So! You Want to Start Your Own Political Party?

So! You Want to Start Your Own Political Party?
Abigail Fillmore: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: One to two class periods


The first half of the 19th century was a time when a number of small, issue-oriented political parties were founded.  One of these, the so-called “Know-Nothing” Party, ran Millard Fillmore for re-election in 1856.


Students who participate in this activity will learn something about the emergence of third parties in American politics, as well as gain knowledge and experience in organizing and synthesizing data.  If the lesson extension is chosen, students will also gain experience in setting forth a systematic set of ideas on which to campaign for a set of beliefs.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet


1.  Divide the class into five working groups.  Ask each group to research a different Third Party that emerged in the first half of the 19th century (see access to web sites, below).
2.  In taking notes on their party, students should be sure to answer the following questions:
  • When was this party founded?
  • Why was this party founded?
  • Who were people instrumental in founding the party?

3.  After each group has done its research, have the students report on what they found.  Then, in a whole-class discussion, ask students to consider the following questions:
  • Is there anything that the founding of these third parties has in common?
  • How did the third parties turn out? 
  • What happened to them?
  • Why do you think these parties were founded in the first place?
  • What function to you think these parties fill in our political system?

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson could be extended by asking students what kind of party they might form today in order to accomplish a purpose not served by current political parties.  Depending upon how much time is available, and how many ideas come forth, students might be divided into groups to work on platforms for their parties, and to debate the relative merits of each platform with the whole class.

Sources & Resources:

Web sites:

The Anti-Masonic Party

The Whig Party 

The Liberty Party 

The Free-Soil Party 

The Know-Nothing Party 


This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.