Third Party System

The Third Party System is a term of periodization used by historians and political scientists to describe the history of political parties in the United States from 1854 until the mid-1890s, which featured profound developments in issues of American nationalism, modernization, and race. This period, the later part of which is often termed the Gilded Age, is defined by its contrast with the eras of the Second Party System and the Fourth Party System.

It was dominated by the new Republican Party, which claimed success in saving the Union, abolishing slavery and enfranchising the freedmen, while adopting many Whiggish modernization programs such as national banks, railroads, high tariffs, homesteads, social spending (such as on greater Civil War veteran pension funding), and aid to land grant colleges. While most elections from 1876 through 1892 were extremely close, the opposition Democrats won only the 1884 and 1892 presidential elections (the Democrats also won the 1876 and 1888 presidential election popular vote, but lost the electoral college vote), though from 1876 to 1892 the party often controlled the United States House of Representatives and from 1879 to 1887 frequently controlled the United States Senate. Democrats were back in control of the Senate at the end of the Third Party System and held the upper chamber for most of the 1890s. Indeed, some scholars emphasize that the 1876 election saw a realignment and the collapse of support for Reconstruction.[1] The northern and western states were largely Republican, save for closely balanced New York, Indiana, New Jersey, and Connecticut. After 1876, the Democrats took control of the "Solid South."[2]

Third Party System
Great Seal of the United States (obverse).svg

Third Party System
United States presidential election results between 1856 and 1892. Blue shaded states usually voted for the Democratic Party, while red shaded states usually voted for the Republican Party. Green shaded states voted for the Populist Party in 1892.

Voter behavior

As with the preceding Second Party System era, the Third was characterized by intense voter interest, routinely high voter turnout, unflinching party loyalty, dependence on nominating conventions, hierarchical party organizations, and the systematic use of government jobs as patronage for party workers, known as the spoils system. Cities of 50,000 or more developed ward and citywide "bosses" who could depend on the votes of clients, especially recent immigrants. Newspapers continued to be the primary communication system, with the great majority closely linked to one party or the other.[3]

Broad coalitions from each party

Both parties consisted of broad-based voting coalitions. Throughout the North, businessmen, shop owners, skilled craftsmen, clerks and professionals favored the Republicans, as did more modern, commercially oriented farmers. In the South, the Republicans won strong support from the Freedmen (newly enfranchised African Americans), but the party was usually controlled by local whites ("scalawags") and opportunistic Yankees ("carpetbaggers.") The race issue pulled the great majority of white southerners into the Democratic Party as Redeemers.

The Democratic Party was composed of conservative, pro-business Bourbon Democrats, who usually controlled the national convention from 1868 until their great defeat by William Jennings Bryan in 1896. The Democratic coalition was composed of traditional Democrats in the North (many of them former Copperheads). They were joined by the Redeemers in the South and by Catholic immigrants, especially Irish-Americans and German-Americans. In addition the party attracted unskilled laborers and hard-scrabble old-stock farmers in remote areas of New England and along the Ohio River valley.[4]

Religion: pietistic Republicans versus liturgical Democrats

Religious lines were sharply drawn.[5] Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Scandinavian Lutherans and other pietists in the North were tightly linked to the Republicans. In sharp contrast, liturgical groups, especially the Catholics, Episcopalians, and German Lutherans, looked to the Democratic Party for protection from pietistic moralism, especially prohibition. While both parties cut across economic class structures, the Democrats were supported more heavily by its lower tiers.[6]

Cultural issues, especially prohibition and foreign language schools, became important because of the sharp religious divisions in the electorate. In the North, about 50% of the voters were pietistic Protestants who believed the government should be used to reduce social sins, such as drinking. Liturgical churches constituted over a quarter of the vote and wanted the government to stay out of personal morality issues. Prohibition debates and referendums heated up politics in most states over a period of decades, and national prohibition was finally passed in 1918 (repealed in 1932), serving as a major issue between the largely wet Democrats and the largely dry Republicans - although there was pro-Prohibition fraction within the Democratic and an anti-Prohibition fraction within the Republican Party.[5]

Voting Behavior by Religion, Northern USA Late 19th century
Religion % Dem % Rep
Irish Catholics 80 20
All Catholics 70 30
Confessional German Lutherans 65 35
German Reformed 60 40
French Canadian Catholics 50 50
Less Confessional German Lutherans 45 55
English Canadians 40 60
British Stock 35 65
German Sectarians 30 70
Norwegian Lutherans 20 80
Swedish Lutherans 15 85
Haugean Norwegians 5 95
Northern Stock
Quakers 5 95
Free Will Baptists 20 80
Congregational 25 75
Methodists 25 75
Regular Baptists 35 65
Blacks 40 60
Presbyterians 40 60
Episcopalians 45 55
Southern Stock
Disciples 50 50
Presbyterians 70 30
Baptists 75 25
Methodists 90 10
Source: Paul Kleppner, The Third Electoral System 1853–1892 (1979) p. 182

