Splintered Parties: A History of Political Factions

BackStory

Factions

Rival factions of the Democratic Party tussle over President Martin Van Buren. Lithograph, 1837. Library of Congress.

The recent government shutdown highlighted the intense conflict between political parties today, but it also showed how critical conflict within them can be too. With Tea Party Republicans squaring off against some within their own party, the shutdown offered a reminder of the powerful role that party factions can play, and have often played in American history. Disagreements within parties have shifted the terms of debate, forced new agendas onto the political stage, even birthed new parties altogether.

So in this episode of BackStory, Peter, Ed, and Brian peer inside our political parties and explore some of the influential factions that have left a mark on the American political landscape – from the Radical Republicans after the Civil War, to the Dixiecrats after World War II. Plus, they look back to the early Republic and a time before the formation of party organizations, when “faction” was the only game in town.

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