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A Timeline of Third-Party Events

1787: United States Constitution is drafted in Philadelphia, and makes no mention of political parties.

c.1790: Worried that political factions will turn into political parties, George Washington says "Let me warn you, in the most solemn manner, against the baneful effects of the spirit of party."

1800: America's first two political parties are formed. Democratic Republicans rally behind Thomas Jefferson. The Federalists, supporting Alexander Hamilton's ideas, back incumbent president John Adams. Jefferson wins. America now has two parties.

1826: A third party emerges from anti-Mason resentments.

1832: By now, the Federalist Party has withered away. The Democratic Republicans split into two parties, each lining up behind a powerful national figure. The Democrats follow President Andrew Jackson, and the Whigs rally behind Senator Henry Clay. Jackson is re-elected, with William Wirth, the anti-Masonic candidate, capturing 8 percent of the vote.

1840: The anti-Mason party dissolves.

Mid-19th century: The slavery debate cuts across party lines. Both the Democrats and the Whigs face bitter differences within their parties.

1854: Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing those two new states to decide the slavery question for themselves. The slavery debate is ratched up even further.

1854: In the North, anti-slavery activists from all parties begin meeting. The Republican Party is born in Ripon, Wisconsin, on March 20th, following a meeting of Whigs, Free Soilers, and Democrats.

1856: At their first national convention., the new Republican Party nominates Colonel John C. Fremont, a popular California Senator, to be their first presidential candidate. Fremont comes in second in a three-way race. In the space of just two years, the Republicans have replaced a major party, the Whigs.

1860: A four-way presidential race sees Republican Abraham Lincoln face a Northern Democrat, a Southern Democrat and the pro-slavery Constitutional Union Party. Lincoln wins the election with 39.8 percent of the popular vote, the smallest percentage ever to propel a candidate into the White House. For the first and only time, a third party candidate wins the presidential election, establishing the Republican Party as one of America's two main parties.

1890: Power, money, production, and political influence become increasingly concentrated in the Northeast. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are accused of falling under the sway of financiers. Dozens of small parties spring up, each with a program of change, including the Prohibition Party, the Greenback Labor Party, the Union Labor Party, and the Socialist Party, among others.

1892: Farmers angry with the major parties launch their own party, the People's Party, also called the Populists. Their presidential candidate, James P. Weaver, captures 9 percent of the vote.

1896: The Democrats nominate William Jennings Bryan, who steals the issue of "free silver" from the Populists.

c.1900: Between the super rich and the working masses, the middle class feels a sense of alarm, and creates a new political movement, the Progressives.

1901: After Republican President William McKinley is assassinated, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt becomes President.

1904: President Roosevelt becomes an unlikely champion for the Progressives, taking on the great monopolies, regulating the railroads, and establishing safety standards for food, drugs and the workplace.

1908: Roosevelt's vice president and handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, is elected. Under Taft, the rift between conservative and progressive Republicans deepens. Taft sides with the pro-business conservatives

1912: Roosevelt loses an attempt at regaining the Republican presidential nomination to Taft. Within days, he and other progressives form the Bull Moose Party, creating, in a sense, four parties: progressive Democrats, conservative Democrats, stand-pat Republicans, and progressive Republicans. With the Republican and Bull Moose Party splitting the vote, Democrat Woodrow Wilson is elected president with 42 percent. A fourth candidate, Socialist Eugene Debs, gets 6 percent.

1914: Bull Moose candidates run for Congress during the midterm elections, but without Teddy Roosevelt to head a national ticket, they fare poorly.

c.1915: Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party doesn't last, but its message does. Both major parties end up embracing much of the progressive agenda. President Wilson and the Democrats claim the mantle of reform by reorganizing the banking system, lowering tariffs, creating the Department of Labor, and providing federal aid to education and farming.

1932: Franklin Delano Roosevelt wins the White House, riding a Democratic coalition that dominates politics for 16 years.

1948: Two factions within the Democratic Party launch third- and fourth-party bids for the White House. Left-wing Democrats abandon the party to create the Progressive Party, with Henry Wallace as their candidate. Southern Democrats, in a civil rights dispute, form the segregationist States' Rights Party, soon dubbed the Dixiecrats. The Dixiecrats run Strom Thurmond - yes, that Strom Thurmond - for president. Thus, in the election of 1948, three presidential candidates with roots in the Democratic Party face just one Republican, Thomas Dewey. Truman carries the day with 49.6 percent of the popular vote. Dewey gets 45 percent, and Thurmond and Wallace capturing 2.4 percent each. Thurmond carries four Southern states and earns 39 electoral votes. For the first time since 1876, the South does not vote solidly Democratic.

1964: George Wallace enters the Democratic presidential primaries with a message based on segregation, jobs, and crime. His appeal goes beyond the South, as he gets substantial support in non-Southern primaries: 34 percent in Wisconsin, 30 percent in Indiana, and 43 percent in Maryland.

1968: Wallace abandons the Democrats to launch another bid for the presidency with his new American Independent Party. His support peaks at 22 percent a month before the election. Wallace's opponents, Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Republican Richard Nixon, both ask Americans not to waste their vote on a third-party candidate. Emphasizing many of Wallace's themes like *law and order,* Nixon narrowly wins with 43.4 percent, with Humphrey getting 42.7 percent and Wallace 13.5 percent. Many Southerners find a new home in the Republican Party, leaving the Democrats for good.

1980: In reaction to the Republican nomination of conservative Ronald Reagan, liberal Republican John Anderson forms the National Unity Party. He captures 6.6 percent of the popular vote. Ronald Reagan wins with 50.7 percent, while incumbent Democract Jimmy Carter is left with 41 percent.

1992: A new third party movement emerges, this time from the center. Opinion polls show voters disgusted with Washington politics, alienated from the major parties and anxious about an economy going from local to global. Billionaire H. Ross Perot enters the presidential race and out-spends the major party candidates. He is also the first third-party candidate to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the major party candidates in nationally televised debates. Perot garners 19 percent of the popular vote, making him the most successful independent candidate since Theodore Roosevelt. Democrat Bill Clinton wins with 43 percent, defeating Perot and the incumbent, Republican George Bush, who captures 37 percent.

1994: Perot's platform finds its way into the mainstream political dialogue, as evidenced by the Republicans' Contract with America, which calls for term limits, campaign finance reform, lobbying reform, and a balanced budget.

1996: Ross Perot runs again for president, now with a new political party - his organization "United We Stand" is now called the Reform Party, and is entitled to $29 million in federal matching funds. But his support drops to 8 percent.

1998: The Reform Party wins a major victory when former pro-wrestler and actor Jesse Ventura is elected governor of Minnesota - the Reform Party's first statewide victory.

2000: Ventura leaves the fractious Reform Party after it appears that it will nominate former Republican Pat Buchanan for president. But at the August Reform Party convention, supporters of John Hagelin of the Natural Law Party challenge Buchanan's nomination; court battles are likely. Meanwhile, the Green Party nominates longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader for President.

November 7, 2000: Election Day. How will America's Third Parties fare? Both the Green and the Reform Parties are aiming for at least five percent of the vote - enough to qualify them for federal matching funds for the 2004 race, and perhaps establishing them as permanent alternatives to the Democratic and Republican parties.

Questions? Comments? Please email us at thinktank@pbs.org

Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg
the PBS program on ideas

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