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Is America Ready for a Three Party System?

Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

The unsung 1824 Bicentennial is fast upon us. Soon it will be only a year away. The year has been a personal favorite of mine. It has been the subject of blogs since 2016.

The year marks the transition from the First Party System to the Second Party System. It was the end of the Virginian-dominated American Revolution era and start of the Jacksonian dominated one. The Federalists and the Republicans were out and the Whigs and Democrats would be in. The new system would last until the demise of the Whigs and the emergence of the Republicans under Lincoln. It also was a time of Senate giants like Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster.

Putting aside all the talk about the Civil War today, the squabbling over the Speaker position in the House of Representatives suggests we may be in for a de facto three party system in the next session of Congress.


America is not designed for a three-party system. In Europe and Israel, multiple parties are par for the course. After every election, the jockeying for power begins by the various parties. Which one can form majority? That is not the American way where the two-party system is sacred.

Until now. Right now the House of Representatives beginning in January is divided into three groups:

213 Democrats
182 Republicans
40  Freedom Party.

No one of the groups has the magic 218 votes needed to form a majority and elect a speaker. There has been talk of multiple ballots in an unprecedented situation. Perhaps Kevin McCarthy will deal for the position he has coveted. Perhaps he will drop out when he realizes he cannot win and a host of new candidates will emerge. Perhaps cross-party deals will be made. We are in uncharted waters.


Suppose McCarthy wins, then what? Even if he can cobble together a winning coalition with 4 votes to spare, that will not be the end of his problems in holding together the Republicans and the Freedom Party.

Every subsequent vote will be a battle for him. There already is a 21 member faction that has openly expressed its displeasure with the Freedom Party shenanigans and its extreme agenda. Many Republicans ran on a platform of getting things done including reaching across the aisle. If you were elected in 2022 from a Congressional District that Joe Biden won in 2020, you don’t want to face the voters in 2024 with nothing to show except you shut down the government.

Consider the issues important to the voters as identified in surveys versus the ones propounded by the Freedom Party. Voters are concerned about jobs, inflation, the economy and the threat to democracy. By contrast the Freedom Party agenda consists of:

Relitigating the 2020 election
Investigating Hunter Biden
Investigating the House Select Committee
Impeaching Joe Biden.

None of these issues are on the radar of the Real Republicans. So if McCarthy does win the speaker vote, he is still going to have to deal with the agenda of Freedom Party which has limited support beyond its own Party. On the other hand, there will be plenty of real Republicans ready to deal with the issues Americans actually care about and willing to vote in a bipartisan manner. McCarthy will be walking a land mine field each and every vote.


Simultaneously, McCarthy is going to be forced to deal with the legal challenges to members of the Freedom Party. The House Select Committee may refer ethic charges be filed against the Representatives who did not comply its subpoenas. It may request the current House in its last few days ask the Department of Justice to pursue indictments against the January 6 conspirators who have refused to testify. The various options and scenarios still are to be played out. Suffice it to say some of the most vocal people in the Freedom Party are likely to be questioned by the DOJ at some point in the future about their role in the insurrection.

There is a human element in the insurrection that so far has been overlooked. The President of the United States was supposed to arrive at the Capitol Building and lead his followers both armed and unarmed into the House chambers. When Steve Bannon broadcasted to his listeners to strap in because what was going happen was not what they expected, he knew what had been decided. Roger Stone knew what had been decided in the War Room. Some Congressional Representatives knew what had been decided in the War Room, too. None of them have testified to the DOJ so far.

This means at some point the plan did not go as expected. The Secret Service declined to drive to the Capitol. No matter how vigorously the President objected, they returned to the White House and did not succumb to his wishes.

The question then to be asked is when did the co-conspirators in the House chambers realize the plan had failed and what did they do then? According to the War Room plans, the President of the United States was to lead his people into Chambers and intimidate the Vice President into disqualifying the vote of the states with the fake electors. The President was to force a delay in the certification until all the disputed votes could be resolved.

Instead there was a leaderless mob roaming the halls and offices of Congress seeking to hang Nancy Pelosi. That was not part of the War Room plan. The result of the collapse of the plan due to the failure of the President to lead his people into the House chambers was that the members of Congress had to scramble for their lives. Run Josh Run!

We have yet to hear the testimony what the War Room plan known to Steve Bannon was or how the congressional co-conspirators learned that it had failed and they were on their own now.  So while Jim Jordan may initiate an investigation of the House Select Committee, he and the other congressional co-conspirators (and Mark Meadows among others) will be called to testify about their own role in the January 6 insurrection. This is why Mar-a-Largogate will be prosecuted first. It is a more straightforward case whereas there still are many people to be subpoenaed by the DOJ before the full story is known.


In the meantime, the chief conspirator will be giving his rather astonishing marching orders to the new Speaker.

