The Federalist Party
By Martin Kelly
By the time Alexander Hamilton died on the dueling grounds of Weehawken, New
Jersey, the power of the Federalist Party was in terminal decline. Federalism was born in
1787, when Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison wrote 85 essays
collectively known as the Federalist papers. These eloquent political documents
encouraged Americans to adopt the newly-written Constitution and its stronger central
Largely influenced by the ideas of Alexander Hamilton, the Federalists succeeded in
convincing the Washington administration to assume national and state debts, pass tax
laws, and create a central bank. These moves undoubtedly saved the fledgling democracy
from poverty and even destruction. In foreign policy, Federalists generally favored
England over France.
Anti-Federalists such as Thomas Jefferson feared that a concentration of central authority
might lead to a loss of individual and states rights. They resented Federalist monetary
policies, which they believed gave advantages to the upper class. In foreign policy, the
Republicans leaned toward France, which had supported the American cause during the
Jefferson and his colleagues formed the Republican Party in the early 1790s. By 1795,
the Federalists had become a party in name as well.
After John Adams, their candidate, was elected president in 1796, the Federalists began
to decline. The Federalists' suppression of free speech under the Alien and Sedition Acts,
and the assumption of closer relations with Britain instead of France, inflamed
Jeffersonian Republicans. In 1801 Jefferson, with Vice President Aaron Burr at his side,
assumed the presidency.
The Federalists feared and hated Jefferson, but partly due to infighting, they were never
able to organize successful opposition. A last great hope -- that the New England states
would secede and form a Federalist nation -- collapsed when Jefferson won a landslide
reelection in 1804, thanks to the Louisiana Purchase. Alexander Hamilton was left with
little power -- and with no choice but to meet Aaron Burr on the dueling ground in hope
of reviving his political career. But Hamilton was doomed, and so was his party. The
Federalists would never again rise to power.
Background for the Federalist Party:
The Federalist Party was led by John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and John Marshall. It
formed from the federalists who before the ratification of the constitution fought for a
stronger federal government. They were opposed at that time by the anti-federalists who
morphed into the Democratic-Republicans after ratification.
Key Points for the Federalist Party:
The first two presidents were federalists - George Washington and John Adams.
The federalist party was associated with the aristocracy and fought for the development of
industry over agriculture.
Federalists typically favored allying with Great Britain over France.
The federalist party favored a stronger central government as opposed to stronger
End of the Federalist Party:
A division occurred within the federalist party during the War of 1812 that led to its
demise. The last federalist presidential candidate was Rufus King in 1816.
First opposition political party in the United States. Organized in 1792 as the Republican Party, its members
held power nationally between 1801 and 1825. It was the direct antecedent of the present Democratic Party.
During the two administrations of President George Washington (1789–97), many former Anti-Federalists—
who had resisted adoption of the new federal Constitution (1787)—began to unite in opposition to the fiscal
program of Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the treasury. After Hamilton and other proponents of a strong
central government and a loose interpretation of the Constitution formed the Federalist Party in 1791, those
who favored states' rights and a strict interpretation of the Constitution rallied under the leadership of
Thomas Jefferson, who had served as Washington's first secretary of state. Jefferson's supporters, deeply
influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution (1789), first adopted the name Republican to emphasize
their antimonarchical views. The Republicans contended that the Federalists harbored aristocratic attitudes
and that their policies placed too much power in the central government and tended to benefit the affluent at
the expense of the common man. Although the Federalists soon branded Jefferson's followers “Democratic-
Republicans,” attempting to link them with the excesses of the French Revolution, the Republicans officially
adopted the derisive label in 1798. The Republican coalition supported France in the European war that
broke out in 1792, while the Federalists supported Britain (see French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars).
The Republicans' opposition to Britain unified the faction through the 1790s and inspired them to fight
against the Federalist-sponsored Jay Treaty (1794) and the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798).
Notwithstanding the party's ant elitist foundations, the first three Democratic-Republican presidents—
Jefferson (1801–09), James Madison (1809–17), and James Monroe (1817–25)—were all wealthy,
aristocratic Southern planters, though all three shared the same liberal political philosophy. Jefferson
narrowly defeated the Federalist John Adams in the election of 1800; his victory demonstrated that power
could be transferred peacefully between parties under the Constitution. Once in office, the Democratic-
Republicans attempted to scale back Federalist programs but actually overturned few of the institutions they
had criticized (e.g., the Bank of the United States was retained until its charter expired in 1811).
Nevertheless, Jefferson made a genuine effort to make his administration appear more democratic and
egalitarian: he walked to the Capitol for his inauguration rather than ride in a coach-and-six, and he sent his
annual message to Congress by messenger, rather than reading it personally. Federal excises were
repealed, the national debt was retired, and the size of the armed forces was greatly reduced. However, the
demands of foreign relations (such as the Louisiana Purchase in 1803) often forced Jefferson and his
successors into a nationalistic stance reminiscent of the Federalists.
