Politics! Politics! The Emergence of Political Parties in the U.S.

Politics! Politics! The Emergence of Political Parties in the U.S.
Abigail Adams: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: Several class periods


Among the founders of the United States, it was generally believed that political parties were not a good idea.  The founders wanted to avoid the harsh political arguments that characterized political life in the Europe of their time and to keep the young and fragile United States free from such divisions.   It wasn’t long, however, before at least two major sets of beliefs arose regarding the way in which the new nation should be shaped and governed.   Abigail and John Adams were staunch Federalists, while Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were Anti-Federalists, or Democratic-Republicans.


After completing this lesson, students will know more about the emergence of political parties in the United States, understand the nature of an annotated timeline, be able to discuss the foundational beliefs of the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties, as well as the separate contributions of those people who belonged to each faction, and be able to compare the platforms of these early parties with the two major parties of today.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet or to library materials regarding the first two American political parties.  Tag board and poster-making materials if the “Convention” option is used.


1.  Divide the class into six small groups, each group should focus on one of the six web sites listed below, that tell the story of the emergence of the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties at the end of the 18th century.  Each group should compile a chronological list of people and events from their research.  Each group should  create an annotated timeline from their material.
Note: An annotated timeline contains more information for each entry than a common timeline; this information helps to “tell the story” of the subject of the timeline and often contains commentary. See an example of an annotated timeline below (Thomas Jefferson).
2.  Members of the three “Federalist” groups and the three “Democratic-Republican” groups should get together and compare their information, coming up with a single chronological annotated timeline.
3.  Members of the “Federalist” and “Democratic-Republican” groups can present their timelines to each other in a variety of forms: posters, PowerPoint presentations, etc. 
4.  After presenting the timelines, students should engage in a summary discussion, focusing on the following questions:
  • Who were the major “players” in the development of these parties?
  • What was the basic nature of the disagreement between them?
  • What were the arguments on each side?
  • Is there a “legacy” of ideas from these parties present in today’s Republican and Democratic parties?
  • Are political parties a good idea? 

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended in several ways: 

  • Have students adopt the persona of one of the major “players” in the emergence of political parties, and write a letter to constituents or to family.
  • Students may stage an actual political convention, perhaps the Election of 1796, the first contested election in U.S. history.  If this option is selected, more time needs to be given for research and preparation.

Sources & Resources:

            Example of an Annotated Timeline:Thomas Jefferson

The Federalist Party

            Infoplease: The Federalist Party

            The Federalist Party 

            Political Parties: The Federalist Party

  The Democratic-Republican Party 

            Democratic-Republican Party
            Democratic-Republican Party

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