What are party platforms and why are they important - History

What are party platforms and why are they important - History

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The party platform is suppose to present the aspiration and goals of the party if elected. The first platfrom presented was an address to the people that the 1835 democratic convention approved.

At the conventions there is often disagreements between the "true believers" of the party who wish the platform to represent their views, while the more moderate members of the party and often those people who represent the soon to be nominated Presidential candidate wish to moderate the platform so it attracts the swing voter. If the parties nominee has close control of the party itself he will work to insure that the fight over the platform is not too devisive and does not obscure the message of the candidate

National Political Party Platforms

* Horace Greeley died on November 29, 1872, between the date the popular votes were cast and the electoral votes were cast. 63 of his electoral votes were cast for other Democrats, while 3 were cast posthumously for Greeley.
** On June 10, 2020, the executive committee of the Republican National Committee chose not to adopt a new platform in 2020 and left the 2016 platform in place for the 2020 election. (link) On August 24, 2020, the Republican National Committee issued a resolution regarding this decision.

Word counts include the preamble (if any). Excluded is the table of contents, list of committee members, and any dedication material before the preamble. Dedication material included within, or after the preamble, is included. Microsoft Word was used to compute word counts.

Citation: Gerhard Peters. "Political Party Platforms of Parties Receiving Electoral Votes." The American Presidency Project. Ed. John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters. Santa Barbara, CA: University of California. 1999-2020. www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/324129

Media That Have Cited These Data:
• The Washington Post—"What Republicans and Democrats Have Disagreed On, from 1856 to Today" by Ted Mellnik, Chris Alcantara and Kevin Uhrmacher. July 15, 2016

GOP platform through the years shows party’s shift from moderate to conservative

The word “abortion” does not appear in a Republican Party platform until 1976, when the party concedes that it is deeply split between those who support “abortion on demand” and those who seek to protect the lives of the unborn.

The quest for lower taxes does not define Republicanism until the 1980s, and matters of faith play almost no role in the GOP’s plank until the 1990s.

The Republican Party, viewed through its quadrennial platform documents, is consistently business-oriented and committed to a strong defense, but has morphed over the past half-
century from a socially moderate, environmentally progressive and fiscally cautious group to a conservative party that is suspicious of government, allied against abortion and motivated by faith.

Influenced by the rise of tea party activists, this year’s platform, adopted Tuesday at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, has shifted to the right, particularly on fiscal issues. It calls for an audit of the Federal Reserve and a commission to study returning to the gold standard. There are odes of fidelity to the Constitution but also calls for amendments that would balance the federal budget, require a two-thirds majority in Congress to raise taxes and define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

The new plank urges the transformation of Medicare from an entitlement to a system of personal accounts, increased use of coal for energy and a ban on federal funding to universities that give illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) expressed skepticism that the lengthy recitation of the party’s positions has much meaning or function.

“Anybody read the party platform? I never met anybody,” Boehner told reporters. He said the document should be no more than one page. “That way, Americans could actually read it.”

Party platforms are not easy to digest. They are the meat missing from a campaign menu dominated by sweet and sour TV commercials. Platforms are aspirational laundry lists, packed with sops to every interest group that makes up a modern party. But in retrospect, they provide a good guide to where a party is heading.

What it means to be a Republican has changed enormously over the past half-century. The GOP opposed a Palestinian state as late as 1992, went silent on the issue for eight years, then endorsed the idea in its past two planks. During the George H.W. Bush presidency, Republicans acknowledged global warming and boasted of efforts to commit billions of federal dollars to finding solutions. The party then spent two election cycles saying there was too much “scientific uncertainty” before accepting in 2008 that humans have a role in altering the climate.

The GOP, like its opposition, has responded to ideological, demographic and social changes by hardening some of its positions and adopting entirely new planks, all part of an effort to create a coalition capable of winning national elections. In the Republicans’ case, that meant adapting and appealing to a new base in the South from the 1970s forward, becoming the dominant party of white suburbia, and finding ways to marry its traditional pro-business foundation with less affluent, more socially conservative voters.

Many positions Republicans often tout as traditionally conservative are actually relatively new to GOP ideology. Indeed, although the party’s stance on the issues has shifted rightward over the past 20 years, Republicans have studiously avoided using the word “conservative” in platforms.

For decades, the party presented itself as “moderate” or even “progressive.” The 1960 plank, for example, touts “progressive Republican policies” such as “liberal pay” and says the government “must be truly progressive as an employer.”

In 1972, the platform celebrates Republicans’ use of wage and price controls to curb inflation, a doubling of federal spending on manpower training, and a tripling of help to minorities.

