Knowing how much early American statesmen disliked the idea of factions, it seems contradictory that parties were formed. Surely, something changed the minds of even the staunchest anti-faction statesmen (ie: Madison). Was it simply the need of parties that drove their creation? Or were there more factors that convinced people like Madison that parties weren't too bad?

The reason I suggest international politics is because of the French Revolution's concurrence with the time-period in question along with Jefferson being ambassador to France during that time.

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    Ugh. There are parties in every country that has elections. Why would US parties need a special explanation? The anti party rhetoric was also totally unexceptional, as well as being naive and possibly insincere.
    – Ne Mo
    Mar 16, 2017 at 8:41
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    @NeMo given the time (Age of Enlightment) I would not call it insincere. It was the time of Goddess Reason, where it was thought that with enough knowledge and logic all of the men would get to the same conclussions and objectives (of course, the fact that the only people who did actually matter were all white rich men helped them to have way more homogenous opinions). So the election would have not thought as a way of selecting between different policies but as a way of selecting the best man to enact those (with the runner-up being chosen as VP because he was "the second best man").
    – SJuan76
    Mar 16, 2017 at 8:51
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    I'm a bit uncomfortable with this question, as it is really a request to confirm an ill formed hypothesis - the "I think x, amiright?" from the help center. Fundamentally the question, "What causes political parties" is good. But proposing a hypothesis without a test curtails the analysis. For example, I'd argue that political parties are an inevitable consequence of game theory. I can't offer that in response to your question.
    – MCW
    Mar 16, 2017 at 8:59
  • @NeMo, I don't think US political parties need a "special" exception - all parliamentary & congressional systems form parties, but at the time, the cause and function were not known. Sjuan76 is correct; they had a postmodern belief that there was one right answer and that intellect & discussion would cause all to agree on that right answer. Political parties that disagreed with one another threatened their fundamental assumptions about the world in a very dangerous and scary way - cats and dogs living together, chaos abounds.
    – MCW
    Mar 16, 2017 at 9:04
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    @MarkC.Wallace I understand your complaint, but I've become tired of reading countless responses that say that "parties show up everywhere." In a country where many early "politicians" were opposed to parties, it just seems odd that parties would show up at all. I agree that my hypothesis was "ill-formed", but what else than non-domestic politics could affect the politics in a country?
    – Coalbane
    Mar 16, 2017 at 9:08

3 Answers 3


Looking at what happened, it does not appear that international issues were the primary driver.

When the Constitution was first being debated and voted on, there was a group of Anti-Federalists who were very suspicious of it, and in particular the way it concentrated power in the Federal government. This feeling had enough support in the country that a revision was required addressing their concerns (the Bill of Rights), before the document could placate enough of those people to get ratified.

Then, in the very first administration, Washington's treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton introduced a sweeping economic program involving creating a powerful national bank, assuming the previous government's debt, and imposing tariffs to both pay that debt and promote local industry. That may not seem radical to modern eyes, but to the people who were still very wary of a strong central government, that government immediately assuming all that power was alarming.

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson started holding meetings with like-minded people to help organize the opposition to this program in Congress. Hamilton reacted by starting to organize his own supporters under the "Federalist" banner, which caused Madison and Jefferson to need to further organize nationally to compete, and it sort of snowballed from there.

Now to be sure there was a foreign policy dispute between the new parties. For various reasons, after the French Republic was declared the Federalists tended to be much more supportive of the English side in the subsequent wars, while the Democratic-Republicans tended to be more sympathetic to the French. However, that was not what induced the founding of the two parties.


Political parties inevitably appear for one simple mathematical reason: Shapley value is superadditive. IOW, the power of a coalition is more than the sum of powers of its members.

Example: suppose we have a parliament of 3 members. Each has power (Shapley value) of 1/3 (because of symmetry). If two of them form a "party" (i.e., always vote as a block), then they always win and the power of the party is 1 while the power of the third MP is 0. Thus, by joining forces, each of the two party MPs increased their power by 50% (from 1/3 to 1/2).

This means that whenever a parliament is formed, its members will start aligning into political parties to increase their personal power.

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    ...and then the stable-state in the USA is inevitably two parties due to another simple mathematical reason, spelled out in Duverger's Law. Single winner + first-past-the-post selection = no more than 2 parties.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 16, 2017 at 15:45
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    @T.E.D.: I know, but I decided against including this because it is only tangentially relevant and, moreover, not a mathematical fact ;-)
    – sds
    Mar 16, 2017 at 15:51
  • I'd argue it is mathematical, as the electoral threshold that has to be reached is 50%, and 100/50=2.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 16, 2017 at 16:28
  • The flip side to that is that by forming a party, members sometimes have to vote against their actual wishes. In the three person example, A&B form a party so that they always win, but unless they happen to agree on everything (in which case they would win every vote individually anyway) then there will be times that B compromises by loyally voting for something they don't want (and something that C might even agree with B), so it's not entirely true that their power is now 1 rather than 1/3. But it is increased overall.
    – PhillS
    Mar 16, 2017 at 16:59
  • @PhillS: people are indifferent on many issues. A promising to back B on every issue he does not care about (instead of flipping a coin) is worth a lot. You are right that the picture I paint is a mathematical idealization.
    – sds
    Mar 16, 2017 at 17:02

The "great divide" in early America was between Federalists and anti-Federalists. That is between people who favored a strong central federal government and weak state governments (basically what we have); and those who favored a weak central government that managed only defense, foreign policy and the legal system, while strong state governments managed everything else, a model practiced by Switzerland. Much as they hated political parties, anti-Federalists like Jefferson and Monroe formed the Republican party (later retroactively called the Democratic Republicans to oppose the Federalists.

There were links to international affairs, insofar as most Federalists were pro-British and anti-French, while most anti-Federalists were pro-French and anti-British.

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