In George Washington's "Farewell Address", the first President specifically warns about the dangers of political parties. He admits that people tend to naturally align in groups, but also warns that political parties and bias can weaken the government and the unity of the Republic (look where we are today in our national unity: not so great).

He warns that parties can lead to alternating domination over each other and to efforts to exact revenge upon one another, causing each side to commit atrocities against the other. He believed that ultimately political parties tend to push the people to seek security in an individual rather than the collective whole of the Republic (Candidate X being the "answer" rather than "the people as a whole"). This in turn can lead to despotism.

Even today, if you look around you can see each party trying to dominate over the other, and making major moves to keep that domination (gerrymandering district lines to keep power, calling for multiple recounts when they don't win in contested states/districts, skewing polls to discourage voters, using the free press as a propaganda tool, using external organizations (PACs) to out-raise each other financially as a legal loophole to campaign finance laws, need I go on).

So the question is: why wasn't a safeguard put into place to ensure parties could NOT exist in the federal government of the USA? To keep ALL government elected officials independent and only accountable to their local constituents for representation rather than their party?

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    I recommend doing some research on first-past-the-post voting. It's a voting system that makes intuitive sense, but has counter-intuitive effects toward consolidation of political factions.
    – Dan Bryant
    Aug 27, 2018 at 17:36
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    @Giter, "... people understand they're more powerful when working towards a common interest as a group": s/understand/supposed/. The problem being that a party machine has its own interests and works to unobtrusively replace its larval founding group's goals with its own.
    – agc
    Aug 27, 2018 at 18:39
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    Political parties are inevitable in any system. People want to be a part of a group. However, the fact that all the power rests with just two political parties, despite such a wide range of beliefs across such a broad spectrum of peoples, is basically entirely due to our voting system (as mentioned by @DanBryant) Aug 28, 2018 at 0:25
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    @Pere Citation needed. In the absolute, certainly wrong, but maybe I could be convinced the US is among some of the democracies with weaker parties.
    – Nobody
    Aug 28, 2018 at 17:51
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    @Pere: that's a ridiculous assertion. The US only has two main parties and they have consolidated their stranglehold on federal funding and locked out third parties. Given that there are only two of them, there's not much diversity of voter choice in most elections. In what quantifiable way do you say US politicians are independent from their parties?
    – smci
    Aug 28, 2018 at 23:54

4 Answers 4


A safeguard WAS put into place. We call it the Electoral College (although it is not named as such in the Constitution). It failed miserably at that goal.

The original vision when the Electoral College system was devised had three aims:

  1. To prevent political parties from dominating politics.
  2. To prevent a populist from getting elected to office.
  3. To "handicap" larger states so smaller states could still have a voice.

To prevent political parties, the original text of the Constitution required each member of the Electoral College to cast two votes for President (one of which could not be for someone from that elector's home state (to prevent the "favorite son" problem). The top vote-getter would be the President, and the 2nd-place vote-getter would be the Vice President.

The idea here is that the President and Vice President would likely be from different parties, since nobody runs for 2nd place. Constitutionally, the Vice President is the head of the Senate, so the thinking was that the differing political ideologies between them would force them to work together to achieve some compromise or consensus to get things done. This plan went sour very, very quickly with the elections of 1796 and 1800 respectively.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were bitter political enemies. In 1796 with Adams as President, Jefferson leveraged his position as Vice President to attack Adams' policies, and the Adams administration turned out to be a very dysfunctional government.

The election of 1800 was even worse. Both parties attempted to gerrymander their electoral districts to sway the vote, and the shenanigans resulted in a tie. If nobody gets a majority in the Electoral College, the Constitution says that the House of Representatives then votes to appoint the President. Both parties tried to collude with other factions within the House with endless ties as the end result. It took 36 ballots to finally break the tie, with Jefferson and Adams swapping their President and Vice President seats.

Because the two back-to-back election cycles were such a colossal disaster, the 12th Amendment was passed, subtly but fundamentally changing how the Electoral voting system worked. Under the 12th Amendment, electors still cast two ballots, but they are marked specifically one for President and one for Vice President. This change basically abandoned the idea that the runner-up would be from the opposing party, and the President and Vice President have run together strategically on the same party ticket ever since.

The idea that we could have a truly bipartisan government is a great idea in theory, but history has shown us that it was completely unworkable in practice (at least, with the system they tried anyway).

In my personal opinion, politics always devolves into the worst form of tribalism no matter how great or small the stakes. In a naive, idealized form of democracy, elected representatives carry forward the values of their constituents in national policymaking. In reality, however, most elections are not about voting for your own values; they're about voting against the other guy's values, because those values will destroy the country. Political parties are the inevitable result of people banding together to prevent the other side from "winning", rather than a mechanism for carrying forward one's own ideals. This was as true in the 18th century as it is today.