Even the party’s most conservative platforms avoid that word, which first appears in 1992. From the 1960s to 2008, platforms liberally criticize “liberals,” but “conservative” is used almost exclusively to refer to judges.

From the 1960s through the ’80s, each plank reads like a snapshot of its time, capturing the frustrations of the party or the pride of those in power, sometimes wryly needling Democrats, other years slamming them hard. But from the 1990s forward, the platforms exhibit a sameness of rhetorical style, a reflection of the cut-and-paste reality of the computer age, in which entire sentences appear over and over in successive planks.

Even as ritual expressions of solidarity with the Philippines or calls to abolish inheritance taxes survive each round of platform construction, the party line changes markedly on many issues.

For decades, Republicans emphasize federal funding for public transit. Then, in 1980, a turn: “Republicans reject the elitist notion that Americans must be forced out of their cars. Instead, we vigorously support the right of personal mobility and freedom as exemplified by the automobile.”

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the GOP platform includes vigorous support for an equal-rights amendment to protect women. Then, in 1980, the party stalemates: “We acknowledge the legitimate efforts of those who support or oppose ratification.”

In the 1960s and ’70s, the party positions itself as a strong advocate for D.C. voting rights, in the Senate as well as the House. Then, in 1980, all mention of voting rights vanishes the subject has not appeared since.

The first appearance of the abortion issue represents a party very much split between business-oriented moderates and religious conservatives: Abortion “is undoubtedly a moral and personal issue” on which Republicans disagree, the 1976 plank says.

Four years later, the issue has been settled: The GOP seeks a constitutional amendment protecting “the right to life for unborn children.” By 1992, the platform includes a call to appoint judges who oppose abortion.

Words such as “faith” and “heritage” rarely appear until the 1980s. (In 2000, religion plays an even larger role in the platform as the party goes beyond supporting prayer in public schools by seeking to allow them to post the Ten Commandments.)

The 1960 plank calls for government workers to receive “salaries which are comparable to those offered by private employers.” In 1984, public-sector workers are redubbed “bureaucrats” and “Washington’s governing elite,” and are blamed for “an epidemic of crime, a massive increase in dependency and the slumming of our cities.” Republicans pledge a major cut in the government workforce.

The watershed platform of 1980 introduces tax cuts and an increasingly critical attitude toward government. “The Republican Party declares war on government overregulation,” it says.

Antipathy toward high taxes strengthens, resulting in 1992 in an explanation of how lowering taxes on the wealthy would lead to job creation, adding a simple declaration: “We will oppose any attempt to increase taxes.”

The platforms of 1980 and 1992 are the party’s big pivots, both in positions and rhetoric. But the roots of today’s Republicanism become clear during the 1964 conservative uprising that led to Barry Goldwater’s presidential nomination.

In 1960, Republicans give “firm support” to “the union shop and other forms of union security” and say that “Republican conscience and Republican policy require that the annual number of immigrants we accept be at least doubled.” Four years later, the GOP bashes Democrats for being “federal extremists” wedded to an ever more intrusive central government. (Calls to limit benefits for illegal immigrants and deny citizenship to U.S.- born children whose parents arrived here illegally enter the platform in 1996.)

The optimism of 1960 — brimming with hope about new nations, weapons and ideas — gives way four years later to worry about “moral decline and drift” born of “indifference to national ideals rounded in devoutly held religious faith.” Suddenly, faith is at the core of Republicanism: The 1960 plank says nothing about religion four years later, “faith” is one of the most frequently used words, along with “heritage” and “freedom.”

In 1960, the platform calls for “vigorous support of court orders for school desegregation” and affirms the rights of civil rights protesters. The 1964 plank calls for “discouraging lawlessness and violence” and “opposing federally sponsored ‘inverse discrimination.’ ”

The shift in substance comes with a notable pivot in tone. From the 1960 platform: “We have no wish to exaggerate differences between ourselves and the Democratic Party.” Four years later: “Let the Democratic Party stand accused.”

On foreign policy, Republicans remain mostly consistent, calling for increased defense spending to combat communism. But the 1964 plank foreshadows the skepticism about the United Nations that would become a GOP mainstay from the 1990s forward. In 1960, the party pledges to “support and strengthen the U.N.” Four years later, it warns that “Republicans will never surrender to any international group the responsibility of the United States for its sovereignty.”

If the fiery rhetoric of 1964 presaged the Reagan and tea party revolutions, the path was not smooth. The Richard M. Nixon years brought a return — in the platform, if not in the coarser approach revealed in the Nixon White House tapes — of a more moderate message.

The 1968 platform would strike many voters today as a Democratic agenda — addressing air and water pollution, crowded slums, and discrimination against minorities, all with “a new mix of private responsibility and public participation in the solution of social problems.”

The ’68 plank also proposes to expand Social Security by lowering the age for universal coverage from 72 to 65. Future platforms remain supportive of maintaining benefits until 2004, when the party endorses George W. Bush’s proposal to shift to personal retirement accounts.

But amid that progressive Republicanism, the roots of the culture wars to come poke through the soil. The ’72 platform opposes quotas to achieve racial balance in college admissions and hiring, and rails against liberal hegemony on campuses. (That theme remains through 2008, when the platform says that “leftist dogmatism dominates many institutions.”)

By 1992, “family values” become a major theme. The platform states that “the media, the entertainment industry, academia and the Democrat Party are waging a guerrilla war against American values.” (That abbreviated version of the other party’s name, without the “-ic” suffix, appears for the first time in 1976, an early sign of the sniping that has come to dominate interparty rhetoric.)

The ’92 plank, the first to mention same-sex relationships, rejects any recognition of gay marriage or allowing same-sex couples to adopt children or become foster parents. The stand against adoption and foster care does not reappear.

The passage about marriage grows longer and more strident every four years, culminating in the 2004 call, echoed in 2008, for the amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. From 1996 through 2008, Republicans repeat that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.”

The GOP also evolves on campaign finance. In 1992, it calls for reforms that include the elimination of “political action committees supported by corporations, unions or trade associations.” By 2000, that position morphs into one championing “the right of every individual and all groups to express their opinions and advocate their issues” — a veiled reference to efforts to eliminate limits on campaign contributions.

And the party’s attitude on the balance between civil liberties and aggressive security measures shifts dramatically after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The 1996 and 2000 platforms oppose President Bill Clinton’s decision to close Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, promising to reopen the street. But later platforms embrace George W. Bush’s emphasis on the vigorous expansion of the government’s role in homeland security.

Rosalind S. Helderman and Karen Tumulty in Tampa contributed to this report.

Ideological Ambiguity

Rather than assuming strong, polarizing ideological alignments, the two major parties represent the core values of American culture that favor centrist positions inherent in the liberal tradition of liberty, democracy, and equal opportunity (Gerring, 1998). These values appeal to the majority of Americans, and political parties can advocate them without losing followers.

Former Democratic Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill was fond of saying, “In any other country, the Democratic Party would be five parties” (Clymer, 2003). O’Neill was referring to the fact that the Democratic Party has no clear ideological identity and instead accommodates interests from across the liberal-conservative spectrum. Groups who both favor and oppose gun control can find a home in the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is loosely associated with a liberal attitude toward politics, which proposes that government should take a more active role in regulating the economy, provide a social safety net, and ensure equality in society through programs like affirmative action.

Similar things have been said about the Republican Party (Pomper, 1992), although the Republicans have a more unified message than the Democrats. The Republican agenda favors capitalism and limited government intervention in people’s lives. The Republican Party’s base includes fewer disparate groups than the Democratic base. The Republican Party is associated with a conservative outlook that advocates limited government intervention in society and a free-market economic system.

A little to the left, a little to the right

In research I’ve done with Gina Yanitell Reinhardt, we found that in 2004, the Democratic Party heard testimony from 193 groups seeking to influence platform content in platform drafting hearings that spanned four cities over six months.

Highlights from the 2016 Democratic platform drafting hearings.

These groups try to draw the platform toward their political ideal, and some groups are highly persuasive. This explains why sometimes platforms include ideas that seem far from the party mainstream. For example, in 1996 the Republican platform included statements about abortion that were far to the right of candidate Bob Dole’s preference. The same thing happened in 2008 when John McCain was the GOP nominee and the platform was more pro-life than the candidate.

The 2016 Republican platform is far to the right on LGBTQ issues, which may not reflect the median of party. And this year, the Democratic platform adopted more progressive policies, including some in response to the the Black Lives Matter movement, and others pushed by Bernie Sanders.

There is strong evidence that parties are good at getting most policy elements of their platforms enacted.

What are party platforms and why are they important - History

Farmers as a group did not share in the general prosperity of the latter nineteenth century, and believed that they had been marked out as special victims of the new industrial system. Beginning in the 1870s, they attempted in a number of ways to mount an effective political campaign to rectify what they saw as the corruption of government and economic power, which they attributed to big businesses and railroads. In fact, much of the farmers' plight was due to factors unrelated to industrialization, such as fluctuations in international markets for corn and wheat. But perceptions are often more important than reality, and American farmers believed that the democratic system of their forebears was being subverted.

