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A History of the Two-Party Political System: Social Studies - 6th Grade

Grade: Eighth

Subject: American History

Common Core Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.


Say: Many of you may have families at home who are passionate about politics. You may have seen news programs discussing democrats or republicans, referring to each other as "parties." You may have also overheard family members talking about their views, how they vote, who they vote for, and why.

There are several political parties you can belong to in our country, but we are a two-party political system. The primary two parties are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Most Americans are either Democrat or Republican. These groups control the majority of the American Political landscape and are the ones you'll hear about most of the time. 

Today, we will learn about why America has a two-party political system and what the benefits and disadvantages are to this system.

Ask: Can anyone tell me who our first president was?

Do: Allow for raised hand answers.

Say: Correct! George Washington was our first president. His term as President lasted from 1789 to 1797. As our first President after the Revolutionary War, he faced a big challenge. He had to oversee the creation of a new government from scratch and deal with a turbulent political climate. America needed to decide how to organize and run basic systems such as our economy, our foreign policy, and simply what type of structure our government should follow.

Many people had very opposing views of how the government should run our new country. Those views typically fell into two different parties. These parties weren't the Democratic and Republican parties we know today. Back then, the two major parties were the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists.

George Washington, however, believed that these political parties didn't help our fragile new country. He believed that if we were to succeed as a nation, that we should be united and that political parties would serve as firm lines of disagreement.

Can anyone guess who may have been the figureheads of the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists?

Do: Allow your students to give raised hand guesses or answers.

Say: Firstly, the Federalists were led by none other than Alexander Hamilton! 

Hamilton believed that the primary source of power in the United States should reside within the Federal Government. He believed that one government unit should manage each state's currency, banking, and military powers. This was similar to the government systems Britain had in place. As a young country that had just gained its independence from Britain, there were plenty of people who wanted to break away from this system.

Those who were hesitant about following the model the British used were the Anti-Federalists. That party was led by none other than Thomas Jefferson, our third president, and a slave-owner from Virginia. Jefferson and Hamilton famously butted heads during the years they worked together.

Several factors contributed to a clash in ideas. One was that the northern part of the United States held much of the country's financial power, while the south held more of the agricultural power (and therefore had more slaves). The Anti-Federalists believed that a centralized government would ignore the southern part of the country in favor of the north.

In addition to this debate, there was a disagreement over how the United States would maintain relationships with different countries. France was also going through a revolution at the time. Remember that France played a major role in the American Revolution. They sent their navy, troops, money, and support that ultimately gave us the edge over Britain. You'd think that we would have returned the favor.

However, the Federalists believed that the French Revolution led to an unstable country and, therefore, unstable relations. The Anti-Federalists thought that there was a camaraderie or a strong, supportive friendship because the French were also undergoing a revolution. We ultimately decided to play it safe and stay out of the French Revolution.

So when we look back at the first two parties, we can think of them this way. The Anti-Federalists wanted to separate from Britain and believed in state-led governments. The Federalists wanted a centralized government and felt that adopting some British practices was safe for a new country.

The Federalist party was eventually dismantled, and new parties came into place. Over time, the parties' names changed, and new belief systems came into place. While our first president believed that political parties were damaging, they still remain.

Today, the Democratic and Republican parties are the primary focus, and no president has ever been elected from a third party. Very few of our senators or congresspeople come from third parties, like the Libertarian or Green Parties.

Ask: Even though Washington thought a two-party system was harmful to our country, can anyone share why it may benefit a nation?

Do: Allow your students raised hand open discussion about what benefits may come from having two distinct parties representing the beliefs of a nation.

Say: Thank you! Those were all really great ideas and thoughts. Now, let's discuss some difficulties or challenges of a two-party system? Should we open up our government to another, third party?

Do: Again, allow open raised hand discussion about the detrimental aspects of a two-party system.


Say: I'm going to assign each of you to a group. In our next class, we will get into these groups and create our own set of rules and beliefs as to how our classroom should run. Come prepared to work with each other and participate in a respectful discussion. Each group will present these rules at the end of the class, and we will hold a mock election to see who wins the vote.

Do: Assign students to groups of four, giving them a name of a fake political party. These names could be as simple or as creative as you want.


Written by Amber White

Education World Contributor

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