This isn't just an American thing; you see this in every democratic country in the world. Politics being what it is, political parties -- no matter how much we might wish it weren't so -- are an inseparable property of a representative government.

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    Was it such a disaster, I wonder, or did it function as intended? If two people were such bitter enemies, and yet both enjoyed tremendous popularity individually, would it not be better to have a dysfunctional government for the duration of that term than to have one faction win total supremacy? Food for thought.
    – Wildcard
    Aug 28, 2018 at 1:33
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    While this does happen in other democracies, my observation has been that the effect is more pronounced in democracies which are designed such that they devolve into a 2-party system. Multi-party democracies exist, and function quite well. Aug 28, 2018 at 3:19
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    As @RolandHeath commented, the "against someone" works in a 2-party system. It doesn't work in a multi-party system, because if you rally against any party, the people affected will spread out to other parties instead of (only) joining your party. You can't just rally against all other parties, because the other parties are also opposed to each other, which means you'd have to be against people that are also against the same people you are against, which limits the effect. The main problem is FPTP/winner takes all, which leads to 2 parties, which leads to extreme tribalism and this effect.
    – user20672
    Aug 28, 2018 at 6:41
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    First two are correct, third is ... er... what we tell schoolkids so we don't have to talk to them about slavery. We have records of the Constitutional Conv. deliberations, and it was the large southern plantation states that insisted against popular vote, not "small states" like Connecticut and Rhode Island. The EC was a hack to allow the 3/5th compromise (where states got to inflate their political power in proportion to their slaves who they'd never allow to actually vote) to apply to Presidential selection as well.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 28, 2018 at 20:03
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    @elliotsvensson - That's nothing but post facto rationalizations. We know why it was created because some of the people involved were journaling about it at the time. If you think it has some positive side effects, that's a totally different (and off-topic) issue.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 29, 2018 at 13:42

The first two parties of the United States were the Federalists and their aptly named opposition, the Anti-Federalists. The former believed in a strong centralized federal government over the state governments and businesses and banks, with some wanting to increase friendly relations following the Revolutionary War. The Anti-Federalists obviously disagreed and believed that the Constitution was not restrictive enough (they were the reason for the Bill of Rights amendments) and favored limited central government and more power for the states and the people. They feared the Presidency might devolve into a Monarch, and were generally opposed to the business and banking interests.

The Federalist Party quickly lost favor and became the Whig Party, with moderates moving over to the Anti-Federalists which devolved into the the Democrat-Republican party, which further divided into the Modern Democratic party, and eventually the Modern Republicans (the core opposition to the Democratic Party were those that were opposed to slavery that was supported by the agriculture base of the early Democrats, in the form of several parties that were issue-specific. The Republicans generally picked up support over time as these various parties rose and fell apart). Interestingly enough, both modern Parties see Thomas Jefferson as their spiritual ancestor... the Democrats also add Andrew Jackson, who was a big proponent of opening more positions in government (notably judges) to voting and brought more suffrage to Americans... though that would be white male Americans without land that benefited.

While the arguments have changed over time, and issues are supported over different times by different parties, the evolution of parties in the United States was largely a result of the ongoing debate on where the limits of the central federal powers should be vs. the States and individuals and what does the Federal Government have a right to do vs. what does it have no right to do.

  • Got any references to the Republican party claiming spiritual ancestry from Jefferson? I don't doubt you at all. Its just that I can think of several arguments that might work for that, but I'd like to see what ones they are actually using.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 29, 2018 at 18:58
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_Party_(United_States) Well, the party took its name in honor of Jefferson's Defunct Democrat-Republican Party, which is the historical name to distinguish it from the Modern Party. At the time, they just called themselves the Republican Party (and can also be called the Jefferson Republican Party). The type of small government federal democracy the party tends to advocate for recently is similarly termed Jeffersonian Democracy and the "Republican" name was used to denote favoring the type of government described in the constitution, a Republic.
    – hszmv
    Aug 30, 2018 at 15:05
  • @T.E.D.: It's important to note that the term "Republic" in America is generally understood to be a Representative Democracy, in addition to a Government with out Monarchal rule.
    – hszmv
    Aug 30, 2018 at 15:06
  • Um, that's a super big WP article. Can you give me a section link?
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 30, 2018 at 15:09
  • Section History, subsection 19th century, first paragraph. Also the Name and Symbols section goes a bit more in-depth in origin.
    – hszmv
    Aug 30, 2018 at 15:12

Because there's no real way to prevent a party from forming. Parties are independent organizations that seek to maximize their members' political power by voting as a bloc. They arise naturally and organically in any representative democratic organization, first as informal organizations and later as more formalized organizations. The only ways to reduce them is to have no democracy or full democracy (where eligible voter votes on everything).


