Legislation, Presidential & Congressional Politics/History conservitive and liberal


describe the European origins of American conservative and liberal ideologies. Then, explain how these two American ideologies have evolved from their European origins, and the key features of each American ideology today. Do “Tea Party” beliefs neatly fit in a conservative ideology?

Hi Kayla,

From a political science definition of terms, a liberal is typically someone who wants to speed up the pace of change while a conservative wants to slow it down.  Add to that Radicals who want to change societal order quickly and right away (i.e. faster than liberals) and reactionaries, who want to move societal norms backward to an earlier time (i.e. less interested in change than even conservatives).  In Europe, before the American Revolution, conservatives supported royal governments controlled by Kings.  Reactionaries wanted to give the King even more power and less to Parliament.  Liberals wanted to reduce the roles of Kings and give more power to an elected Parliament.  Radicals wanted to overthrow the King and create a whole new government.

Americans tended to support the liberal wing of government in Britain.  However, when Parliament sought to tax the colonies, they turned to the King to provide protection.  When that failed, they adopted the radical position of overthrowing British rule entirely.

In the 20th Century, liberal and conservatives were largely divided on the size and role of government.  This was argued in both Europe and America.  Progressives (i.e. liberals) wanted to see the government get involved in a whole range of economic issues while conservatives thought that government should remain small and focus on a limited number of issues.  Liberals largely won the debate in that when they were in power and pushed for major change (such as during the New Deal of FDR or Great Society of LBJ) these changes remained in place even when voters had conservatives in office to slow up the rate of change.

The Tea Party is a popular protest movement but really does not have a single position that is easily pinned down.  In general, the movement seems to support smaller government, less involvement in economic or social welfare issues, lower taxes, and a need to balance the budget.  It could be argued that this is a reactionary movement to take government back to its traditional 19th Century roles.  One could also argue it is a liberal movement since it seeks to have fast and substantial changes in the way government works.  Of course, Tea Party members would not likely characterize themselves as "liberals" since that term has come to mean support for the 20th Century New Deal and Great Society social welfare institutions that take up most of the Government's budget today.  To the extent the Tea Party is trying simply to prevent expansion of the welfare state or the addition of new or increased government benefits, it could be defined as conservative.

I hope this helps!
- Mike  

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Michael Troy


I can answer just about any question about U.S. Political history, Constitutional law, the legislative process, elections, etc. I enjoy Presidential and Congressional historical trivia, but can answer more substantive questions too.


Former Staff member for a Congressman and Senator. I also worked on about 10 Congressional and Presidential campaigns (only one that won). For a short time, I worked in the legal department of the Federal Election Commission.    I have a B.A. in Political Science.

Former LBJ Fellow (paid fellowship for Congressional Staff).
Pi Sigma Alpha (Political Science Honorary Society).

Washington Post
Washington Times

J.D. University of Michigan
B.A. George Washington University (Poli. Sci. major).

Awards and Honors
LBJ Fellow
Truman Scholar

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