A remarkable thing about early American history is that the government was already somewhat divided into “parties”. I’ll call the first the party of Washington and Hamilton, and I’ll call the second the party of Jefferson and Jackson.
After the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton, as George Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, established the financial machinery that helped America climb out of debt and return to a state of economic competitiveness. Hamilton also thought that America’s future depended on manufacturing and industry, and he worked to ensure that industry thrived.
Washington’s successor, John Adams appointed John Marshall as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Through his Court’s decisions, Marshall laid the legal foundation for the growth of industry and manufacturing in America.
Several prominent anti-federalist politicians, chief among them Thomas Jefferson, distrusted these new “monied interests”. Jefferson thought that real value was only produced by working the land. He was also against the establishment of a central bank. Later, Andrew Jackson (Old Hickory as he was called by his admirers) would be far more distrustful than Jefferson, and even reactionary. In fact, Jackson helped bring about the financial collapse by letting the charter of the Second Bank of the United States expire.
This battle of the monied interests versus agriculture was also prominent in the lead up to the Civil War. The South remained mostly agricultural while the North diversified into many areas of heavy industry.
Today, the major players are different – Labor plays the part of agriculture, while Wall Street plays the part of the monied interests. But the same divide that pitted Jeffersonians against Hamiltonians is certainly recognizable between the parties – let’s call the first the party of Coolidge and Reagan, and the second the party of Roosevelt, Johnson, and Obama.