The most successful of the agrarian political movements was the People's Party, or the Populist Party, which after the 1892 presidential campaign appeared to have the strength to become a potent force in American politics. Its strength lay primarily in the southern and midwestern states, the agricultural heartland of the nation, although its leaders tried to reach out and attract eastern workers.

The People's Party platform of 1896 is notable for several reasons. First, it summed up two decades of resentment by farmers against a system that they believed ignored their needs and mercilessly exploited them. But it was not just big business to which they objected. The Populists worried that the alliance between business and government would destroy American democracy, and the various proposals they put forward had two aims. The goal was not just to relieve economic pressure on agriculture, but also to restore democracy by eliminating what the Populists saw as the corrupt and corrupting alliance between business and government.

Although considered radical at the time, many of these proposals, such as the direct election of senators and the income tax, would move into the political mainstream and be adopted over the next few decades. The platform in many ways set the reform agenda of the country during the years prior to World War I.

The Populist Party disappeared after the election of 1896, absorbed for the most part into the Democratic Party.

For further reading: John D. Hicks, The Populist Revolt (1931) Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform (1955) and Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Movement (1978).

Table of Contents

What are party platforms and why are they important - History

Populist Party Platform
Digital History ID 4067

Annotation: Platform of the Populist Party in 1896.

In the late 19th century, the Populist Party increased in popularity among western farmers, largely because they were in opposition to the gold standard. They had not faired well financially under industrialization, and they mounted a campaign against corrupt government and economic power. They claimed they were overlooked as big business and railroads prospered. In reality, industrialization had little to do with the farmer’s plight. Fluctuations in prices of corn and wheat contributed more to the farmer’s troubles.

In 1896, the People’s Party Platform signified the farmer’s hostility against the government. The farmers were not only concerned with being overlooked and exploited, but there was deep unease over the belief that any collaboration between government and big business would harm the fabric of American democracy. The People’s Party Platform, therefore, directed its attention towards preserving agriculture and stopping corruption between government and big business. Two of their proposals, the direct election of senators and the income tax, would be adopted many years later. After the 1896 election, the Populist Party ceased to exist and melded with the Democratic Party.

Document: Adopted at St. Louis, July 24th, 1896.

The People's Party, assembled in National Convention, reaffirms its allegiance to the principles declared by the founders of the Republic, and also to the fundamental principles of just government as enunciated in the platform of the party in 1892.

We recognize that through the connivance of the present and preceding Administrations the country has reached a crisis in its National life, as predicted in our declaration four years ago, and that prompt and patriotic action is the supreme duty of the hour.

We realize that, while we have political independence, our financial and industrial independence is yet to be attained by restoring to our country the Constitutional control and exercise of the functions necessary to a people's government, which functions have been basely surrendered by our public servants to corporate monopolies. The influence of European moneychangers has been more potent in shaping legislation than the voice of the American people. Executive power and patronage have been used to corrupt our legislatures and defeat the will of the people, and plutocracy has thereby been enthroned upon the ruins of democracy. To restore the Government intended by the fathers, and for the welfare and prosperity of this and future generations, we demand the establishment of an economic and financial system which shall make us masters of our own affairs and independent of European control, by the adoption of the following declarations of principles:

1. We demand a National money, safe and sound, issued by the General Government only, without the intervention of banks of issue, to be a full legal tender for all debts, public and private a just, equitable, and efficient means of distribution, direct to the people, and through the lawful disbursements of the Government.

2. We demand the free and unrestricted coinage of silver and gold at the present legal ratio of 16 to 1, without waiting for the consent of foreign nations.

3. We demand that the volume of circulating medium be speedily increased to an amount sufficient to meet the demand of the business and population, and to restore the just level of prices of labor and production.

4. We denounce the sale of bonds and the increase of the public interest-bearing debt made by the present Administration as unnecessary and without authority of law, and demand that no more bonds be issued, except by specific act of Congress

5. We demand such legislation as will prevent the demonetization of the lawful money of the United States by private contract.

6. We demand that the Government, in payment of its obligation, shall use its option as to the kind of lawful money in which they are to be paid, and we denounce the present and preceding Administrations for surrendering this option to the holders of Government obligations.

7. We demand a graduated income tax, to the end that aggregated wealth shall bear its just proportion of taxation, and we regard the recent decision of the Supreme Court relative to the income-tax as a misinterpretation of the Constitution and an invasion of the rightful powers of Congress over the subject of taxation.

