It's a well known fact that, when US Founding fathers were setting up our polytical system, they did NOT build in the ideas of political parties. More specifically, both Washington and Madison didn't like the idea of "factions", as they referred to what is now known as parties (e.g. see Federalist #10; and this article and this other article quote both Adams and Washington on the topic - the quotes are too long combined to bother copy/pasting as proof into the question).

They were all smart and insightful people, and as such they surely anticipated that people in politics would surely tend to organize into "factions".

As such, did any of them offer any specific proscriptive approaches (not merely "factions are bad, duh!" descriptive ones; nor "public official and the public should strive to work towards public good in good faith" moralistic ones) to discourage faction formation in the newly designed system of governance, the way they offered checks and balances in various ways to address other issues?

  • 3
    +1, good question. I'm personally unaware of any mechanism to prevent the establishment of parties, though perhaps that was a controversial opinion not shared by all the founders, or perhaps they felt the lack of parties as an official government construct was sufficient, or perhaps they legitimately didn't think of it.
    – Publius
    Sep 11, 2013 at 8:45
  • 1
    I am pretty sure they believed that the constitution limited the government to the point that even if a faction gained control that the damage they could do would be limited... that was true for the first 150ish years. Sep 11, 2013 at 15:03
  • 1
    Interesting topic. Doesn't answer the question, but I thought this was interesting: shmoop.com/political-parties/… It seems that parties may have been inevitable.
    – user1530
    Sep 11, 2013 at 22:34

1 Answer 1


This was one of the several goals that the Electoral College was supposed to accomplish (outlined in Article 2, Sec. 1, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution). Note: This clause was modified by the 12th Amendment for reasons I'll explain.

In the original plan for presidential elections, each elector would cast two votes for president, one of which could not be for a candidate from the elector's home state. This was done to avoid the "favorite son" problem. The top vote-getter would become president and the 2nd place winner would be the vice president. The theory behind this was that every candidate would be racing for the top prize [being president], and since nobody runs for 2nd place this would prevent two candidates from running together on a party platform. The President and Vice President would likely have conflicting political values, and they would be forced to work together with their respective support bases in Congress resulting in (theoretically) the best compromise position possible.

Of course with hindsight being 20/20 and all, this idea turned out to be very naive. Problems became immediately apparent during the election of 1796 (the first election after George Washington left office) where John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the two top vote-getters respectively. They were very bitter political enemies with Jefferson subverting Adams' authority everywhere he could with his supporters in Congress. It was a pretty dysfunctional government.

By the very next election in 1800, a lot of gerrymandering had taken place to influence the makeup of the Electoral College. The two factions tried to collude with other members to win, but it inadvertently resulted in a deadlock tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr which took 36(!) ballots to finally break, with the result that the same two guys as before (Jefferson and Adams) having their roles reversed.

It was obvious by that point that the original plan was defective, so the 12th Amendment was ratified in 1804 to correct the problem. Under the 12th Amendment, Electors still cast two ballots, but one is specifically for President, and the other specifically for Vice President. There was still no official two-party system, as even the new system would be a free-for-all for both positions, but it was not long after that the candidate for President would select his own running mate for Vice President.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

  • 1
    A good study in unintended consequences. While the current system isn't perfect, tinkering with it is done at our peril. Better still that we see to it that we have better quality candidates in the next election. That shouldn't be hard to do, but it is.
    – tj1000
    Jun 12, 2017 at 23:47
  • 2
    It's worth noting that the US Constitution (to this day) is completely silent about “political parties”. Of course, ignoring them doesn't make them go away.
    – dan04
    Jun 13, 2017 at 0:57
  • I would suggest that the early divisions and tensions are not proof that the first idea didn't work or that it wasn't the best one advanced; rather, it seems more plausible that the individuals involved did not take to it as well as they might have, or that this is an inherently hard problem where there is no such thing as a proscriptive solution that works irrespective of its acceptance. As pointed out elsewhere, part of the purpose of our government is to make action very difficult when the people are not united. In that sense the original electoral college could be considered a success.
    – pygosceles
    Jul 11, 2019 at 20:31

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .