Yale Political Union

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Yale Political Union
Yale Political Union.png
Formation 1934
Type Student organization
Purpose to provide Yale with a non-partisan forum for parliamentary debate and to encourage the discussion of matters of public interest by other suitable means.[1]
Website The Yale Political Union

The Yale Political Union (YPU) is a debate society at Yale University, founded in 1934 by Professor Alfred Whitney Griswold. It was modeled on the Cambridge Union Society and Oxford Union. Members of the YPU have reciprocal rights at sister societies in England.[2] The Union has at times been the central forum for political discussion and activism at Yale.


The Union is an umbrella organization that currently contains seven Parties: the Liberal Party (Lib), the Party of the Left (PoL), the Independent Party (IP), the Federalist Party (Fed), the Conservative Party (CP), the Tory Party (Tory), and the Party of the Right (POR).[3][4] These parties are actually independent debating societies that host their own debates and activities apart from Union activities, though members will come together for weekly Union debates. The Parties are traditionally listed in the order above.

In the past, the Political Union has had other Parties, including a Bull Moose Party, a Constitutional Union Party, a Labor Party, and a Progressive Party, but not concurrently. The minimum number of parties has been two, the maximum seven, while four is typical. All parties contribute in their unique way to the Union's character.

Though party size and membership varies greatly over the decades, the Independent Party has consistently been the largest party in the Union for a decade. In recent semesters, the Party of the Left, the Party of the Right, and the Tory Party have each had their turn as the second largest party. The other parties have been comparatively smaller but always met the minimum voting requirement (25 active members).

The Liberal Party[edit]

The Liberal Party is one of the three founding constituent parties of the Yale Political Union. The Liberals don’t use parliamentary procedure or dress up for their weekly discussions.

The Party of the Left[edit]

The Party of the Left (PoL) was formed in the spring of 2006 by a group of left-leaning students who were looking for more formal philosophical debate on the Left of the Union, emphasizing a synthesis of first principles and policy. PoL debates are more formal than Liberal Party discussions, as they are conducted following parliamentary procedure.

The Independent Party[edit]

The Independent Party covers nearly the entire political spectrum, in accordance with its rejection of party platforms and its motto, "Hear All Sides." It is one of the founding parties of the YPU and the oldest continuously existing party in the Union. It has been the largest Party in the Union since 2002. The Party debates policy as well as philosophy and generally adheres to parliamentary procedure.

The Federalist Party[edit]

The Federalist Party is the youngest Party in the Union, founded in 2010. It is a group of conservatives that seeks, according to its charter, "to resist the errors of the age and to promote...the tempering of taste, the ennoblement of custom, the correction of judgment, the cultivation of virtue, and the perfection of friendship." It is particularly interested in understanding the institutions—social, economic, religious, and political—essential to preserving the United States.

The Conservative Party[edit]

The Conservative Party is dedicated to the production of principled and profound thought leaders. It recognizes the rights and privileges of members and officers of the Conservative Party prior to 1977, though no party by its name existed from 1977 to 1996, when the contemporary Conservative Party was founded. It considers ideas important and logic, practicality, and pragmatism essential. It seeks guidance from the lessons of history, especially from our Western civilization, and aims to make its own debates and discussions an intellectually enriching experience for all.

The Tory Party[edit]

The Tory Party calls itself the party of "reasoned conservatism" at Yale. The Party was founded in 1969 and is known for its thriving alumni network, a strong tendency towards a British aesthetic, and a fondness for speeches delivered with wit and levity.

The Party of the Right[edit]

The Party of the Right was founded in 1953 by Union members who felt that there was then no true voice of conservatism in the Union. Its members are usually split along the traditional conservative lines of libertarians and traditionalists. They tend to devote themselves to politics, philosophy, and debate instead of mere policy positions. The Party of the Right is notorious for its unabashed elitism, strong sense of tradition and transgressive sense of humor.


