The two party system is a function of our election system. Single member districts and winner take all elections allow for two dominant parties and from time to time local parties that crop up. I have studied the various political parties of the United States, but not in great detail. The major ones are easy enough to Identify. The Federalists and Anti-Federalists under the Washington Administration. The Anti-Federalists morphed into the Republicans under Thomas Jefferson (Historians call them Democratic-Republicans to distinguish them from the 1854 Republicans). These two parties fought each other back and forth until the war of 1812 happened and the Federalists began to disintegrate. Under James Monroe there really was only the Republican party and it began to absorb some of the national goals of the old Federalists. As I have discussed in previous posts the nature of politics changed around this time and the National Republicans split into 2 parties. Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren set up the Democratic party in the 1820s after the fiasco election of 1824. John Quincy Adams lost the popular and electoral college vote, but since none of the four men who ran got a majority, the congress picked the winner. Jackson started a new party to protest. The rump Republicans re-branded themselves the Whigs and lasted until the 1850s.
The first observation I point to is how Van Buren organized the new Democratic party. He created a very loyal machine like system. Party bosses, spoil systems, The machine was key. I do not yet have enough information to know how the Whigs themselves were organized but famous organizations like Tammany Hall in New York City are what I look to when I say Machines. They ran social programs to help the poor, and get out the vote. By get out the vote, they would beg, borrow, or steal voters and get them to as many polling places as possible.
Ultimately Slavery would split the country and destroy the Whigs. Between the 1830s and 1860 the conflicting forces of “Slavery is a good thing” and “Slavery is an abomination” would work to replace and erase the idea of “Slavery is a horrible thing but we have no other way of doing business”. Radical southerners who embraced slavery as a glorious thing following the likes of John C Calhoun would fight to the death to defend their Peculiar Institution. William Lloyd Garrison and Fredrick Douglas would spear head abolition activities in the north. (From what I have gathered Garrison was far more radical about his abolition than Douglas who had actually endured slavery and survived his escape attempt.) These two forces would split the country and because there was no major anti slavery or pro slave containment party, the electorate found the two choices nearly indistinguishable.
By the 1850s several groups of Free labor (that is not against slavery, just against slave labor competing with them), Free soil, and abolitionist parties formed the Republican Party. They picked up a lot of northern Whigs and Some anti slavery democrats and in 1854 nominated John C Frémont for president. Buchanan won the job (side note, first known gay president). By 1860 the party had grown stronger and Abe Lincoln ran. Because the northern and Southern democrats each ran their own man, they split the ticket and Lincoln was able to pick up the win. Thus came the civil war and subject for a different post.
After Lincoln, no democrat would be elected until 1884, and after cleveland who was also elected in 1892 (only non contiguous 2 term presidental office holder) no democrat would be elected until 1912 (when the republicans this time split the ticket).
What I noticed about men like Grant and TR, is that they are huge facemen, they are character people, they are leaders. People flocked to their ideas and words. I noticed that very few Democrats were like that, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Clinton, Obama (Which suggests a strong shift in the later 20th century.)
The democrat party as of late has been about the Machine. Hillary ran in 2008 and the politicals said “it was her turn” yet Obama upset her and annexed the machine to his own ends. What I mean by Machine is this: In the republican primaries as of late (the last 20 years) a bunch of people run and tear each other apart by airing all the dirty laundry and who ever wins faces a democrat opponent (who did the same thing) but the main stream media never repeats the democrat dirty laundry list, yet will say smugly that the republican cant possibly win if they had that much problem with their own primary. Clinton and Obama fought a long and savage race in 2008, and after Obama climbed to victory, bloody, beaten, and bruised it was never spoken of again. The democrats aligned lock step behind him, even feminists and radical anti male democrats.
The republicans never recovered from their 2008 or 2012 primary seasons. All kinds of gaffes were recorded and expounded over and over again by not only their democrat party foes but by their republican party members.
This leads me to conclude that democrats care more about the success of their party and republicans care more about the success of their ideas. The greatest example would be in 2012 when many republican voters failed to vote for Romney. The republicans took the house in 2012 showing a geographic majority, yet Obama won the white house, showing that the geographic majority didn’t like Romney enough to vote for him. The party lost the president because the partisans in the party couldn’t look past Romney’s liberalism. They couldn’t hold their nose and vote for him, like the democrats could for Obama.
This is the key difference between the two parties as far as their base goes.