So now it comes out, conclusively, that the FBI BURIED THE HUNTER BIDEN LAPTOP STORY BEFORE THE ELECTION knowing that, if they didn’t, “Trump would have easily won the 2020 Presidential Election.” This is massive FRAUD & ELECTION INTERFERENCE at a level never seen before in our Country. Remedy: Declare the rightful winner or, this would be the minimal solution, declare the 2020 Election irreparably compromised and have a new Election, immediately! (8/29/22)

Do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections! (12/3/22)

While McCarthy is trying to bring order to his unruly House, the Loser will be continually fanning flames. Besides his partnering with anti-Semitic racists, he is continuing to up the stakes. The immature child with the emotional maturity of a three-year old has elevated his ranting and ravings to new levels. The person who has shown no loyalty to the Constitution when it prevented him from playing his game of “I am the President. Your loyalty is to me,” has called for the scrapping of the very document he swore to uphold.

Despite all the machinations of Pillow Head and Séance Sidney, he was not restored to the White House in 2021 nor is he going to be in 2022. He may even have doubts about 2024 now. Why he thinks a do-over election would be favorable to him is a mystery given the results of the recent election. Or in lieu of a new election, who is going to throw out the results of the 2020 election as he tried to do January 6 and declare him the winner? Is that what he expected the Vice President to do on January 6? Will he so testify under oath to the DOJ? Does he expect the new Speaker do so now?

Team Normal Republicans did not run on an agenda of overthrowing the Constitution. Even the Freedom Party pledges loyalty to it provided it is interpreted correctly. Meanwhile the Loser will ratchet up the expectations of what he wants his Speaker to do. He will do so secure in the belief that his base will never abandon him and is of sufficient size to prevent anyone else from grabbing the nomination. The more desperate he becomes, the far-fetched his texts will become and the more Speaker McCarthy will have to walk a fine line. As of this writing he remains silent about the head of his Party calling for the overthrow of the Constitution. Democrats are sure to ask him where he stands on this issue. In other words, even if McCarthy wins the battle to become Speaker, his problems are only just beginning.

The Presidential Election of 1824: Lessons for Today

Look How Much We Have Progressed!

This post is the second on the SHEAR conference July 21-24, 2016, in New Haven, on the weekend sessions I was able to attend. The first post was on

The Public and the Early Republic

The Year without Summer (1816)

and generated the following two important responses:

Marla Miller (panelist and co-author Imperiled Promise): Thanks for this coverage of the session! Readers interested in learning more about Imperiled Promise and the reception of its various observations and recommendations should watch for the upcoming special issue of The Public Historian, which will include an essay by me and Anne Whisnant on that complex subject.

Rick Shenkman (Publisher, History News Network): Thanks Peter! I read the three reports on SHEAR and the NPS and learned from them.

The subject of this post is 1824 RECONSIDERED: A ROUNDTABLE ON DONALD RATCLIFFE, THE ONE-PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST: ADAMS, JACKSON AND 1824’S FIVE-HORSE RACE. The final post(s) will be on the  slavery sessions, one that was part of the original program and the one that was added at the conclusion of the conference.

Donald Ratcliffe, University of Oxford

Ratcliffe opened the session about his book by declaring that the election in 1824 evolved from a beauty contest to one of fractious competition. He cited the impact of the Missouri Compromise, the New England and Southern support for the maintenance of existing tariff connections, and ethnic conflicts as contributing factors.

Ratcliffe sought to correct the images of John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He is interested in who they were at the time of the election and not who they became in the popular mind after each of their presidencies. Jackson was portrayed as a national hero who could restore the glory of the country [Make America Great Again?] He was a Scotch-Irish American who gave a bloody nose to the English in New Orleans [this suggests that the technicality of a treaty already having ended the war was irrelevant to America’s reaction and thus New York’s victorious Battle of Plattsburg on 9/11 has been diminished ever since!].

Jackson didn’t initiate a democratic transformation. It was already underway at least for adult white males.

Ratcliffe questioned the traditional perceptions that Jackson won the popular vote and that the election was stolen from him in the House of Representatives. He contrasted the vote totals in the 18 states with popularly-elected electors and the 6 states with state-elected electors. New York with approximately 1/7 of the national population was an election powerhouse. It voted about 40% for Adams and nearly 0% for Jackson.

For Ratcliffe, Adams was the candidate with a more national appeal who supported national projects or internal improvements. The absence of political parties in the Constitution contributed to the breakdown of the two-party system in 1824. In that sense, an election of involving numerous candidates as played out in 1824 independent of the two-party system was more reflective of the way elections were supposed to be conducted as envisioned by the Constitutional framers.

His opening comments in the session were not intended as a detailed review of his book but as means of setting the stage for the four remaining presentations.

Thomas Coens, University of Tennessee

Coens was in general agreement with Ratcliffe [which caused no surprise in the audience].  The voting totals in the 1824 election were suspect if not outright invalid. Jackson’s plurality in vote totals was an invalid myth. Adams was the winner and the candidate with a national appeal.

Coens honed in on the issue of democratization. He saw unprecedented interest in a presidential election in 1824. Coens cited democratic methods operating since the 1790s with public meetings and delegate convention techniques. Their proliferation now was not their initiation. They did cause more interest as people embraced the idea of deciding for themselves.

