Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Switch in Time . . .

Arlen Specter made headlines last week when he switched political parties, leaving the Republican Party to become a Democrat. This is not the first time a high profile politician has switched parties;it probably won’t be the last. Ronald Reagan went from a Democrat to a Republican, famously saying “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, it left me.” Strom Thurmond, Michael Bloomberg, and Condoleezza Rice all left the Democratic Party to join the Republicans. Your students may also be surprised to learn Hillary Clinton was once a Republican, before joining the Democratic Party in college. You can have your students discuss why someone may switch political parties – was it because their own beliefs changed or because the ideals of the party shifted? It may be helpful for them to take a closer look at the previously mentioned examples.

This can also be a great time to discuss with students the role political parties have played in our country’s history. When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution in 1787, they didn’t want political parties at all. This can be seen in Article II section I, (paragraph 3) of the constitution. In elections, who ever recieved the most electoral votes became President, and the person who got the second most votes became Vice President, regardless of political parties. The first political parties formed in 1789, with the inception of the Federalist Party. This caused a problem in the election of 1796, when John Adams (a Federalist) was elected President, and Thomas Jefferson (A democratic Republican) became Vice President. The two clashed on their differing political philosophies, and after the election of 1800, in which Thomas Jefferson became President, the 12th amendment was passed. Have students read the 12th amendment and discuss how this changed history.

The National Constitution Center also provides a lesson plan on Political Parties, found here, which maybe helpful.

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