8. We demand that postal savings-banks be established by the Government for the safe deposit of the savings of the people and to facilitate exchange.

1. Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the Government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people and on a non-partisan basis, to the end that all may be accorded the same treatment in transportation, and that the tyranny and political power now exercised by the great railroad corporations, which result in the impairment, if not the destruction of the political rights and personal liberties of the citizens, may be destroyed. Such ownership is to be accomplished gradually, in a manner consistent with sound public policy.

2. The interest of the United States in the public highways built with public moneys, and the proceeds of grants of land to the Pacific railroads, should never be alienated, mortgaged, or sold, but guarded and protected for the general welfare, as provided by the laws organizing such railroads. The foreclosure of existing liens of the United States on these roads should at once follow default in the payment thereof by the debtor companies and at the foreclosure sales of said roads the Government shall purchase the same, if it becomes necessary to protect its interests therein, or if they can be purchased at a reasonable price and the Government shall operate said railroads as public highways for the benefit of the whole people, and not in the interest of the few, under suitable provisions for protection of life and property, giving to all transportation interests equal privileges and equal rates for fares and freight.

3. We denounce the present infamous schemes for refunding these debts, and demand that the laws now applicable thereto be executed and administered according to their intent and spirit.

4. The telegraph, like the Post Office system, being a necessity for the transmission of news, should be owned and operated by the Government in the interest of the people.

1. True policy demands that the National and State legislation shall be such as will ultimately enable every prudent and industrious citizen to secure a home, and therefore the land should not be monopolized for speculative purposes. All lands now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs should by lawful means be reclaimed by the Government and held for actual settlers only, and private land monopoly, as well as alien ownership, should be prohibited.

2. We condemn the land grant frauds by which the Pacific railroad companies have through the connivance of the Interior Department, robbed multitudes of bona-fide settlers of their homes and miners of their claims, and we demand legislation by Congress which will enforce the exemption of mineral land from such grants after as well before the patent.

3. We demand that bona-fide settlers on all public lands be granted free homes, as provided in the National Homestead Law, and that no exception be made in the case of Indian reservations when opened for settlement, and that all lands not now patented come under this demand.

We favor a system of direct legislation through the initiative and referendum, under proper Constitutional safeguards.

Direct Election of President and Senators by the People

We demand the election of President, Vice-President, and United States Senators by a direct vote of the people.

We favor home rule in the Territories and the District of Columbia, and the early admission of the Territories as States.

All public salaries should be made to correspond to the price of labor and its products.

Employment to Be Furnished by Government

In times of great industrial depression, idle labor should be employed on public works as far as practicable.

Arbitrary Judicial Action

The arbitrary course of the courts in assuming to imprison citizens for indirect contempt and ruling by injunctions should be prevented by proper legislation.

We favor pensions for our disabled Union soldiers.

Believing that the elective franchise and an untrammeled ballot are essential to a government of, for, and by the people, the People's party condemns the wholesale system of disfranchisement adopted in some States as unrepublican and undemocratic, and we declare it to be the duty of the several State legislatures to take such actions as will secure a full, free and fair ballot and an honest count.

The Financial Question "The Pressing Issue"

While the foregoing propositions constitute the platform upon which our party stands, and for the vindication of which its organization will be maintained, we recognize that the great and pressing issue of the pending campaign, upon which the present election will turn, is the financial question, and upon this great and specific issue between the parties we cordially invite the aid and co-operation of all organizations and citizens agreeing with us upon this vital question.

Additional information: National Party Platforms, 1840-1972 (Johnson and Porter, eds., 1973), 104.

What are party platforms and why are they important - History

Although historians often speak of a “Populist movement” in the 1880s, it wasn’t until 1892 that the People’s or Populist Party was formally organized. The Omaha Platform, adopted by the founding convention of the party on July 4, 1892, set out the basic tenets of the Populist movement. The movement had emerged out of the cooperative crusade organized by the Farmer’s Alliance in the 1880s. The preamble was written by Minnesota lawyer, farmer, politician, and novelist Ignatius Donnelly. Delegates to the convention embraced the platform with great enthusiasm. Many of the specific proposals urged by the Omaha Platform—the graduated income tax, the secret ballot, the direct election of Senators, the eight-hour day—won enactment in the progressive and New Deal eras of the next century. Yet at least one historian has argued that the fundamental cooperative and democratic spirit of the agrarian radicals was lost along the way.