Realignment in the 1850s

The collapse of the Whigs after 1852 left political chaos. Various prohibitionist and nativist movements emerged, especially the American Party, based originally on the secret Know Nothing lodges. It was a moralistic party that appealed to the middle class fear of corruption, which it identified with Catholics, especially the recent Irish immigrants who seemed to bring crime, corruption, poverty and bossism as soon as they arrived. The Republican Party was more driven, in terms of ideology and talent; it surpassed the hapless American Party in 1856. By 1858 the Republicans controlled majorities in every Northern state, and hence controlled the electoral votes for president in 1860.[7]


The ideological force driving the new party was modernization, and opposition to slavery, that anti-modern threat. By 1856 the Republicans were crusading for "Free Soil, Free Labor, Frémont and Victory." The main argument was that a "Slave Power" had seized control of the federal government and would try to make slavery legal in the territories, and perhaps even in the northern states. That would give rich slave owners the chance to go anywhere and buy up the best land, thus undercutting the wages of free labor and destroying the foundations of civil society. The Democratic response was to countercrusade in 1856, warning that the election of Republican candidate John C. Frémont would produce civil war. The outstanding leader of the Democrats was Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas ‒ he believed that the democratic process in each state or territory should settle the slavery question. When President James Buchanan tried to rig politics in Kansas Territory to approve slavery, Douglas broke with him, presaging the split that ruined the party in 1860. That year, Northern Democrats nominated Douglas as the candidate of democracy, while the southern wing put up John Breckinridge as the upholder of the rights of property and of states rights, which in this context meant slavery. In the South, ex-Whigs organized an ad-hoc "Constitutional Union" Party, pledging to keep the nation united on the basis of the Constitution, regardless of democracy, states rights, property or liberty. The Republicans played it safe in 1860, passing over better-known radicals in favor of a moderate border state politician known to be an articulate advocate of liberty. Abraham Lincoln made no speeches, letting the party apparatus march the armies to the polls. Even if all three of Lincoln's opponents had formed a common ticket–quite impossible in view of their ideological differences–his 40 percent of the vote was enough to carry the North and thus win the Electoral College.[8]

Civil War

It was the measure of genius of President Lincoln not only that he won his war but that he did so by drawing upon and synthesizing the strengths of anti-slavery, free soil, democracy, and nationalism.[9] The Confederacy abandoned all party activity, and thereby forfeited the advantages of a nationwide organization committed to support of the administration. In the Union, the Republican Party unanimously supported the war effort, finding officers, enlisted men, enlistment bonuses, aid to wives and widows, war supplies, bond purchases, and the enthusiasm that was critical to victory. The Democrats at first supported a war for Union, and in 1861 many Democratic politicians became colonels and generals. Announced by Lincoln in September 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation was designed primarily to destroy the economic base of the Slave Power. It initially alienated many northern Democrats and even moderate Republicans. They were reluctant to support a war for the benefit of what they considered an inferior race. In the 1862 midterm elections, the Democrats made significant gains, but the Republicans remained in control with the support of the Unionist Party. Success on the battlefield (especially the fall of Atlanta) significantly bolstered the Republicans in the election of 1864. The Democrats attempted to capitalize on negative reactions to the Emancipation, but by 1864, these had faded somewhat due its success in undermining the South. Additionally, the Republicans made charges of treason against “Copperheads” a successful campaign issue. Increasingly the Union Army became the more and more Republican; probably a majority of Democrats who enlisted marched home Republican, including such key leaders as John Logan and Ben Butler.[10]


The Civil War and Reconstruction issues polarized the parties until the Compromise of 1877 finally ended the political warfare. War issues resonated for a quarter century, as Republicans waved the "bloody shirt" (of dead union soldiers), and Democrats warned against Black supremacy in the South and plutocracy in the North. The modernizing Republicans who had founded the party in 1854 looked askance at the undisguised corruption of Ulysses S. Grant and his war veterans, bolstered by the solid vote of freedmen. The dissenters formed a "Liberal Republican" Party in 1872, only to have it smashed by Grant's reelection. By the mid-1870s it was clear that Confederate nationalism was dead; all but the most ardent Republican “Stalwarts” agreed that the southern Republican coalition of African-American Freedmen, scalawags and carpetbaggers was helpless and hopeless. In 1874 the Democrats won big majorities in Congress, with economic depression a major issue. People asked how much longer the Republicans could use the Army to impose control in the South.[2]

Garfield inauguration cartoon
1881 cartoon attacks the imperial splendor of Garfield's inauguration in contrast to Jefferson's republican simplicity (upper left)

Rutherford Hayes became President after a highly controversial electoral count, demonstrating that the corruption of Southern politics threatened the legitimacy of the presidency itself. After Hayes removed the last federal troops in 1877, the Republican Party in the South sank into oblivion, kept alive only by the crumbs of federal patronage. It would be forty years before a Republican would win a former Confederate state in a presidential election.[11]

