Political factions have existed in democratic societies since ancient times. Plato writes in his Republic on the formation of political cliques in Classical Athens, and the tendency of Athenian citizens to vote according to factional loyalty rather than for the public good. In the Roman Republic, Polybius coined the term ochlocracy (literally, 'rule of the mob') to describe the tendency of politicians to mobilise popular factionalist sentiment against their political rivals. Factional politics remained a part of Roman political life through the Imperial period and beyond, and the poet Juvenal coined the phrase "bread and circuses" to describe the political class pandering to the citizenry through diversionary entertainments rather than through arguments about policy. "Bread and circuses" survived as part of Byzantine political life - for example, the Nika revolt during the reign of Justinian was a riot between the "Blues" and the "Greens" -- two chariot racing factions at the Hippodrome, who received patronage from different Senatorial factions and religious sects. The patricians who sponsored the Blues and the Greens competed with each other to hold ever grander games and public entertainments during electoral campaigns, in order to appeal to the citizenry of Constantinople.
The first modern political factions, however, can be said to have originated in early modern Britain. The first political factions, cohering around a basic, if fluid, set of principles, emerged from the Exclusion Crisis and Glorious Revolution in late 17th century England. The Whigs supported Protestant constitutional monarchy against absolute rule; the Tories, originating in the Royalist (or "Cavalier") faction of the English Civil War, were conservative royalist supporters of a strong monarchy as a counterbalance to the republican tendencies of Whigs, who were the dominant political faction for most of the first half of the 18th century; the Whigs supported the Hanoverian succession of 1715 against the Jacobite supporters of the deposed Roman Catholic Stuart dynasty, and were able to purge Tory politicians from important government positions after the failed Jacobite rising of 1715. The leader of the Whigs was Robert Walpole, who maintained control of the government in the period 1721–1742; his protégé was Henry Pelham (1743–1754).
As the century wore on, the factions slowly began to adopt more coherent political tendencies as the interests of their power bases began to diverge. The Whig party's initial base of support from the great aristocratic families widened to include the emerging industrial interests and wealthy merchants. As well as championing constitutional monarchy with strict limits on the monarch's power, the Whigs adamantly opposed a Catholic king as a threat to liberty, and believed in extending toleration to nonconformist Protestants, or dissenters. A major influence on the Whigs were the liberal political ideas of John Locke, and the concepts of universal rights employed by Locke and Algernon Sidney.
Although the Tories were out of office for half a century, for most of this period (at first under the leadership of Sir William Wyndham) the Tories retained party cohesion, with occasional hopes of regaining office, particularly at the accession of George II (1727) and the downfall of the ministry of Sir Robert Walpole in 1742. They acted as a united, though unavailing, opposition to Whig corruption and scandals. At times they cooperated with the "Opposition Whigs", Whigs who were in opposition to the Whig government; however, the ideological gap between the Tories and the Opposition Whigs prevented them from coalescing as a single party. They finally regained power with the accession of George III in 1760 under Lord Bute.
When they lost power, the old Whig leadership dissolved into a decade of factional chaos with distinct "Grenvillite", "Bedfordite", "Rockinghamite", and "Chathamite" factions successively in power, and all referring to themselves as "Whigs". Out of this chaos, the first distinctive parties emerged. The first such party was the Rockingham Whigs under the leadership of Charles Watson-Wentworth and the intellectual guidance of the political philosopher Edmund Burke. Burke laid out a philosophy that described the basic framework of the political party as "a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed". As opposed to the instability of the earlier factions, which were often tied to a particular leader and could disintegrate if removed from power, the party was centred around a set of core principles and remained out of power as a united opposition to government.
In A Block for the Wigs
(1783), James Gillray
caricatured Fox's return to power in a coalition with North. George III is the blockhead in the centre.
A coalition including the Rockingham Whigs, led by the Earl of Shelburne, took power in 1782, only to collapse after Rockingham's death. The new government, led by the radical politician Charles James Fox in coalition with Lord North, was soon brought down and replaced by William Pitt the Younger in 1783. It was now that a genuine two-party system began to emerge, with Pitt leading the new Tories against a reconstituted "Whig" party led by Fox.
By the time of this split the Whig party was increasingly influenced by the ideas of Adam Smith, founder of classical liberalism. As Wilson and Reill (2004) note, "Adam Smith's theory melded nicely with the liberal political stance of the Whig Party and its middle-class constituents."
The modern Conservative Party was created out of the 'Pittite' Tories of the early 19th century. In the late 1820s disputes over political reform broke up this grouping. A government led by the Duke of Wellington collapsed amidst dire election results. Following this disaster Robert Peel set about assembling a new coalition of forces. Peel issued the Tamworth Manifesto in 1834 which set out the basic principles of Conservatism – the necessity in specific cases of reform in order to survive, but an opposition to unnecessary change, that could lead to "a perpetual vortex of agitation". Meanwhile, the Whigs, along with free trade Tory followers of Robert Peel, and independent Radicals, formed the Liberal Party under Lord Palmerston in 1859, and transformed into a party of the growing urban middle-class, under the long leadership of William Ewart Gladstone.
In United States
Although the framers of the 1787 United States Constitution did not anticipate that American political discourse would become partisan, political controversies in the early 1790s over the extent of federal government powers saw the emergence of two proto-political parties: the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party, which were championed by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, respectively. However, a consensus reached on these issues ended party politics in 1816 for nearly a decade, a period commonly known as the Era of Good Feelings.
The splintering of the Democratic-Republican Party in the aftermath of the contentious 1824 presidential election led to the re-emergence of political parties. Two major parties would dominate the political landscape for the next quarter-century: the Democratic Party, led by Andrew Jackson, and the Whig Party, established by Henry Clay from the National Republicans and from other Anti-Jackson groups. When the Whig Party fell apart in the mid-1850s, its position as a major U.S. political party was filled by the Republican Party.
The second half of the 19th century saw the adoption of the party model of politics across Europe. In Germany, France, Austria and elsewhere, the 1848 Revolutions sparked a wave of liberal sentiment and the formation of representative bodies and political parties. The end of the century saw the formation of large socialist parties in Europe, some conforming to the teaching of Karl Marx, others adapting social democracy through the use of reformist and gradualist methods.
At the same time, the political party reached its modern form, with a membership disciplined through the use of a party whip and the implementation of efficient structures of control. The Home Rule League Party, campaigning for Home Rule for Ireland in the British Parliament was fundamentally changed by the great Irish political leader Charles Stewart Parnell in the 1880s. In 1882, he changed his party's name to the Irish Parliamentary Party and created a well-organized grass roots structure, introducing membership to replace "ad hoc" informal groupings. He created a new selection procedure to ensure the professional selection of party candidates committed to taking their seats, and in 1884 he imposed a firm 'party pledge' which obliged MPs to vote as a bloc in parliament on all occasions. The creation of a strict party whip and a formal party structure was unique at the time. His party's efficient structure and control contrasted with the loose rules and flexible informality found in the main British parties; they soon came to model themselves on the Parnellite model.