evident in political parties can be first traced to such ``progressive''-era reforms as the Australian secret ballot, direct primaries, and limited voter eligibility to cut fraud. He notes the rapid erosion of support for both parties in the 1970s and 1980s and describes the increasing funding and clout of the two National Committees. He also tells why parties are necessary and how they might be rebuilt. Highly recommended.-- Frank Kessler, Missouri Western State Coll., St. Joseph
Presents a history of the origin and development of political parties. Argues that the work and creed of American democracy have been carried forward by two great contending but not incompatible ideological traditions, the republican and the liberal; and that parties are now endangered by cultural, legal, and technological changes in American life. Describes and analyzes crucial episodes in the evolution of American parties, and comments on recent developments in the life of the parties at the national, state, and local levels. A final chapter examines developments during the 1990s. Reichley is senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute, Georgetown University. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780029260258
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/1992
  • Pages: 490
  • Product dimensions: 6.45 (w) x 9.62 (h) x 1.57 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: The Party Problem 1
From the Founding to the Civil War
2 Intention of the Founders: A Polity Without Parties 17
3 The First Parties: Federalists and Republicans 38
4 One-Party Hegemony: The Jeffersonians 64
5 Formation of Mass Parties: Democrats and Whigs 85
The Republican Era
6 Party Government: The Civil War Republicans 113
7 Machine Politics: The Gilded Age 140
8 Third-Party Challenge: Populist Uprising 161
9 Reaction Against Parties: The Progressive Era 183
10 The Progressive Legacy, City Machines, and the Solid South 202
11 The President as Party Leader: Woodrow Wilson 221
The New Deal Era
12 A Functioning Majority Party: The New Deal 241
13 Vehicles of Opposition 263
14 Fission of Party Coalitions 284
15 Decline of State and Local Machines 304
16 Movement Politics: The Republican Hard Right 316
17 Reform Politics: Amateur Democrats 335
Contemporary Parties
18 The New Giants: National Party Organizations 353
19 State Parties: Seeking New Roles 382
20 Local Parties: Getting Along Without Patronage 395
21 Rebuilding the Parties 411
Notes 435
Acknowledgments 467
Index 469
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