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The Viable Third Party in American Politics

by John David Poole II

Many current day political theorists would have you believe that it is impossible for a third party to gain the popularity to obtain its goals; however, that is not the truth. Through out history third parties have obtained their goals, if not by winning the offices that they campaign for, then by forcing one of the two major parties to adopt its platform. Therefore a third party in American politics is a viable choice.

In the beginning the founding fathers envisioned a nation without the influence of political parties, but early in Washington's administration the cabinet began to split over the influence of two very strong political forces, those being Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. After the Washington Administration the nation found itself with the influence of the first political parties, the Republican-Democratic Party led by Thomas Jefferson, and the Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton. Up until the nation began to extend west these two parties dominated the political scene. However, once the nation began admitting new states, and the vote was given to more people they began to see a trend, that being a majority of the nations leaders where Mason's and that gave rise to America's first third party. The Anti-Masonic Party began in 1826, but did not have a presidential candidate until 1832 in the form of William Wirt. Although the Anti-Masons did not win the election, they did obtain their goals of less Masonic control, by forcing the Masonic membership to go from over one hundred thousand members to approximately forty thousand.

Until 1850 the Democratic Party and the Whig Party, both parties that had originated from the Republican-Democratic Party, had dominated the political scene. Once again leaving the nation with only two choices, but in the 1856 presidential election a new third party was growing in popularity, so well liked was this party that their first presidential candidate John C. Fremont, had gained 114 of the 292 electoral votes needed to win the election, this gave rise to a new major party, a party known as the Republican Party. Although the Republican Party did not win the 1856 election they did gain the popularity to replace one of the two major parties. In the following election the Republicans won the presidential election and thus the first third party president, Abraham Lincoln had been elected.

Since the 1860 election no other third party has won the presidential election, however the third party has still obtained its goals, and came very close in some instances in pulling off a major political upset. In 1912 former President Theodore Roosevelt had seen that the nation had not fulfilled his personal goals for this country, so he decided to run for the office again. Although President Roosevelt's Progressive Party, more commonly known as the Bull Moose Party, had not won the election, it did rank second in votes, and forced the winning party to adopt the Bull Moose platform. Later In 1968 another third party known as the American Party, ran on an tough anti-crime platform with their presidential candidate former Alabama Governor George Wallace, although Governor Wallace had not won the election, his party did obtain its goals by forcing Richard Nixon and the Republican Party to adopt a tougher stand on crime. Even as recent as the 1992 and 1996 elections with Ross Perot, the third party has forced major changes in the political scene by forcing one of the two major political parties to adopt changes in their views on certain issues. As you can see, many of the current political theorists are wrong when disregarding the third party as a viable solution to today's major political parties. Keep in mind, when you go the polls this November to vote, that you are not wasting your vote if you vote for a third party candidate, you are still making a difference.