In 1796, George Washington passed the mantle of American democracy on to the American people with a warning. In his farewell address, he warned Americans to be cautious about “the expedients of party.” He likened the loyalty to party (rather than nation) as “a frightful despotism.” Washington’s warning drew from his observation of human nature as naturally prone to factionalism that, once set in motion, can cause citizens to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other factions and to compel fellow citizens to view each other as enemies.

Washington’s warnings, however, did not prevent political parties from rapidly establishing themselves as a central element of American democracy. One main reason for this is that it is simply easier for citizens to make electoral choices when ...

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