Monday, May 9, 2011

American Politics and the Second Coming of the Tea Party Part I

By Miriam B. Medina

"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself." ---Alexander Hamilton

The past 50 years of American politics are vastly different from the first 50 years of American politics. The Founding Fathers were charged with framing a Constitution and building a free nation that could be self-perpetuating. One that could offer hopes and promises, which is now known as The American Dream. Major politicians in the United States over the past 50 years have been concerned with fighting communism, expanding and protecting which by any definition should be considered an Empire, and quite frankly, by maintaining office and performing damage control due to failed policies of the past and a massive surge in the population. Still, one thing remains the same going back to the birth of this nation: cliques and sects of politicians aligned by political similarities have worked together in parties to amass political power and sway. Today we only know of the Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives), with the occasional Independent popping up in a Presidential or Gubernatorial race.

This piece, part one of a two-part series, will delve into the history of politics and political parties in the United States, exploring political alignments up to the prevailing parties and the emergence of the hybrid "Tea Party" that has recently dominated headlines. This unsatisfied modern Tea Party pays homage to the Boston Tea Party, who dumped English tea in the Boston Harbor on December 16th, 1773. As the nation grows weary of an ever-expanding government, increasing regulation, increased spending and a tax bill that seems as hungry as The Blob from the 50's horror movie of the same name, it's good to see new, more rebellious parties crawl out of the woodwork. Frankly, it takes us back to our origins, when our forefathers questioned the way that we as a people were governed and decided to do something about it. They would govern themselves.

The major rift between the Founding Fathers (men like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton) and King George began to come to a boiling point between 1763 and 1769. The king began to encroach on American colonists' independence. He realized that the colonists, who were left largely to their own devices, had thrived. Their population and trade booming, King George decided he wanted a bigger piece of the action. He instituted a policy of taxation without representation. He began taxing trade and goods and even tea! We Americans were largely of British descent. We liked our tea. What sort of monstrosity was this monarch, to mess with a person's tea?

By 1770, tensions between Britain and the colonies worsened, and tempers flared, as well. Americans began to grumble about oppression and liberty, though gaining independence was no small task. Many feared independence and retribution from the massive British military power. They just wanted an ease in taxation or a representative in the British government. Others, like Patrick Henry, famously wanted "Liberty or Death!"

Ultimately violence erupted, which led to typical political wrangling as Britain and the colonies geared for war. The long year of 1775 was filled with prose, rhetoric and threats from both sides. By 1776, the War for Independence had begun. Since most people are aware of the outcome of that war, we'll skip through the war itself. Needless to say, The Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation were signed, and the war was underway, full swing, until October 1781 in Yorktown, Virginia when General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington. The Treaty of Paris was officially signed on September 3, 1783, and we were a nation. On the other hand, what sort of government was to run this new, young nation? Would it be a rogue gathering of city states with a myriad of individualized rules and state laws, or would it be a united federalized government? These were the two options, and those who aligned on each side of this argument formed the first real American political parties. The Founding Fathers had to agree on and formulate a Constitution and give this country an agreeable framework to build upon.

Nevertheless the Founding Fathers wanted to do this the right way. They wanted to establish a new order of the ages with the United States Constitution. The proposition that "all men are created equal" had never before been the basis of a government. Regal blood and might formed the ruling class of countries until that point in history, not merely common men. The framers wanted to devise a government based on an objective standard of justice to be served equally to one and all, a government to serve and protect a people who were to be self-governed.

Over the progression of the history of the United States, there have been two main political "sides" or views, whatever the party names might be. Parties are based on degrees of these views. One is either liberal or conservative in their beliefs, or some combination of the two. The basis of these two core philosophies is what all parties are formed around. The Founding Fathers created the first parties based on States Rights. These parties were known as Anti-Federalists, in favor of state's rights, and Federalists, who were in favor of a binding, unified central government. Through the centuries, as parties have morphed and issues and party names have changed and grown, these two parties have developed into what we now know as the Democrats (in favor of big central government) and the Republicans (in favor of a much smaller federal government). As there is no chance of disbanding the federal government, the argument is now about having more or less federal government, not a federal government or no federal government at all, but the core principles are the same.

In fact, most of the Founding Fathers didn't think very highly of political parties at all. They'd be aghast if they saw the spectacle that is a Presidential election today. Nonetheless, many of the framers found themselves affiliated with one political party or the other during their government careers, because it is the nature of a voter to liken politicians to a specific party. As parties in American politics developed one party would gain and hold power for many years much like the Republican and Democratic parties of today. Over the years, we have had 5 major parties at the forefront of our political machine in the United States.

The Federalists and the Anti-Federalists were our first 2 prominent parties. They reigned from 1796 to 1828. The Federalists believed in strong centralized government, industrialization, the creation of a national bank, and government controlled and constructed roads and canals. The Anti-Federalists disagreed across the board. Good old American rebellious bickering ensued. The Anti-Federalists strongly supported the rights of the states, favored farming, and wanted to keep the government's hands out of building roads and canals. The Federalists fought for and ratified the Constitution on June 21st, 1778. However, the Anti Federalists, who became the Democratic-Republican Party, eventually gained influence over the American people and weakened the Federalists into obscurity by 1824.

In part two of this two-part series, we'll explore the history of political parties and introduce the evolution of what is a two-party system in the United States. We'll also cover the existing political party landscape inside the beltway today.


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