Yale Political Union

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Yale Political Union
Yale Political Union.png
Banner of the Yale Political Union
Formation1934; 88 years ago (1934)
TypeStudent organization
PurposeTo 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]
WebsiteThe Yale Political Union

The Yale Political Union (YPU) is a debate society at Yale University, founded in 1934 by Alfred Whitney Griswold. It was modeled on the Cambridge Union and Oxford Union and the party system of the defunct Yale Unions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which were in turn inspired by the great literary debating societies of Linonia and Brothers in Unity. Members of the YPU have reciprocal rights at sister societies in England.[2] The Union is the central forum for political discussion and activism at Yale, and was Yale's largest student organization.


The union is an umbrella organization that currently contains seven parties: the Party of the Left (PoL), the Progressive Party (Progs), the Independent Party (IP), the Federalist Party (Feds), the Conservative Party (CP), the Tory Party (Tories), and the Party of the Right (PoR).[3][4] These parties are 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 union has had other parties, including a Radical Party, a Bull Moose Party, a Constitutional Union Party, a Labor Party, a Liberal Democrat Party, a Liberal Party, and a group called the "Third Force", but not concurrently. The minimum number of parties has been two, the maximum seven, while four is typical.

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 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 from across the union looking for more formal philosophical debate on the left of the union, emphasizing a synthesis of first principles and policy. The Party of the Left seeks to rigorously develop members' personal philosophies and unite the activist and philosophical left. Further left on average than the Progressive Party, the PoL seeks lengthy, structured debate and bold, challenging dialogue. Always, the PoL is asking "What is the left, and why are we on it?"

The Progressive Party[edit]

Originally founded in 1962, the Progressive Party (Progs) is a forum and community for those across the left to deepen their understanding of what they believe, why they believe it, and to be able to defend those beliefs. The party dissolved in the 2000s, but a group of politically-minded students from outside the union collaborated to renew participation. The Progressive Party officially rejoined the union in the fall of 2019.

The Independent Party[edit]

The Independent Party (IP) covers nearly the entire political spectrum, in accordance with its motto, "Hear All Sides." The IP is one of the founding parties of the YPU and the oldest continuously existing party in the union. Originally named the Conservative Party, it officially switched to its current name in the 1970s. The party debates policy as well as philosophy and generally adheres to parliamentary procedure.

The Federalist Party[edit]

Founded in 2010 by Yalies dissatisfied with certain aspects of the Tory Party, the Federalist Party (Feds) is the youngest conservative party within the Yale Political Union. It is a group of principled conservatives that seeks, according to its constitution, "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." The Federalist Party is particularly interested in debating the institutions—social, economic, religious, and political—that are foundational to the great American project. In addition to sharing a love of the Western Canon, classical aesthetic, and the traditional, American spirit on the debate floor, Federalists constantly encourage growth in virtue through party dinners, movie nights, outings, and alumni reunions. Though primarily a debating society, the Federalist party is often described as a tight-knit family grounded in the powerful notion that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God.

The Conservative Party[edit]

The Conservative Party (CP) is dedicated to the production of principled and profound leaders. It was formed in 1996, but proudly traces its lineage back to a group of the same name founded in 1890. It recognizes the rights and privileges of members and officers of the previous iteration which existed prior to 1977, and maintains close contact with many alumni of the previous iteration. It holds weekly debates in the William Frank Buckley Jr., Class of 1950 Memorial Debate Hall. The Conservative Party considers ideas important and logic, practicality, and pragmatism essential. It seeks guidance from the lessons of history and the Western philosophical tradition.

The Tory Party[edit]

The Tory Party (Tories) is the party of reasoned conservatism at Yale. The Party was founded in 1969 and is known for its 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 (PoR) is the oldest political party on the right of the Yale Political Union. The Party of the Right was founded in 1953 by members of the union who believed there needed to be a stronger, more intellectually rigorous voice of conservatism within the union. The PoR has been described by the Yale Herald as "at once flamboyant, intellectually elitist, aggressive, mischievously subversive, eccentric, and maniacally eager to challenge anyone and everyone."

The Party of the Right is distinguished from other parties in the union for the intensity of its debates and the convictions of its members.[5] Whereas most parties' debates end after three hours, the Party of the Right typically debates for five or six. Members pride themselves on being willing to defend conservatism and more radical rightist beliefs amidst a predominantly liberal and leftist campus. The dominant ideological discourse of the Party of the Right typically strikes a balance between libertarianism and traditionalism. Nevertheless, its membership represents a diverse range of political and philosophical beliefs: members often say of the party, "We care not what you think, only that you think."


This Union can be of undoubted value to nation and to the University, provided it maintains independence and voices the true thoughts of those participating [...] honest debates will help in the search for truthful answers.

— Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1935

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 others since. Over the years, the union has played a key role on Yale's campus. 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 primary forum for oratory and political dialogue.[3]

Although the union has fluctuated in its influence over the years, many claim 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 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.[6]

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 Party of the Right member Fareed Zakaria) when membership tripled to 900 during a term highlighted by a nationally televised debate. By the end of 1987, active membership rolls comprised over 1,200 members (nearly 1/4 of the entire undergraduate 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 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 financially significantly 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 1980s 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 overall peak. It then fell again, as a series of new political organizations on campus diverted politically active Yalies.[7] 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 lost 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.[6] During its various moves, 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 a period of significant growth. Although membership remains roughly 30% of its last peak in the 1990s, the union remains the largest undergraduate organization at Yale, with approximately 325 members (as of the end of 2007).

Notable alumni[edit]





Former YPU President John Kerry

Party of the Right[edit]





  1. ^ "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. ^ "Politically correct: a new birth of Federalism". Yale Daily News. Oct 22, 2010.
  6. ^ a b "YPU begins inquiry into storied past." Yale Daily News, November 29, 2007.
  7. ^ "The Yale Political Scene--left, right and center." The Yale Herald, Freshman Issue, Summer 1998.
  8. ^ Yes, Health Care is a Right - An Individual Right. Forbes (2013-03-28). Retrieved on 2013-07-15.

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