Sharon Ann Murphy, Providence College

Murphy identified herself as not being a political historian. I guess based on the op-ed piece in the New York Times “The End of Political History?” by Frederick Logevall and Kenneth Osgood (8/29/16), she represents the wave of the present. The future for political sessions like this one in SHEAR is an interesting topic of discussion in its own right.

On the subject at hand, Murphy’s objection was that the book didn’t focus on the personalities of the candidates. She opined that they do matter contrary to the book.

Murphy wondered what would have happened if DeWitt Clinton of New York had become involved in the presidential race.

She agreed that Adams really did win more votes and that there was no corrupt bargain in the House to throw the election to him. However those facts does not mean the metanarrative was wrong. Did the people believe that is what happened? Was Jackson able to leverage the false view of his defeat in the election of 1824 into victory in 1828? Did the memory of the 1824 election haunt Clay for the remainder of his career as a permanent stain? The story of 1824 can’t be limited to the results of 1824 alone since it was part of the continuing story.

Note: She didn’t mention if she thought Jackson knew the popular image of the 1824 election was false and just exploited it to his own advantage or whether he really believed it as well.

Jeffrey L. Pasley, University of Missouri

Pasley suggested that the election of 1796 set up subsequent election of 1824. Both involved John Adamses and both winners were one-term presidents. Both Adams were succeeded by two-term presidents of greater renown in Jefferson and Jackson. Both Adams blamed others for their fates. He echoed Ratcliffe’s view that the 1796 and 1824 elections worked the way the founders established the presidential election system to be but that both produced weak presidents.

The Florida conquest was popular nationally. It reflected well on Adams, Monroe, and Jackson but not Clay who opposed it.

Pasley thought the accuracy (or lack of) for local results might have obscured the national story. Politics are not only local. He reminded everyone during this presidential election year that analyzing CNN appearances of candidates is insufficient to predict results.

He asked why the coverup story was so readily accepted. He posed the choice of the discovery of the road not taken in contrast to the realization that it is a dead end.

Harry L. Watson, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Watson noted the convergence of positions by the panelists. He stated that political parties had little structural organization at the time of the election. There had been an increase in voting during the 1820s already. He wondered how Adams gained national support and observed the enduring significance of popular loyalties.

Ratcliffe Response

He stated that he never claimed that Adams was the popular choice…nor was Jackson. There were too many candidates. Popular meetings were not limited to either the 1824 election or to Jackson. Adams held one in Ohio.

Panel Exchange

Pasley: People didn’t like the electoral process of 1824 even though it was constitutional. The process hadn’t been an issue when there effectively was only one choice as with the elections of George Washington. In effect, there was a cultural redefinition of the Constitution.

Ratcliffe: Jackson’s denunciation of the stolen election was intended to appeal to new voters in 1828. He wondered why New England even supported Adams since it hated him. He noted the migration of New Englanders to New York and Ohio and the resulting conflict with settlers from South in Ohio. He claimed Adams would have won Illinois if the vote was on a statewide basis instead of a district one. Jackson won two of three districts but they were the small one whereas Adams won the big district.

Coens: This election was the tipping point for democratization.

Ratcliffe: Jackson was seen as a military person and not a politician. He was the hero who would restore the glory of America. [One might add the widely-successful triumphal tour of American Revolution hero Lafayette in 1824and the abundance of places named after him.]

In the Q&A portion, questions/comments were made about

  1. The need to not think backwards from 1828 to understand 1824.
  2. Van Buren’s letter to create a new Democratic Party with no slavery.
  3. Voters who stayed home in anticipation of the failure of the Electoral College.

I inquired about the role of religion in the 1824 election, in particular the impact of the rise of Methodism outside coastal New England and Southern communities.

I also asked what SHEAR’s plans were to commemorate the bi-centennial of the election of 1824 given the disarray/collapse of the current two-party system.

Returning to the op-ed piece on the end of political, diplomatic, and military history in favor of identity history, I wonder how many sessions at SHEAR are devoted to the dinosaur subjects of dead (or retired) white men. Perhaps in the future there will be no need for a panelist like Murphy to begin a presentation by announcing that she is not a political historian since the issue will be moot. For that matter, the very existence of history conferences themselves may be at stake. Since the SHEAR conference, there was an article in the current issue of Perspectives on History by Julia Brookins entitled “Survey Finds Fewer Students Enrolling in College History Courses.” The article was the latest in a series of articles over the past few years chronicling the downwards spiral of history in academia. I refer readers to a humorous op-ed piece in Sunday Review section of the NYT on September 4 entitled “A Back to School Education.” A father bewails the situation with his soon-to-reach-college-age daughter:

To make things worse, last week she wanted to be a historian. At first I laughed, but when I realized she was serious, I was furious. “History?! You must be joking. What exactly are you going to do with that? Write a thesis about unemployed historians in the 18th century? Is that what I ‘m doing all this for?”

Maybe for the bicentennial of 1824 we should have a presidential election where candidates are entitled to their own facts and a public that doesn’t know better or how to think. Come to think of it, why wait?