Climax and collapse, 1890–1896

New issues emerged in the late 1880s, as Grover Cleveland and the Bourbon Democrats made the low tariff "for revenue only" a rallying cry for Democrats in the 1888 election, and the Republican Congress in 1890 legislated high tariffs and high spending. At the state level moralistic pietists pushed hard for prohibition, and in some states for the elimination of foreign-language schools serving German immigrants. The Bennett Law in Wisconsin produced a bruising ethnocultural battle in Wisconsin in 1890, which the Democrats won. The millions of postwar immigrants divided politically along ethnic and religious lines, with enough Germans moving into the Democratic Party to give the Democrats a national majority in 1892. Party loyalties were starting to weaken, as evidenced by the movement back and forth of the German vote and the sudden rise of the Populists. Army-style campaigns of necessity had to be supplemented by "campaigns of education," which focused more on the swing voters.[12]

Democratic magazine ridicules Republican use of "bloody shirt" memories of war

Cleveland's second term was ruined by a major depression, the Panic of 1893, which also undercut the appeal of the loosely organized Populist coalitions in the south and west. A stunning Republican triumph in 1894 nearly wiped out the Democratic Party north of the Mason–Dixon line. In the 1896 election, William Jennings Bryan and the radical silverites seized control of the Democratic Party, denounced their own president, and called for a return to Jeffersonian agrarianism known as Jeffersonian Democracy. Bryan, in his Cross of Gold speech, talked about workers and farmers crucified by big business, evil bankers and the gold standard. With Bryan giving from 5 to 35 speeches a day throughout the Midwest, straw polls showed his crusade forging a lead in the critical Midwest. Then William McKinley and Mark Hanna seized control of the situation; their countercrusade was a campaign of education making lavish use of new advertising techniques. McKinley warned that Bryan's Bimetallism would wreck the economy and achieve equality by making everyone poor. McKinley promised prosperity through strong economic growth based on sound money and business confidence, and an abundance of high-paying industrial jobs. Farmers would benefit by selling to a rich home market. Every racial, ethnic and religious group would prosper, and the government would never be used by one group to attack another. In particular McKinley reassured the German-Americans, alarmed on the one hand by Bryan's inflation and on the other by prohibition. McKinley's overwhelming victory combined city and farm, Northeast and Midwest, businessmen and factory workers. He carried nearly every city of 50,000 population, while Bryan swept the rural South (which was off-limits to the Republicans) and Mountain states. McKinley's victory, ratified by an even more decisive reelection in 1900, thus solidified one of the central ideologies of twentieth-century American politics, pluralism.[12]

Campaigning changes in 1896

By campaigning tirelessly with over 500 speeches in 100 days, William Jennings Bryan seized control of the headlines in the 1896 election. It no longer mattered as much what the editorial page said—most newspapers opposed him—as long as his speeches made the front page. Financing likewise changed radically. Under the Second and Third Party Systems, parties financed their campaigns through patronage; now civil service reform was undercutting that revenue, and entirely new, outside sources of funding became critical. Mark Hanna systematically told nervous businessmen and financiers that he had a business plan to win the election, and then billed them for their share of the cost. Hanna spent $3.5 million in three months for speakers, pamphlets, posters, and rallies that all warned of doom and anarchy if Bryan should win, and offered prosperity and pluralism under William McKinley. Party loyalty itself weakened as voters were switching between parties much more often. It became respectable to declare oneself an “independent.”[13]

Third Parties

Throughout the nineteenth century, third parties such as the Prohibition Party, Greenback Party and the Populist Party evolved from widespread antiparty sentiment and a belief that governance should attend to the public good rather than partisan agendas. Because this position was based more on social experiences than any political ideology, nonpartisan activity was generally most effective on the local level. As third-party candidates tried to assert themselves in mainstream politics, however, they were forced to betray the antiparty foundations of the movement by allying with major partisan leaders. These alliances and the factionalism they engendered discouraged nonpartisan supporters and undermined the third-party movement by the end of the nineteenth century. Many reformers and nonpartisans subsequently lent support to the Republican Party, which promised to attend to issues important to them, such as anti-slavery or prohibition.[14]

Fourth Party System, 1896–1932

The overwhelming Republican victory, repeated in 1900, restored business confidence, began three decades of prosperity for which the Republicans took credit, and swept away the issues and personalities of the Third Party System.[15] The period 1896–1932 can be called the Fourth Party System. Most voting blocs continued unchanged, but others realigned themselves, giving a strong Republican dominance in the industrial Northeast, though the way was clear for the Progressive Era to impose a new way of thinking and a new agenda for politics.[16]

Alarmed at the new rules of the game for campaign funding, the Progressives launched investigations and exposures (by the "muckraker" journalists) into corrupt links between party bosses and business. New laws and constitutional amendments weakened the party bosses by installing primaries and directly electing senators. Theodore Roosevelt shared the growing concern with business influence on government. When William Howard Taft appeared to be too cozy with pro-business conservatives in terms of tariff and conservation issues, Roosevelt broke with his old friend and his old party. After losing the 1912 Republican nomination to Taft, he founded a new "Bull Moose" Progressive Party and ran as a third candidate. Although he outpolled Taft (who won only two states) in both the popular vote and the electoral college, the Republican split elected Woodrow Wilson and made pro-business conservatives the dominant force in the Republican Party.[17]