Assembled upon the 116th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the People’s Party of America, in their first national convention, invoking upon their action the blessing of Almighty God, put forth in the name and on behalf of the people of this country, the following preamble and declaration of principles:

The conditions which surround us best justify our co-operation we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench. The people are demoralized most of the States have been compelled to isolate the voters at the polling places to prevent universal intimidation and bribery. The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. The urban workmen are denied the right to organize for self-protection, imported pauperized labor beats down their wages, a hireling standing army, unrecognized by our laws, is established to shoot them down, and they are rapidly degenerating into European conditions. The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind and the possessors of those, in turn, despise the republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.

The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bondholders a vast public debt payable in legal tender currency has been funded into gold-bearing bonds, thereby adding millions to the burdens of the people.

Silver, which has been accepted as coin since the dawn of history, has been demonetized to add to the purchasing power of gold by decreasing the value of all forms of property as well as human labor, and the supply of currency is purposely abridged to fatten usurers, bankrupt enterprise, and enslave industry. A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized on two continents, and it is rapidly taking possession of the world. If not met and overthrown at once it forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization, or the establishment of an absolute despotism.

We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering people. We charge that the controlling influences dominating both these parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them. Neither do they now promise us any substantial reform. They have agreed together to ignore, in the coming campaign, every issue but one. They propose to drown the outcries of a plundered people with the uproar of a sham battle over the tariff, so that capitalists, corporations, national banks, rings, trusts, watered stock, the demonetization of silver and the oppressions of the usurers may all be lost sight of. They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives, and children on the altar of mammon to destroy the multitude in order to secure corruption funds from the millionaires.

Assembled on the anniversary of the birthday of the nation, and filled with the spirit of the grand general and chief who established our independence, we seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of “the plain people,” with which class it originated. We assert our purposes to be identical with the purposes of the National Constitution to form a more perfect union and establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.

We declare that this Republic can only endure as a free government while built upon the love of the whole people for each other and for the nation that it cannot be pinned together by bayonets that the civil war is over, and that every passion and resentment which grew out of it must die with it, and that we must be in fact, as we are in name, one united brotherhood of free men.

Our country finds itself confronted by conditions for which there is no precedent in the history of the world our annual agricultural productions amount to billions of dollars in value, which must, within a few weeks or months, be exchanged for billions of dollars' worth of commodities consumed in their production the existing currency supply is wholly inadequate to make this exchange the results are falling prices, the formation of combines and rings, the impoverishment of the producing class. We pledge ourselves that if given power we will labor to correct these evils by wise and reasonable legislation, in accordance with the terms of our platform.

We believe that the power of government—in other words, of the people—should be expanded (as in the case of the postal service) as rapidly and as far as the good sense of an intelligent people and the teachings of experience shall justify, to the end that oppression, injustice, and poverty shall eventually cease in the land.

While our sympathies as a party of reform are naturally upon the side of every proposition which will tend to make men intelligent, virtuous, and temperate, we nevertheless regard these questions, important as they are, as secondary to the great issues now pressing for solution, and upon which not only our individual prosperity but the very existence of free institutions depend and we ask all men to first help us to determine whether we are to have a republic to administer before we differ as to the conditions upon which it is to be administered, believing that the forces of reform this day organized will never cease to move forward until every wrong is remedied and equal rights and equal privileges securely established for all the men and women of this country.

First.—That the union of the labor forces of the United States this day consummated shall be permanent and perpetual may its spirit enter into all hearts for the salvation of the Republic and the uplifting of mankind.

Second.—Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery. “If any will not work, neither shall he eat.” The interests of rural and civic labor are the same their enemies are identical.

Third.—We believe that the time has come when the railroad corporations will either own the people or the people must own the railroads, and should the government enter upon the work of owning and managing all railroads, we should favor an amendment to the Constitution by which all persons engaged in the government service shall be placed under a civil-service regulation of the most rigid character, so as to prevent the increase of the power of the national administration by the use of such additional government employes.

FINANCE.—We demand a national currency, safe, sound, and flexible, issued by the general government only, a full legal tender for all debts, public and private, and that without the use of banking corporations, a just, equitable, and efficient means of distribution direct to the people, at a tax not to exceed 2 per cent. per annum, to be provided as set forth in the sub-treasury plan of the Farmers' Alliance, or a better system also by payments in discharge of its obligations for public improvements.

1. We demand free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold at the present legal ratio of l6 to 1.

2. We demand that the amount of circulating medium be speedily increased to not less than $50 per capita.

3. We demand a graduated income tax.

4. We believe that the money of the country should be kept as much as possible in the hands of the people, and hence we demand that all State and national revenues shall be limited to the necessary expenses of the government, economically and honestly administered.

