Robert Ross addresses a fascinating and unresolved constitutional question: why did political parties emerge so quickly after the framers designed the Constitution to prevent them? The text of the Constitution is silent on this question. Most scholars of the subject have taken that silence to be a hostile one, arguing that the adoption of the two-party system was a significant break from a long history of antiparty sentiments and institutional design aimed to circumscribe party politics.
The constitutional question of parties addresses the very nature of representation, democracy, and majority rule. Political parties have become a vital institution of representation by linking the governed with the government. Efforts to uphold political parties have struggled to come to terms with the apparent antiparty sentiments of the founders and the perception that the Constitution was intended to work against parties.
The Framers’ Intentions connects political parties and the two-party system with the Constitution in a way that no previous account has, thereby providing a foundation for parties and a party system within American constitutionalism. This book will appeal to readers interested in political parties, constitutional theory, and constitutional development.
Introduction: Antipartyism and the Constitution: Reassessing the “Constitution-Against-Parties” Thesis
1.Antiparty Constitutionalism and the Tradition of Political Parties Partyism Before the Constitution
2.Partyism and the First Amendment: Organizing Opposition and the Partisan Press
3.Partyism and the Presidential Selection System: The Twelfth Amendment and Political Opposition
4.Partyism and Organized Opposition in Elections
5.Partyism and the Electoral College: Completing the Twelfth Amendment
6Partyism, the Election Clause, and the House of Representatives
7.Conclusion: Partyism and the Twenty-Fourth Amendment: Entrenching the Two-Party Constitution
“I found this to be an engaging text on the rise of political parties in early America. The entire book is thoroughly researched, and Robert Ross has clearly immersed himself in the literature. I believe that this book, although it analyzes political battles from over two hundred years ago, can speak to the American people in this era when we are so divided.” —William Bolt, Francis Marion University
“Robert Ross has provided us with a provocative argument that contradicts scholarly wisdom regarding the emergence of a two-party system in the early American republic. Ross’s interpretation that the founders were not fighting against parties but rather manipulating their development as legitimate tools is a genuine contribution to the literature for both historians and political scientists.” —John Belohlavek, University of South Florida
"Robert Ross challenges the received wisdom on the relationship between the Constitution and political parties. He shows that political parties became deeply entrenched in a constitutional order that was initially intended to work against them. He details how over the course of American political development the Constitution acquired new elements and interpretations that served to strengthen political parties. This book is a must read for scholars of political parties and of American political development." —Marc Landy, Boston College
“The heart of this scholarly study is Ross’s thesis, which proposes to scholars that there is another way in which to view the Constitution’s transition from anti-party to party. . . . Ross offers a book that belongs on the library shelves of all academic institutions with advanced history and political science programs.” —Choice
"The story of political parties' decline, and how that decline led to Congress's, has yet to be told. Until then, : The Framers' Intentions provides a valuable service by showing the essential role parties have played in making workable our republican government." —Claremont Review of Books
Partyism has constituted a threat to politics since the study of politics started. In The Republic, written around 380 B.C., Plato recognized the dangers of political divisions that tended to create disunity within a polity. For Plato, parties—or groups based on particular interests and opinions—were dangerous to the city and the soul because they were seen not as parts of the whole but as parts against it. Within the dialogue, Thrasymachus’ understanding of justice was fundamentally based on a division between the ruler and the ruled. For Thrasymachus, justice was nothing more than the ruler’s own selfishness and establishing laws that tended towards his own personal benefit. In this way, the ruler served only private interests at the expense of the rest of polity, thereby subverting the whole for a part. It is the concept of justice, then, that produced factions, hatred, and disunity among society. Plato’s dialogue would have to refute Thrasymachus’ assertion and prove that justice was beneficial for both the city and the individual soul. Or, as Socrates responded, “For surely Thrasymachus, it’s injustice that produces factions, hatreds, and quarrels among themselves, and justice that produces unanimity and friendship.” In his pursuit of justice, Plato needed to overcome divisions in society that tended to disrupt the unity of both the city and soul. For, “Have we any greater evil for a city than what splits it and makes it many instead of one? Or a greater good than what binds it together and makes it one?” Overcoming partyism could only be accomplished by establishing the common good and having every individual, not just a part, gain his or her fulfillment from the prosperity of the whole. Based on the dialogue with Thrasymachus, partyism made political justice unobtainable, and Plato’s proposed city in speech was intended to subvert divisions in the city and soul and promote unity within each. Hence Socrates’ provisionary definition of justice, “this—the practice of minding one’s own business—when it comes into being in a certain way, is probably justice.” Furthermore, Socrates described the importance of each part of the city and the soul ensuring their individual interests did not interfere with the collective good: “But a city (and soul) seemed to be just when each of the three classes of natures presented in it minded its own business.” Plato acknowledged the division within the city and the soul and even cast the separate parts of each as natural. However, the parts, no matter how natural, needed to be subordinate to the greater good. No part could be granted political recognition without creating disunity. Parties were considered internal enemies of both the city and the soul, and no part had claim to rule over the whole; otherwise, the whole could be subverted by and to a part. Unity required that each part shared in the same interest rather than having separate interests. Ambition was not designed to counteract ambition; ambition was to be tamed by and subordinate to the common good. For Plato, the natural divisions with the city and soul were not simply parts of the whole that needed to be balanced by something like a mixed constitution. Rather, the parts were understood to have a tendency to work against the whole and needed constraining to achieve true unity. Constraining the parts to achieve unity in the whole was a dominant method for combating if not completely eliminating partyism in politics. Centuries later, Thomas Hobbes appropriated this method. In The Leviathan, published in 1657, Hobbes depicted individuals as naturally predisposed to self-preservation and engaged in a war, “where every man is enemy to every man.” In this natural state, violent individualism precludes the possibility of society because individuals were left as the final arbiter of what is necessary to self-preservation. Any association with others was temporarily necessitated by self-preservation and gaining an individual advantage. Once the necessity had passed, individuals disassociated due to distrust of fellow associates. Hobbes depicted antipartyism at its most extreme, as individual self-judgment subverted any semblance of unity or the common good. Unity was central to Hobbes’ political project, and he attempted to explain how to unite individuals without this unity devolving into a state of war. Self-interested individuals maintaining sovereignty over questions of peace and necessity caused this perpetual division and insecurity. Indeed, Hobbes observed “the disease of a commonwealth” was “that every private man is judge of good and evil actions.” Problems in Hobbes’s state of nature and civil society arose when there was no external source to arbitrate controversies. Individuals were left to their own biased self-judgments, which resulted in definitions of right and wrong based simply on the individual’s own preference. This situation was indeed dire: “To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent: that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice.” Hobbes required an external arbiter to establish law, justice, and right to avoid lawlessness, injustice, and wrong. This meant that individuals no longer settled questions of right and wrong because these disputes have but one of two outcomes, “their controversie must either come to blows, or be undecided.” To avoid this problem, an absolute, undivided sovereign was required to establish law. For if sovereignty was divided, there would be continual disputations over governance. Matters of right and wrong would never be settled, thereby thrusting individuals back to the state of war. (excerpted from ch 1)