See also


  1. ^ James E. Campbell, "Party Systems and Realignments in the United States, 1868–2004," Social Science History Fall 2006, Vol. 30, Iss. 3, pp. 359–86
  2. ^ a b Foner (1988)
  3. ^ Kleppner (1979) gives detailed reports on voter behavior in every region.
  4. ^ Kleppner (1979); Jensen (1971)
  5. ^ a b Kleppner (1979)
  6. ^ Richard Jensen, The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888–1896 (1971) online
  7. ^ Gienap (1987); Holt (1978)
  8. ^ Foner (1995); Silbey (1991)
  9. ^ Paludan p. 25. Paludan writes of Lincoln's political skills, "He was an excellent political leader at a time when parties provided unity and direction for governmental behavior and were sources of intense interest throughout the polity. He knew how to organize political strength, how to encourage his supporters to achieve their ends.... During the war when lawmakers began to question and at times to challenge decisions he had made or intrude on executive prerogatives, his political skills would find important uses. But there was a much deeper level to Lincoln's political skills than his ability to maneuver and to balance factions; there was the quality of the man himself. He possessed a basic self-knowledge and security that allowed him to negotiate and discuss and converse with friends and political foes while respecting their intrinsic integrity."
  10. ^ Silbey (1991); Hansen (1980)
  11. ^ Vincent P. De Santis, Republicans Face the Southern Question (1969)
  12. ^ a b Jensen (1971)
  13. ^ Jensen (1971) ch 10; Keller (1977)
  14. ^ See Voss-Hubbard (1999); Keller (1977)
  15. ^ Dean Burnham, Walter (2016). "Periodization Schemes and "Party Systems": The "System of 1896" as a Case in Point". Social Science History. 10 (3): 263–314. doi:10.1017/S0145553200015467.
  16. ^ Keller (1977); McGerr (2003)
  17. ^ McGerr (2003)

Further reading

  • Bensel, Richard Franklin. The Political Economy of American Industrialization, 1877–1900 (2000)
  • Calhoun, Charles W. From Bloody Shirt to Full Dinner Pail: The Transformation of Politics and Governance in the Gilded Age (2010) excerpt and text search
  • Calhoun, Charles W. Minority Victory: Gilded Age Politics and the Front Porch Campaign of 1888 (2008) 243 pp.
  • Campbell, James E. "Party Systems and Realignments in the United States, 1868–2004," Social Science History, Fall 2006, Vol. 30 Issue 3, pp. 359–386
  • Cherny, Robert. American Politics in the Gilded Age 1868–1900 (1997)
  • DeCanio, Samuel. "Religion and Nineteenth-Century Voting Behavior: A New Look at Some Old Data" Journal of Politics, 2007 69: 339–350
  • Dinkin, Robert J. Campaigning in America: A History of Election Practices. (Greenwood 1989)
  • Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (1995). .
  • Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (1988)
  • Gienap, William E. The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852–1856. 1987.
  • Gienap, William E. "Politics Seem to Enter into Everything": Political Culture in the North, 1840–1860," in Gienapp et al., eds. Essays on American Antebellum Politics, 1840-1860 (1982) online edition pp. 15–79
  • Hansen, Stephen L. The Making of the Third Party System: Voters and Parties in Illinois, 1850–1876. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1980. 280 pp.
  • Holt, Michael F. The Political Crisis of the 1850s (1978).
  • Holt, Michael F. "The Primacy of Party Reasserted." Journal of American History 1999 86(1): 151–157. in JSTOR
  • James, Scott C. Presidents, Parties, and the State: A Party System Perspective on Democratic Regulatory Choice, 1884–1936. (2000). 307 pp.
  • Jensen, Richard. The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888–1896 (1971)
  • Jensen, Richard. "Democracy, Republicanism and Efficiency: The Values of American Politics, 1885–1930," in Byron Shafer and Anthony Badger, eds, Contesting Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775–2000 (U of Kansas Press, 2001) pp. 149–180; online version
  • Josephson, Matthew. The Politicos: 1865–1896 (1938).
  • Keller, Morton. Affairs of State: Public Life in Late Nineteenth Century America (1977).
  • Keller, Morton. America's Three Regimes: A New Political History (2007) 384 pp.
  • Kleppner, Paul. The Third Electoral System 1853–1892: Parties, Voters, and Political Cultures (1979), the most important and detailed analysis of voting behavior. online edition
  • Klinghard, Daniel. The Nationalization of American Political Parties, 1880–1896 (2010) excerpt and text search, political science perspective
  • Lynch, G. Patrick "U.S. Presidential Elections in the Nineteenth Century: Why Culture and the Economy Both Mattered." Polity 35#1 (2002) pp. 29+. online version, focus on 1884
  • McGerr, Michael. A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870–1920 (2003)
  • Miller, Worth Robert. "The Lost World of Gilded Age Politics," Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era vol 1, no. 1 (January 2002): 49–67, online edition
  • Morgan, H. Wayne. From Hayes to McKinley: National Party Politics, 1877–1896 (1969) online edition
  • Ostrogorski, M. Democracy and the Party System in the United States, (1910) classic analysis, emphasizing party operations and corruption; online edition
  • Paludan, Phillip Shaw. The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.(1994) ISBN 0-7006-0745-5
  • Postel, Charles. The Populist Vision (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Potter, David. The Impending Crisis 1848–1861. (1976); Pulitzer Prize
  • Rhodes, James Ford. History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the Roosevelt-Taft Administration (1920), 8 vol. highly detailed narrative from 1850 to 1909 online edition
  • Rothbard, Murray N. The Progressive Era (2017), pp. 109–98, emphasis on popular voting online excerpt
  • Schlesinger, Arthur, Jr., ed. History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008 (2011) 3 vol and 11 vol editions; detailed analysis of each election, with primary documents; online v. 1. 1789–1824; v. 2. 1824–1844; v. 3. 1848–1868; v. 4. 1872–1888; v. 5. 1892–1908; v. 6. 1912–1924; v. 7. 1928–1940; v. 8. 1944–1956; v. 9. 1960–1968; v. 10. 1972–1984; v. 11. 1988–2001
  • Silbey, Joel. The American Political Nation, 1838–1893 (1991). online edition
  • Smith, Adam I. P. No Party Now: Politics in the Civil War North (2006)excerpt and text search
  • Summers, Mark Wahlgren. The Era of Good Stealings (1993), covers corruption 1868–1877
  • Summers, Mark Wahlgren. Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion: The Making of a President, 1884 (2000) (online version
  • Summers, Mark Wahlgren. Party Games: Getting, Keeping, and Using Power in Gilded Age Politics (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Summers, Mark Wahlgren.The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics, 1865–1878 (1994)
  • Voss-Hubbard, Mark. "The 'Third Party Tradition' Reconsidered: Third Parties and American Public Life, 1830–1900." Journal of American History 1999 86(1): 121–150. in JSTOR