5. We demand that postal savings banks be established by the government for the safe deposit of the earnings of the people and to facilitate exchange.

TRANSPORTATION—Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people. The telegraph, telephone, like the post-office system, being a necessity for the transmission of news, should be owned and operated by the government in the interest of the people.

LAND.—The land, including all the natural sources of wealth, is the heritage of the people, and should not be monopolized for speculative purposes, and alien ownership of land should be prohibited. All land now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs, and all lands now owned by aliens should be reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.


Your Committee on Platform and Resolutions beg leave unanimously to report the following:

Whereas, Other questions have been presented for our consideration, we hereby submit the following, not as a part of the Platform of the People’s Party, but as resolutions expressive of the sentiment of this Convention.

1. RESOLVED, That we demand a free ballot and a fair count in all elections and pledge ourselves to secure it to every legal voter without Federal Intervention, through the adoption by the States of the unperverted Australian or secret ballot system.

2. RESOLVED, That the revenue derived from a graduated income tax should be applied to the reduction of the burden of taxation now levied upon the domestic industries of this country.

3. RESOLVED, That we pledge our support to fair and liberal pensions to ex-Union soldiers and sailors.

4. RESOLVED, That we condemn the fallacy of protecting American labor under the present system, which opens our ports to the pauper and criminal classes of the world and crowds out our wage-earners and we denounce the present ineffective laws against contract labor, and demand the further restriction of undesirable emigration.

5. RESOLVED, That we cordially sympathize with the efforts of organized workingmen to shorten the hours of labor, and demand a rigid enforcement of the existing eight-hour law on Government work, and ask that a penalty clause be added to the said law.

6. RESOLVED, That we regard the maintenance of a large standing army of mercenaries, known as the Pinkerton system, as a menace to our liberties, and we demand its abolition. . . .

7. RESOLVED, That we commend to the favorable consideration of the people and the reform press the legislative system known as the initiative and referendum.

8. RESOLVED, That we favor a constitutional provision limiting the office of President and Vice-President to one term, and providing for the election of Senators of the United States by a direct vote of the people.

9. RESOLVED, That we oppose any subsidy or national aid to any private corporation for any purpose.

10. RESOLVED, That this convention sympathizes with the Knights of Labor and their righteous contest with the tyrannical combine of clothing manufacturers of Rochester, and declare it to be a duty of all who hate tyranny and oppression to refuse to purchase the goods made by the said manufacturers, or to patronize any merchants who sell such goods.

Source: The World Almanac, 1893 (New York: 1893), 83󈟁. Reprinted in George Brown Tindall, ed., A Populist Reader, Selections from the Works of American Populist Leaders (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 90󈟌.

Differences Between Democrats and Republicans

Tax Policy

Both parties favor tax cuts, but each party takes a different view on where those tax cuts should be applied. The Democrats believe there should only be cuts for middle and low income families, but believe they should be higher on corporations and wealthy individuals. The Republicans believe there should be tax cuts for everyone, both corporations and people of all income levels.

Social Issues

One of the differences lies in their views towards social issues. The Republicans tend to be conservative on social issues. They tend to oppose gay marriage and promote marriage being between a man and a woman. They also oppose abortion and promote the right of gun ownership. Democrats tend to be more progressive in their views, favoring abortion and gay marriage, but are strongly for strict gun control laws that limit ownership.

Labor and Free Trade

Republicans and Democrats have very different ideas when it comes to the business environment. Republicans tend to oppose increases to the minimum wage, citing the need for business to keep costs low so they can prosper and all Americans can have access to products and services. The Democrats favor increasing the minimum wage so that Americans have more money with which to purchase goods. They also favor trade restrictions to protect American jobs while Republicans favor free trade in order to keep costs low for consumers and make businesses more profitable so they can grow.

Health Care

Democrats generally prefer a lot of government regulation and oversight of the health care system, including the passage of the Affordable Care Act, because it makes the health care system accessible to everyone. Republicans, who opposed the Affordable Care Act, believe too much government involvement in the industry will drive up costs and have a negative impact on the quality of care that consumers receive.

Social Programs

Democrats across the board believe that government should run such social programs as welfare, unemployment benefits, food stamps, and Medicaid that support people in need. They believe more tax dollars should be funneled into these programs. Republicans acknowledge a need for these social programs, but favor less funding and tighter control. Republicans favor supporting private organizations that support people in need.