  • "The only ways to reduce them is to have no democracy or full democracy" There are also various possibilities between representative and "full"/direct democracies, where parties have less power. For example I don't think anyone claims Switzerland is a "full"/direct democracy, yet our referendum and initiative system and our representative government (as opposed to first past the post governments of parties or coalitions) significantly weakens political parties.
    – Nobody
    Aug 28, 2018 at 18:03
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    @Nobody There may be weaker political parties, but they're still there, and there are really only 3-5 major, relevant parties.
    – David Rice
    Aug 28, 2018 at 18:16
  • They are there and have power, I don't debate that. But their diminished power is significant (not only in the statistical sense). For example if using a 5% cutoff we have 5 relevant parties here, but there are also party-independent interest groups which can easily have more (direct, skipping the parties entirely) power over their subject of interest than one of the 5 major parties.
    – Nobody
    Aug 28, 2018 at 19:00
  • @Nobody as in actual legal authority, to pass regulations and enforce them?
    – David Rice
    Aug 28, 2018 at 19:33
  • A group is called "referendumsfähig" and "initiativfähig" if it can veto a law change that is passed respectively propose a new one (both by collecting valid signatures). Plenty of non-party groups are either or both of that, sometimes groups even form spontaneously to veto something. That's not directly legal authority, but in practice it's enough to make representatives compromise with established groups to prevent their intervention, more so than with a 5% party. Because if such a group intervenes the law ends up on the ballots 4 times a year with a hefty delay.
    – Nobody
    Aug 28, 2018 at 20:32

You seemed to ask 3 related questions:

Q1: (Title) Why did political parties form in the US?

Political parties form in a democracy when the people are divided and the sides want more power and there's no communication system that allows them to handle it another way.

In America, a division happened very early between the Federalists and Anti-federalists in Congress, and this schism then spread. Since it was about a philosophical issue and impacted many practical issues, it went on for a long time. Communication was very primitive, so parties formed and persisted.

After parties exist for a while, they tend to take on lives of their own, plus they attract extremists and corruption, so all kinds of stuff happens. But you just asked about why they formed.

Another way of looking at it is that representatives can't get power from the people unless they have a way to communicate well with them. This was missing, so they were on their own. Instead of representing people, they merely tried to do the right thing. They had to form groups to create power.

Q2: Why did America's founders not ensure parties would not form in the US?

Because they didn't know why parties formed. So they just hoped they wouldn't form. The Federalist Papers had a bit of reasoning why they would probably not form for a while, but it was based on ignorance. They didn't know what we know about individual and group psychology. And they didn't analyze existing systems well, like the British parties that existed at the time.

I rewrote the 2nd question in the first paragraph:

Q3: Why didn't America's founders ensure that elected officials were only accountable to their local constituents for representation rather than a party?

There's nothing in the Federalist Papers about accountability. The founders ASSUMED that voting would make representatives representative. We now have tons of evidence that it's not true. Even in America- where we vote for people, not parties- politicians represent wealthy donors and parties much more than they represent voters.

Probably, the founder didn't understand accountability, just as most Americans don't. I've asked nearly 1,000 people - two had accurate definitions of accountability.

So I did some searching, including in old books that are online. There were some decent definitions, but no good ones. And when I looked up "political accountability," the definitions were either inaccurate or were a watered-down version of accountability. Why? I'm guessing because there's so little, so they wanted to use the term for what exists in democracy. (In the last decade, better definitions have surfaced.)

So I defined it rigorously, and then functionally.

Accountability occurs when someone must answer honestly about their responsibilities. By "must", I mean there's compelling pressure.

Don't think just accountability, think: accountability to whom and for what. Often the entity to whom one is accountable defines what one is accountable for.

Political accountability in a democracy is a relationship between an elected official and their constituents where the voters together assert the pressure. For representatives, their job includes carrying out the wishes of voters as well as obeying laws, so there must be an accessible way for voters to state their wishes. To assert pressure, voters need to know what they all want, so they can know what the rep should be doing. Better, voters should also know what all voters want in order to know what they should be able to expect from a rep.

I began figuring all this out a bit over a decade ago. I've designed a political communication system to accomplish this, and have begun a website PeopleCount.org. There's no app there yet, and there's nothing to sell, just the page and my blog. I have no support so it'll take a while. The design will allow voters to work together to manage their representatives so that reps are fully accountable to voters. It will free representatives from needing to be accountable to either the parties or large donors. It will be rewarding to use for both politicians and voters.

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