In the 20 years after 1808 the party existed less as a united political group than as a loose coalition of
personal and sectional factions. The fissures in the party were fully exposed by the election of 1824, when
the leaders of the two major factions, Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams, were both nominated for
president. Meanwhile, William H. Crawford was nominated by the party's congressional caucus, and Henry
Clay, another Democratic-Republican, was nominated by the Kentucky and Tennessee legislatures.
Jackson carried the popular vote and a plurality in the electoral college, but because no candidate received
a majority of the electoral vote, the presidency was decided by the House of Representatives. Clay, the
speaker of the House of Representatives, finished fourth and was thus ineligible for consideration; he
subsequently threw his support to Adams, who was elected president and promptly appointed Clay
secretary of state. Following the election, the Democratic-Republicans split into two groups: the National
Republicans, who became the nucleus of the Whig Party in the 1830s, were led by Adams and Clay, while
the Democratic-Republicans were organized by Martin Van Buren, the future eighth president (1837–41),
and led by Jackson. The Democratic-Republicans comprised diverse elements that emphasized local and
humanitarian concerns, states' rights, agrarian interests, and democratic procedures. During Jackson's
presidency (1829–37) they dropped the Republican label and called themselves simply Democrats or
Jacksonian Democrats. The name Democratic Party was formally adopted in 1844.
In U.S. history, major political party active in the period 1834–54 that espoused a program of national
development but foundered on the rising tide of sectional antagonism. The Whig Party was formally
organized in 1834, bringing together a loose coalition of groups united in their opposition to what party
members viewed as the executive tyranny of “King Andrew” Jackson. They borrowed the name Whig from
the British party opposed to royal prerogatives.
Jackson had shattered the National Republican Party with his victories in 1828 and 1832. His war against
the Second Bank of the United States and his opposition to nullification in South Carolina, however, allowed
Henry Clay to bring fiscal conservatives and southern states' rights proponents together in a coalition with
those who still believed in the National Republican program of a protective tariff and federally financed
internal improvements. Members of the Anti-Masonic Movement ( q.v.) merged with the Whigs after the
demise of the Anti-Masonic Party in the mid-1830s.
Allied almost exclusively by their common dislike of Jackson and his policies—and later by their hunger for
office—the Whigs never developed a definitive party program. In 1836 they ran three presidential candidates
( Daniel Webster, Hugh L. White, and William Henry Harrison) to appeal to the East, South, and West,
respectively, attempting to throw the election into the House of Representatives. In 1840 they abandoned
the sectional approach to nominate the military hero William Henry Harrison. The subsequent contest was
devoid of issues, Harrison winning on the basis of incessant electioneering by his supporters in the “log
After capturing both the White House and Congress in 1840, the Whigs were poised to become the nation's
dominant party and to enact Henry Clay's nationalistic program. Harrison died within a month of his
inauguration, however, and his successor, John Tyler, proceeded to veto major Whig legislation—including
re-creation of the Bank of the United States.
Clay, the nominee in 1844, lost the election when he misgauged the popularity of expansionism and
opposed the annexation of Texas. By the late 1840s the Whig coalition was beginning to unravel as factions
of “Conscience” (antislavery) Whigs and “Cotton” (proslavery) Whigs emerged. In 1848 the party returned to
its winning formula by running a military hero—this time Zachary Taylor—for president. But the Compromise
of 1850, fashioned by Henry Clay and signed into law by Millard Fillmore (who succeeded to the presidency
on Taylor's death in 1850), fatally estranged the Conscience Whigs from their party.
Again turning to a former general, the Whigs in 1852 nominated Gen. Winfield Scott. The North and South
had become so polarized over the slavery issue that the Whigs were no longer able to make a broad
national appeal on the basis of “unalterable attachment to the Constitution and the Union.” Scott collected
just 42 electoral votes as many southern Whigs flocked to the banner of the states' rights oriented
By 1854 most northern Whigs had joined the newly formed Republican Party. To the extent that the party
continued to exist, it commanded support only in the border states and from conservatives who refused to
take sides in the sectional conflict. Many of the last remaining Whigs found a niche in the Know-Nothing
Party during the second half of the 1850s and then backed the Constitutional Union Party as the country
split apart in 1860.
Introduction In the United States, one of the two major political parties, the other being the Democratic
Party. The Republican Party traditionally has supported laissez-faire capitalism, low taxes, and conservative
social policies. The party acquired the acronym GOP, widely understood as “Grand Old Party,” in the 1870s.
