“The American two-party system is a creation of the press”

The American two-party system is a creation of the press. “The idea of a party system,” as Richard Hofstadter once pointed out, is an American invention, one that not only tolerates but requires the practice of loyal opposition, political criticism, and organized dissent. It began in 1787, during the debate over the Constitution, a debate waged in ratifying conventions but also, more thrillingly, in the nation’s hundreds of weekly newspapers. Some favored ratification; these became Federalist newspapers. Others, the Anti-Federalist newspapers, opposed it. If it hadn’t been for the all-or-nothing dualism of this choice, the United States might well have a multiparty political culture. But the model held, and the Federalist–Anti-Federalist cleavage, with some adjustments, became the basis of the first party system, which took shape in 1796. It pitted Federalists, who supported the election of John Adams, against the Democratic-Republicans, who supported Thomas Jefferson. In the seventeen-nineties, the number of newspapers, each of them partisan, grew four times as fast as the population. At a time when there were very few national institutions, parties exerted a tremendous, and vital, nationalizing force. Once much maligned as destructive of public life, parties, driven by newspapers, became its machinery. “The engine,” Jefferson said, “is the press.”

Jill Lepore, “The Party Crashers”, The New Yorker (22 February 2016), 24.