Primary sources

External links

1854 United States elections

The 1854 United States elections was the midterm election choosing members of the 32nd United States Congress during the middle of Democratic President Franklin Pierce's term. It was part of the transition from the Second Party System to the Third Party System, as the Whigs collapsed as a national party and were replaced by a coalition running on the Opposition Party ticket and the nascent Republican Party).

In the House, Democrats suffered a massive defeat, losing seats to the Opposition Party, and to the American Party; the latter (also known as the Know Nothings) won more seats in the House than any other third party in the history of the chamber. Nathaniel Banks, a member of the American Party and the Free Soil Party, won election as Speaker of the House after a protracted battle, defeating Democrat William Aiken. In the Senate, Democrats retained a strong majority, while the Opposition replaced the Whigs as the second largest party in the chamber.

1858 United States elections

The 1858 United States elections occurred in the middle of Democratic President James Buchanan's term, during the opening stages of the Third Party System. Members of the 36th United States Congress were chosen in this election. In the first election since the Supreme Court decided Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Republican Party won a plurality in the House, taking control of a chamber of Congress for the first time in the party's history. Although Democrats lost control of the House, they retained their majority in the Senate.

In the House, Democrats suffered a major defeat, losing seats to Republicans and a group of southern party members who opposed secession, running on the Opposition Party ticket. Although no party won a majority, Republicans won a plurality of seats. Republican William Pennington won election as Speaker of the House, becoming the first Republican Speaker.

In the Senate, Republicans picked up several seats, but Democrats retained a commanding majority.

1860 United States elections

The 1860 United States elections elected the members of the 37th United States Congress. The election took place during the Third Party System, shortly before the start of the Civil War. The Republican Party won control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress, making it the fifth party (following the Federalist Party, Democratic-Republican Party, Democratic Party, and Whig Party) to accomplish that feat. The election is widely considered to be a realigning election.In the Presidential election, Republican former Representative Abraham Lincoln of Illinois defeated Democratic Vice President John C. Breckinridge (who became the first incumbent Vice President to lose a presidential election) and Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, as well as the Constitutional Union candidate, former Senator John Bell of Tennessee. Lincoln swept the Northern states while Breckinridge carried much of the South, foreshadowing the political alignment of the country throughout the Third Party System. At the 1860 Republican National Convention, Lincoln won on third ballot, defeating Senator William H. Seward of New York and several other candidates. The Democratic Party split its votes after three chaotic conventions. Douglas was nominated at the second Democratic convention, while the Southern Democrats nominated Breckinridge as their own candidate in a third convention. Bell ran on a platform of preserving the union regardless of the status of slavery. Lincoln's victory made him the first Republican President. Lincoln took just under 40 percent of the popular vote, a lower share of the popular vote than any other winning presidential candidate aside from John Quincy Adams's 1824 campaign.