Foreign Policy

When it comes to differences between democrats and republicans, the foreign policy can not be missed. Each party has had differing stances in relation to foreign policy over the years depending on the situation. Generally speaking, when military involvement may be required, the Democrats favor more targeted strikes and limited use of manpower while Republicans favor a full military effort to displace regimes that are totalitarian and detrimental to their own people and who are threatening others. Both parties typically agree that sending aid to other countries is a good thing, but disagree on the nature of that aid and who should be receiving it.

Energy Issues and the Environment

There have always been clashes between the parties on the issues of energy and the environment. Democrats believe in restricting drilling for oil or other avenues of fossil fuels to protect the environment while Republicans favor expanded drilling to produce more energy at a lower cost to consumers. Democrats will push and support with tax dollars alternative energy solutions while the Republicans favor allowing the market to decide which forms of energy are practical.


The parties have different views on the education system of the country, but both agree there needs a change. Democrats favor more progressive approaches to education, such as implementing the Common Core System, while Republicans tend to favor more conservative changes such as longer hours and more focused programs. They are also divided on student loans for college, with Democrats favoring giving students more money in the form of loans and grants while Republicans favor promoting the private sector giving loans and not the government.

Crime and Capital Punishment

Republicans generally believe in harsher penalties when someone has committed a crime, including for selling illegal drugs. They also generally favor capital punishment and back a system with many layers to ensure the proper punishment has been meted out. Democrats are more progressive in their views, believing that crimes do not involve violence, such as selling drugs, should have lighter penalties and rehabilitation. They are also against capital punishment in any form.

Individual Liberty

Individual liberty has been sore differences between democrats and republicans. Political correctness is on the rise and many people believe that people need to be protected against themselves. Democrats have tended toward favoring legislation that restricts some freedoms, including foods we may have access to. Republicans favor personal responsibility, in that individuals should be able to choose for themselves what they do and what they do not do if it doesn’t break existing laws.

Ideological Third Parties and Splinter Parties

Third party politicians tend to be more ideological than Republicans or Democrats because they do not have to play to the American middle.

Learning Objectives

Describe the largest and most significant third parties in American electoral politics

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • American elections are held between two main political candidates, one a Democrat and one a Republican.
  • Third parties are any party other than the Democratic and Republican parties.
  • Third parties tend to be much more ideological than their counterparts from the Democratic or Republican parties.

Key Terms

  • two-party system: When two major political parties dominate in most elections and consequently dominate elected office
  • third party: A political party in opposition to the main parties in a two-party system.

America’s democratic system is predominantly a two party system. This means that two major political parties dominate in most elections and consequently dominate elected office. Currently, the two major American parties are the Democratic and Republican parties, although the top two parties change over time. A third party is any party that supports a candidate for election other than the two major political parties at the current moment, a third party would be any party other than the Democratic and Republican parties. Though third parties represent a very small fraction of Americans participating in politics, they do influence elections by drawing votes away from either of the two main parties. Third parties tend to be more ideological and extremist than the Democrats or Republicans. Since third party candidates do not have a legitimate chance of winning national election given the structure of the current system, most third parties do not tend to try to pursue moderate voters and instead stay close to their ideological roots.

Third Party Candidates: Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate, is accused of “stealing” votes away from Al Gore, a Democrat, in the 2000 election.

The three main third parties are the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and the Constitution Party. All have over 100,000 registered voters. However, even as these parties are the largest of the third parties, they represent only a fraction of American voters and are more ideologically oriented than Democrats or Republicans. The Libertarian Party supports laissez-faire policies, small government, and is characterized by being socially liberal and fiscally conservative. The Green Party is a progressive party that emphasizes eco-socialism. The Constitution Party is a socially and fiscally conservative party backed by the religious right.Beyond the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution Parties, third parties in American politics tend even farther towards the fringe, emphasizing ideology and avoiding speaking to a broad base. An example of a small right-wing third party would be the America First Party. The AFP is characterized as paleoconservative because they are socially and fiscally conservative. The AFP seeks to enact a smaller government by eliminating federal programs, such as the Department of Education. The AFP further seeks to cut taxes and allow for more robust integration of church and state.

An example of an extreme left wing party is the Peace and Freedom Party. The PFP was created in 1968 as a way to protest participation in the Vietnam War. Today, the PFP advocates to protect the environment. It seeks to advance personal liberties and universal, high quality and free access to education and health care. The PFP seeks to enact a more socialist economy.

Some third parties are organized entirely around one issue, rather than seeking to enact a broad, fringe ideology. For example, the United States Marijuana Party seeks to end the war on drugs and legalize marijuana. Though it is unlikely that anyone from the United States Marijuana Party will ever be elected to national office, they seek to raise attention to the issues that they find important and put these issues on the national stage.

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