Founded in 1934, the Yale Political Union originally had three parties: the Liberal Party, the Radical Party (reorganized as the Labor Party in 1937 - now defunct), and the Conservative Party. It has seen the rise and fall of many others since. Over the years, the Union has played a key role on Yale's campus. Like most organizations, it has had periods of flourishing, as well as less prosperous spells. Once the only organization devoted to political debate on campus, it remains a unique and high-quality forum for oratory and political dialogue.[3]

All sides agree that the Union is not as influential as it once was. Members note that this is the result of several factors. Many believe that it is simply one of the effects of Yale's metamorphosis from Old Yale into the vibrant modern Yale of the 21st century, which has notably included the rise of activism on campus. Eventually, Union debate came to be a combination of a keynote speaker and ensuing student speeches. This push and pull between outside speakers and student debate has characterized the Union for at least thirty years.

The YPU regained strength throughout the 1970s, during which period the Liberal Party was by far the largest, but then it suffered a severe blow shortly after A. Bartlett Giamatti became the Yale President. Giamatti, violating numerous agreements and covenants established with the Union, "repurposed" the YPU building/debate hall. Today, it is used for office space and storage.[5]

After several years of rebuilding, the Union recovered its numerical strength. This recovery moved into rapid gear during Spring term of 1984 (under the presidency of Fareed Zakaria) when membership tripled to 900 during a term highlighted by a nationally televised debate. By the end of 1986, active membership rolls comprised over 1200 members, nearly 1/4 of the entire student body at Yale, and the YPU successfully launched a Model Congress, a magazine, an annual three-day visit to Washington DC (for meetings with Cabinet Members, Supreme Court Justices, IMF and World Bank heads, foreign Ambassadors and even the Director of the National Gallery of Art), and an on-topic debate team (which sent two union members overseas to the world debate championships). Then, the one-vote failure of an attempt to acquire the much financially stronger Yale International Relations (Model UN) program at Yale in Spring 1987 (which would have made for a political powerhouse on campus), and the earlier 1980's loss of the YPU's dedicated facilities slowed momentum, and membership declined after a poor recruit in the fall of 1988.

In the early 1990s, membership reached its peak in YPU history. It then fell again, as a spurt of new political organizations on campus diverted politically active Yalies.[6] Though smaller, the parties were relatively stronger and tighter institutions during this period. Most have remained intimate organizations, though with somewhat larger membership, to the current day.

One of the few enduring YPU spinoff publications, Rumpus Magazine, was founded by members of the Progressive and Tory Parties in 1992. For the first 3–4 years of its publication, Rumpus remained closely linked to the YPU. One of the more sordid scandals of the period, involving a member who misappropriated the YPU's long-distance phone access number for calls to a racy 1-900 number from his senior single, was broken by Rumpus in the Fall of 1994.

As more and more Yale undergraduate organizations were founded, the YPU had the misfortune of losing its offices under Bingham Hall. It managed to retain its small office on Crown Street, where it currently resides, although the Union has recently begun a capital campaign to raise funds for a new building.[5] During its various moves, many irreplaceable historical archives were lost, although the YPU's collection of paraphernalia signed by noteworthy public figures is sizable. The YPU hit a low point in membership in the late 1990s. The YPU President, an Independent Party member, was impeached in the Fall of 1997, leading to the near collapse of the Independent Party. The effects of this crisis took some time to reverse, though by 2001 the Independent Party was largely restored and began an impressive period of growth. Although membership remains roughly 25% of its last peak in the 1990s, the Political Union is nevertheless the largest undergraduate organization at Yale, with approximately 325 members (as of the end of 2007).

Notable alumni[edit]

Former Union President John Kerry
Alumnus William F. Buckley (Independent/Conservative)

Notable alumni of the YPU include:


External links[edit]


  1. ^ http://theypu.com/history/constitution/
  2. ^ "TWO YALE GROUPS TURN TO POLITICS; New Union's Plan to Train an Intelligent Minority for Leadership Is Approved", The New York Times, December 9, 1934.
  3. ^ a b "Can the YPU bring back its glory days?" The Yale Herald, September 9, 2005 Vol. XL, No. 2.
  4. ^ "Party of the Left seeks to leave no leftist behind" The Yale Herald, March 31, 2006 Vol. XLI, No. 10.
  5. ^ a b "YPU begins inquiry into storied past." Yale Daily News, November 29, 2007.
  6. ^ "The Yale Political Scene--left, right and center." The Yale Herald, Freshman Issue, Summer 1998.
  7. ^ Yes, Health Care is a Right - An Individual Right. Forbes (2013-03-28). Retrieved on 2013-07-15.