In the House, Republicans retained control of the chamber and won a majority for the first time after several states seceded. Democrats remained the largest minority, but several Congressmen also identified as unionists.In the Senate, Republicans made moderate gains, but Democrats initially retained a majority. They lost that majority shortly after the election when several Southern senators resigned. The Democrats would have the second-largest number of members in the Senate, although many senators identified as unionists rather than Democrats or Republicans.

1862 United States elections

The 1862 United States elections occurred in the middle of Republican President Abraham Lincoln's first term, during the Third Party System and the Civil War. Members of the 38th United States Congress were chosen in this election. West Virginia and Nevada joined the union during the 38th Congress, but several states were in rebellion, reducing the size of both chambers of Congress. The Republican Party kept control of Congress, although it was reduced to a plurality in the House.

In the House, Democrats won several seats, ending the Republican majority. Republicans won a plurality of seats, while several seats were occupied by politicians identifying as Unionists. Republican Schuyler Colfax won election as Speaker of the House.

In the Senate, Republicans picked up a small number of seats, retaining a commanding majority.

1864 United States elections

The 1864 United States elections elected the members of the 39th United States Congress. Nebraska joined the union during the 39th Congress. This election took place during the Third Party System and the Civil War, and the election was held shortly after the Union victory in the Battle of Atlanta. Republicans kept control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress.

In the Presidential election, Republican President Abraham Lincoln defeated Democratic General George B. McClellan. Despite factionalism in the Republican Party and earlier concern about the progress of the war, Lincoln easily carried the popular vote and won the greatest share of the electoral vote since James Monroe won re-election unopposed in 1820. Lincoln's win made him the first president to win re-election since Andrew Jackson, and the first two-term President unaffiliated with the Democratic-Republican Party or the Democratic Party since John Adams. Lincoln formed a bipartisan electoral alliance with War Democrats by selecting Democrat Andrew Johnson as his running mate and campaigning on the National Union ticket, making this the first and to date only election in which a winning ticket was composed of members of two separate parties.

Republicans made major gains in the House, turning their plurality into a majority.In the Senate, Republicans gained several seats, and continued to hold a commanding majority.

1866 United States elections

The 1866 United States elections occurred in the middle of National Union/Democratic President Andrew Johnson's term, during the Third Party System and Reconstruction. Johnson had become president on April 15, 1865, upon the death of his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln. Members of the 40th United States Congress were chosen in this election. As this was the first election after the Civil War, many ex-Confederates were barred from voting, and several Southern states did not take part in the election. Delegations from Arkansas, Florida, Alabama, North Carolina, Louisiana, and South Carolina were re-admitted during the 40th Congress.

President Andrew Johnson held a National Union Convention in hopes of rallying supporters against the Radical Republicans. However, the Republican Party maintained a dominant majority in both houses of Congress, and ultimately impeached Johnson in 1868.

In the House, both parties picked up several seats, but Republicans retained a majority.In the Senate, Republicans won massive gains and increased their already-dominant majority, while Democrats suffered slight losses.

1870 United States elections

The 1870 United States elections occurred in the middle of Republican President Ulysses S. Grant's first term, during the Third Party System. Members of the 42nd United States Congress were chosen in this election. The election took place during the Reconstruction Era, and many Southerners were barred from voting. It was also the first election after the passage of the 15th Amendment, which prohibits state and federal governments from denying the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude (although disenfranchisement would continue). The Republican Party maintained a majority in both houses of Congress, although Democrats picked up several seats in both chambers.

In the House, Democrats won major gains, but Republicans retained a solid majority.In the Senate, Democrats won moderate gains, but Republicans retained a commanding majority.

1872 United States elections

The 1872 United States elections were held on November 5, electing the members of the 43rd United States Congress. The election took place during the Third Party System. The election took place during the Reconstruction Era, and many Southerners were barred from voting. Despite a split in the party, the Republicans retained control of the presidency and both houses of Congress.

In the presidential election, Republican president Ulysses S. Grant easily defeated Liberal Republican newspaper editor Horace Greeley. Greeley's Liberal Republicans campaigned on civil service reform and an end to Reconstruction. Eager to defeat Grant, the Democratic Party also nominated Greeley. Greeley died after the election but prior to the meeting of the electoral college, so most of Greeley's electoral votes went to his running mate, Missouri Governor Benjamin Gratz Brown, as well as former senator Thomas A. Hendricks of Indiana.

Following the 1870 census, 49 seats were added to the House. Republicans made major gains in the House, picking up new seats while also winning seats from the Democrats.In the Senate, Republicans continued to control a commanding majority, but lost multiple seats to the Democrats and Liberal Republicans.

1874 United States elections

The 1874 United States elections occurred in the middle of Republican President Ulysses S. Grant's second term, during the Third Party System. Members of the 44th United States Congress were chosen in this election. The election took place during the Reconstruction Era, and many Southerners were barred from voting. Colorado joined the union during the 44th Congress. Democrats took control of a chamber of Congress for the first time since the start of the Civil War, winning a huge number of seats from House Republicans. However, the Republicans retained a majority in the Senate. The election marked the first occurrence of the six-year itch phenomenon, in which a president's party lost a large number of Congressional seats during the president's second mid-term election.

