The once-every-four-years national convention season begins this week with the Republican Party finalizing the nomination of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Democrats take their turn the following week with the renomination of Barack Obama and, presumptively, Joe Biden. ;-)
The whole political party system was not even in place in the United States until well after George Washington’s first oath of office. The first semblance of a political party formed out of a remnant of the Federalists, who organized the U.S. Constitution in 1787. According to my legacy 1964-65 Encyclopedia Britannica, “The political group which became known as the Federalist party may be regarded as definitely organized practically from 1791; it was led, leaving President Washington aside, by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams.”
That same written oracle states in Volume 7 that the Democratic Party began one year later “as a national group of voters supporting Thomas Jefferson and using at times the title ‘Republican,’ derived in part from their emphasis on the newly established ‘republic’ as contrasted with ‘monarchy.” Jefferson’s Democratic Party adopted the principles of “popular control of government, widest extension of suffrage and the fullest measure of personal liberty consistent with law and order, strict interpretation of the constitution and preservation of the rights of the states; opposition to centralized power in the federal government; religious liberty, free speech and a free press.”
The Federalist Party held that a far more centralized government role was in order to ensure the survival of the republic. Their emphasis was on funding the war debt, neutrality in foreign wars, and the granting of crisis powers to the federal government.
After the second president, John Adams, the Federalist Party never held that high office again and effectively folded in 1787. Not until 1834 did the Whig Party emerge, eventually establishing a platform that asserted such boring issues as a well-regulated currency, tariffs for revenue, and term limits for the presidency. The Whigs went extinct in the late 1850s when the bulk of their membership followed Abraham Lincoln in defection to the newly formed Republican Party.
From its very foundation, the Republican Party took on the mantle of individual rights, especially when those rights are overwhelmed by the conflicting rights of someone else in a more powerful position. While losing its first run at the presidency, the party’s soul and maturing platform was established in the speeches of nominee Abraham Lincoln.