“If I could not go to heaven but with a party,” Thomas Jefferson wrote to Francis Hopkinson in 1789, “I would not go there at all.” Jefferson’s anti-party sentiments—like those expressed in George Washington’s Farewell Address—are frequently taken by scholars and the public alike as typical of the founding generation.

There is some evidence for their belief. The Constitution makes no mention of political parties. The original presidential selection method, in which votes for president and vice president were not distinguished, was designed for a system without party coordination of voting. This produced a succession of problematic outcomes in 1796, when leaders of opposing parties were chosen as president and vice president, and 1800, when the House of Representatives had to decide the tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.

The Constitution’s silence has led many to conclude the Constitution is “against” parties. In The Framers’ Intentions: The Myth of the Nonpartisan Constitution, Utah State political scientist Robert Ross argues this conclusion is deeply misleading. The founders, after all, engaged in some of the nastiest partisanship in American history. Ross acknowledges that

Subscribe for access This article is reserved for subscribers.