The Panic of 1873, a series of scandals, and an unpopular Congressional pay raise all damaged the Republican Party's brand. With the passage of the Reconstruction amendments, the importance of the parties' roles in the Civil War also receded in the minds of many. Though Republicans won governorships in Northern states such as Pennsylvania, the election increased Democratic power in the South, which it later dominated after the end of Reconstruction.In the House, Democrats won massive gains when the Republicans lost a total of 93 seats (the second-largest swing in the history of the House, and the largest House loss by the Republican Party), turning a dominant Republican majority into a similarly-dominant Democratic majority.In the Senate, Democrats picked up several seats, but Republicans retained a commanding majority.

1878 United States elections

The 1878 United States elections occurred in the middle of Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes's term, during the Third Party System. It was the first election following the end of the Reconstruction Era, and Redeemers had gained back control of most Southern governments following the Compromise of 1877. Members of the 46th United States Congress were chosen in this election. Democrats won control of the Senate for the first time since the start of the Civil War. Democrats lost a majority in the House, but retained a plurality and control of the chamber.

In the House, Democrats and Republicans both lost seats to the Greenback Party and a group of independent Democrats, with the Democrats retaining only a plurality. Democrat Samuel J. Randall won re-election as Speaker of the House.

In the Senate, Democrats picked up several seats, taking control of the chamber.

1880 United States elections

The 1880 United States elections occurred during the Third Party System, and elected the members of the 47th United States Congress. Republicans retained the Presidency and took control of the House. An unclear partisan situation prevailed in the Senate. As the first presidential election after the end of Reconstruction, this election saw the first occurrence of the Democratic Party sweeping the Southern United States; the party would carry an overwhelming majority of Southern states well into the 20th century.

In the Presidential election, Republican Representative James Garfield from Ohio defeated Democratic General Winfield Hancock. Though Garfield won a clear majority of electoral votes, he won the popular vote by the smallest margin in history. Incumbent one-term Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes declined to seek re-election. Garfield emerged as the dark horse Republican nominee following the 1880 Republican National Convention, prevailing on the 36th ballot over former President Ulysses S. Grant, Maine Senator James G. Blaine, and Ohio Senator John Sherman. Hancock took the nomination at the 1880 Democratic National Convention on the second ballot, defeating Delaware Senator Thomas F. Bayard and several other candidates. Garfield was the first sitting member of Congress to be elected president, and remains the only sitting member of the House to win a presidential election.

Republicans picked up several seats in the House, taking a majority of the chamber for the first time since the 1874 elections.In the Senate, Republicans made small gains at the expense of the Democrats, but neither party had a majority due to the presence of an independent Senator and a Readjuster Senator. The two parties ultimately agreed to share power.

1882 United States elections

The 1882 United States elections occurred in the middle of Republican President Chester A. Arthur's term, during the Third Party System. Arthur had become president on September 19, 1881, upon the death of his predecessor, James Garfield. Members of the 48th United States Congress were chosen in this election. Democrats won control of the House, while Republicans won control of the Senate.

Following the 1880 census, the size of the House increased by 32 seats. Democrats won major gains, taking control of the chamber.In the Senate, Republicans picked up one seat, giving them half of the seats in the chamber. Senate Republicans held a majority in a coalition with the Readjuster Party.

1884 United States elections

The 1884 United States elections was held on November 4, electing the members of the 49th United States Congress. The election took place during the Third Party System.

In the Presidential election, Democratic Governor Grover Cleveland of New York defeated Republican former Secretary of State James G. Blaine. Though Cleveland won the popular vote by less than 1%, he won by a fairly comfortable margin in the electoral college. Cleveland won the South and the critical state of New York, while Blaine took most of the rest of the country. This was the most recent example of an incumbent President being denied nomination by his party for another term, as Blaine defeated President Chester A. Arthur at the 1884 Republican National Convention. Cleveland took the Democratic nomination on the second ballot of the 1884 Democratic National Convention, defeating Delaware Senator Thomas F. Bayard and several other candidates. Cleveland's win made him the first Democratic President to win election since the 1856 election.

Republicans picked up several seats in the House, but Democrats continued to command a majority in the chamber. In the Senate, Republicans made moderate gains and established a clear majority.

1886 United States elections

The 1886 United States elections occurred in the middle of Democratic President Grover Cleveland's term, during the Third Party System. Members of the 50th United States Congress were chosen in this election. Democrats retained control of the House, while Republicans retained control of the Senate.

In the House, Republicans won a moderate number of seats, but Democrats retained a narrow majority.In the Senate, Democrats won a moderate number of seats, but Republicans retained a narrow majority.

1888 United States elections

The 1888 United States elections occurred during the Third Party System, and elected the members of the 51st United States Congress. North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming were admitted during the 51st Congress. This election was the first time that one party had won a majority in both chambers of Congress since the 1874 elections.In the Presidential election, Democratic President Grover Cleveland was defeated by Republican former Senator Benjamin Harrison of Indiana. At the 1888 Republican National Convention, Harrison was nominated on the eighth ballot, defeating Ohio Senator John Sherman, former Governor Russell A. Alger of Michigan, and several other candidates. As in 1876, the Republican candidate won the presidency despite the Democratic candidate's greater share of the popular vote. This situation would not be repeated until the 2000 election. Despite the popular vote margin, Harrison won a comfortable majority of the electoral college, and took most of the states outside the South.

Despite the close presidential race, Republicans picked up several seats in both houses of Congress. Republicans won major gains in the House, re-taking the majority for the first time since the 1882 elections. In the Senate, the Republicans won major gains, growing their majority in the chamber.

1892 United States elections

The 1892 United States elections was held on November 8, electing member to the 53rd United States Congress, taking place during the Third Party System. Democrats retained the House and won control of the Presidency and the Senate. Following the election, Democrats controlled the Presidency and a majority in both chambers of Congress for the first time since the 1858 elections.

In the Presidential election, Republican President Benjamin Harrison was defeated by former Democratic President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland won the popular vote by a margin of three percent, but won by a large margin in the electoral college. Populist James B. Weaver also carried five Western states and won a little over eight percent of the vote. At the 1892 Republican National Convention, Harrison fended off a challenge from supporters of former Secretary of State James G. Blaine and Governor William McKinley of Ohio. At the 1892 Democratic National Convention, Cleveland defeated Senator David B. Hill from New York and Governor Horace Boies of Iowa on the first ballot. Harrison had previously defeated Cleveland in 1888, and Cleveland's win made him the first President to serve non-consecutive terms. Cleveland's win in the popular vote also made him the second person, after Andrew Jackson, to win the popular vote in three presidential elections.

Reapportionment following the 1890 census added twenty four seats to the House. Republicans picked up several seats in the House, but Democrats continued to command a large majority in the chamber.In the Senate, Democrats made moderate gains to win a majority (including the Democratic Vice President) in the chamber for the first time since the 1880 elections.

1894 United States elections

The 1894 United States elections was held on November 6, and elected the members of the 54th United States Congress. These were mid-term elections during Democratic President Grover Cleveland's second term. The Republican landslide of 1894 marked a realigning election In American politics as the nation moved from the Third Party System that had focused on issues of civil war and reconstruction, and entered the Fourth Party System, known as the Progressive Era, which focused on middle class reforms.The Democrats suffered a landslide defeat in the House losing over 100 seats to the Republicans in the single largest swing in the history of the House. The Democrats also lost four seats in the Senate, thus resulting in the President's party completely losing control of both houses of Congress, the first time this ever happened in a midterm election.

The Democratic Party losses can be traced largely to the Panic of 1893 and the ineffective party leadership of Cleveland. Republicans effectively used the issues of the tariff, bimetallism, and the Cuban War of Independence against Cleveland. The Democrats suffered huge defeats outside the South (almost ninety percent of Northeastern and Midwestern House Democrats lost re-election), and the Democratic Party underwent a major turnover in party leadership. With the defeat of many Bourbon Democrats, William Jennings Bryan took the party in a more populist direction starting with the 1896 elections.

1896 United States elections

The 1896 United States elections elected the 55th United States Congress. Republicans won control of the Presidency and maintained control of both houses of Congress. The election marked the end of the Third Party System and the start of the Fourth Party System, as Republicans would generally dominate politics until the 1930 elections. Political scientists such as V.O. Key, Jr. argue that this election was a realigning election, while James Reichley argues against this idea on the basis that the Republican victory in this election merely continued the party's post-Civil War dominance. The election took place in the aftermath of the Panic of 1893, and featured a fierce debate between advocates of bimetallism ("free silver") and supporters of the gold standard.In the Presidential election, Republican former Governor William McKinley of Ohio defeated Democratic former Representative William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska. McKinley took the Republican nomination on the first ballot, while Bryan took the Democratic nomination on the fifth ballot (at age 36, he became youngest presidential nominee of a major party), defeating former Missouri Representative Richard P. Bland and several other candidates. Bryan's Cross of Gold speech, in which he advocated for "free silver," helped deliver him the Democratic nomination, and also attracted the support of the Populist Party and the Silver Republican Party. Though Bryan carried most of the South and the West, McKinley won a comfortable margin in both the electoral college and the popular vote by carrying the Northeast and the Great Lakes region.

Democrats won major gains in the House, but Republicans continued to command a large majority in the chamber. The Populists also won several seats, holding more seats in the House than any third party since the Civil War.In the Senate, the Republicans maintained their plurality, keeping control of the same number of seats. The Democrats lost several seats, while the Silver Republicans established themselves for the first time with five seats. Republican William P. Frye won election as President pro tempore.

Political parties in the United States

Political parties in the United States are mostly dominated by a two-party system consisting of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The United States Constitution has always been silent on the issue of political parties, since at the time it was signed in 1787 there were no parties in the nation.

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