The party's official logo, the elephant, is derived from a cartoon by Thomas Nast and also dates from the
History The term Republican was adopted in 1792 by supporters of Thomas Jefferson, who favoured a
decentralized government with limited powers. Although Jefferson's political philosophy is consistent with the
outlook of the modern Republican Party, his faction, which soon became known as the Democratic-
Republican Party, ironically evolved by the 1830s into the Democratic Party, the modern Republican Party's
The Republican Party traces its roots to the 1850s, when antislavery leaders (including former members of
the Democratic, Whig, and Free-Soil parties) joined forces to oppose the extension of slavery into the
Kansas and Nebraska territories by the proposed Kansas-Nebraska Act. At meetings in Ripon, Wisconsin
(May 1854), and Jackson, Michigan (July 1854), they recommended forming a new party, which was duly
established at the political convention in Jackson.
At their first presidential nominating convention in 1856, the Republicans nominated John C. Frémont on a
platform that called on Congress to abolish slavery in the territories, reflecting a widely held view in the
North. Although ultimately unsuccessful in his presidential bid, Frémont carried 11 Northern states and
received nearly two-fifths of the electoral vote. During the first four years of its existence, the party rapidly
displaced the Whigs as the main opposition to the dominant Democratic Party. In 1860 the Democrats split
over the slavery issue, as the Northern and Southern wings of the party nominated different candidates (
Stephen A. Douglas and John C. Breckinridge, respectively); the election that year also included John Bell,
the nominee of the Constitutional Union Party. Thus, the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, was able
to capture the presidency, winning 18 Northern states and receiving 60 percent of the electoral vote but only
40 percent of the popular vote. By the time of Lincoln's inauguration as president, however, seven Southern
states had seceded from the Union, and the country soon descended into the American Civil War (1861–
The 1860 election is regarded by most political observers as the first of three “critical” elections in the United
States—contests that produced sharp and enduring changes in party loyalties across the country (although
some analysts consider the election of 1824 to be the first critical election). After 1860 the Democratic and
Republican parties became the major parties in a largely two-party system. In federal elections from the
1870s to the 1890s, the parties were in rough balance—except in the South, which became solidly
Democratic. The two parties controlled Congress for almost equal periods, though the Democrats held the
presidency only during the two terms of Grover Cleveland (1885–89 and 1893–97).
The prolonged agony of the Civil War weakened Lincoln's prospects for reelection in 1864. To broaden his
support, he chose as his vice presidential candidate Andrew Johnson, a pro-Union Democratic senator from
Tennessee, and the Lincoln-Johnson ticket subsequently won a landslide victory over Democrat George B.
McClellan and his running mate George Pendleton. Following Lincoln's assassination at the end of the war,
Johnson favoured Lincoln's moderate program for the Reconstruction of the South over the more punitive
plan backed by the Radical Republican members of Congress. Stymied for a time by Johnson's vetoes, the
Radical Republicans won overwhelming control of Congress in the 1866 elections and engineered
Johnson's impeachment in the House of Representatives. Although the Senate fell one vote short of
convicting and removing Johnson, the Radical Republicans managed to implement their Reconstruction
program, which made the party anathema across the former Confederacy. In the North the party's close
identification with the Union victory secured it the allegiance of most farmers, and its support of protective
tariffs and of the interests of big business eventually gained it the backing of powerful industrial and financial
In the country's second critical election, in 1896, the Republicans won the presidency and control of both
houses of Congress, and the Republican Party became the majority party in most states outside the South.
The Republican presidential nominee that year was William McKinley, a conservative who favoured high
tariffs on foreign goods and “sound” money tied to the value of gold. The Democrats, already burdened by
the economic depression that began under President Cleveland, nominated William Jennings Bryan, who
advocated cheap money (money available at low interest rates) based on both gold and silver.
The assassination of President McKinley in 1901 elevated to the presidency Theodore Roosevelt, leader of
the party's progressive wing. Roosevelt opposed monopolistic and exploitative business practices, adopted
a more conciliatory attitude toward labour, and urged the conservation of natural resources. He was
reelected in 1904 but declined to run in 1908, deferring to his secretary of war and friend, William Howard
Taft, who won handily. Subsequently disenchanted with Taft's conservative policies, Roosevelt
unsuccessfully challenged him for the Republican nomination in 1912. Roosevelt then bolted the Republican
Party to form the Progressive Party ( Bull Moose Party) and ran for president against Taft and the
Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson. With the Republican vote divided, Wilson won the presidency, and
he was reelected in 1916. During the spectacular prosperity of the 1920s, the Republicans' conservative and
probusiness policies proved more attractive to voters than Wilson's brand of idealism and internationalism.
The Republicans easily won the presidential elections of 1920, 1924, and 1928.
The stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed had severe consequences for the
Republicans, largely because of their unwillingness to combat the effects of the depression through direct
government intervention in the economy. In the election of 1932, considered the country's third critical
election, Republican incumbent President Herbert Hoover was overwhelmingly defeated by Democrat
Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Republicans were relegated to the status of a minority party. Roosevelt's
three reelections (he was the only president to serve more than two terms), the succession of Harry S.
Truman to the presidency on Roosevelt's death in 1945, and Truman's narrow election over New York
Governor Thomas E. Dewey in 1948 kept the Republicans out of the White House for two decades.
Although most Republicans in the 1930s vehemently opposed Roosevelt's New Deal social programs, by
the 1950s the party had largely accepted the federal government's expanded role and regulatory powers.
In 1952 the Republican Party nominated as its presidential candidate World War II supreme Allied
commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, who easily defeated Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson in the general
election. Despite Eisenhower's centrist views, the Republican platform was essentially conservative, calling
for a strong anticommunist stance in foreign affairs, reductions in government regulation of the economy,
lower taxes for the wealthy, and resistance to federal civil rights legislation (though Eisenhower did dispatch
federal troops to Arkansas in 1957 to enforce the court-ordered racial integration of a high school in Little
Rock; he also signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960). The party retained the traditional support of
both big and small business and gained new support from growing numbers of middle-class suburbanites
and—perhaps most significantly—white Southerners, who were upset by the prointegration policies of
leading Democrats, including President Truman, who had ordered the integration of the military. Eisenhower
was reelected in 1956, but in 1960 Richard M. Nixon, Eisenhower's vice president, lost narrowly to Democrat
John F. Kennedy.
The Republicans were in severe turmoil at their 1964 convention, where moderates and conservatives
battled for control of the party. Ultimately, the conservatives secured the nomination of Senator Barry M.
Goldwater, who lost by a landslide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy's vice president and
successor. By 1968 the party's moderate faction regained control and again nominated Nixon, who narrowly
won the popular vote over Hubert H. Humphrey, Johnson's vice president. Many Southern Democrats
abandoned the party to vote for the anti-integration candidate George C. Wallace. Importantly, the 1964 and
1968 elections signaled the death of the Democratic “Solid South,” as both Goldwater and Nixon made
significant inroads there. In 1964, 5 of the 6 states won by Goldwater were in the South; in 1968, 11
Southern states voted for Nixon and only 1 voted for Humphrey.
Although Nixon was reelected by a landslide in 1972, Republicans made few gains in congressional, state,
and local elections and failed to win control of Congress. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, Nixon
resigned the presidency in August 1974 and was succeeded in office by Gerald R. Ford, the first appointed
vice president to become president. Ford lost narrowly to Southern Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976. In 1980
Ronald W. Reagan, the charismatic leader of the Republican Party's conservative wing, defeated Carter and
helped the Republicans to regain control of the Senate, which they held until 1987.
Reagan introduced deep tax cuts and launched a massive buildup of U.S. military forces. His personal
popularity and an economic recovery contributed to his 49-state victory over Democrat Walter F. Mondale in
1984. His vice president, George Bush, continued the Republicans' presidential success by handily
defeating Democrat Michael S. Dukakis in 1988. During Bush's term, the Cold War came to an end after
communism collapsed in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. In 1991 Bush led an international coalition
that drove Iraqi armies out of Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War. Congress continued to be controlled by the
Democrats, however, and Bush lost his bid for reelection in 1992 to another Southern Democrat, Bill Clinton.
Partly because of Clinton's declining popularity in 1993–94, the Republicans won victories in the 1994
midterm elections that gave them control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1954. They
promptly undertook efforts to overhaul the country's welfare system and to reduce the budget deficit, but
their uncompromising and confrontational style led many voters to blame them for a budget impasse in
1995–96 that resulted in two partial government shutdowns. Clinton was reelected in 1996, though the
Republicans retained control of Congress.
In 2000 Texas Governor George W. Bush, son of the former president, recaptured the presidency for the
Republicans, receiving 500,000 fewer popular votes than Democrat Al Gore but narrowly winning a majority
of the electoral vote (271–266) after the Supreme Court of the United States ordered a halt to the manual
recounting of disputed ballots in Florida. Bush was only the second son of a president to assume the
nation's highest office. The Republicans also won a majority in both chambers of Congress (though the
Democrats gained effective control of the Senate in 2001 following the decision of Republican Senator Jim
Jeffords of Vermont to became an independent). A surge in Bush's popularity following the September 11
attacks of 2001 enabled the Republicans to recapture the Senate and to make gains in the House of
Representatives in 2002. In 2004 Bush was narrowly reelected, winning both the popular and electoral vote,
and the Republicans kept control of both houses of Congress. In the 2006 midterm elections, however, the
Republicans fared poorly, hindered largely by the growing opposition to the Iraq War, and the Democrats
regained control of both the House and the Senate. In the general election of 2008 the Republican
presidential nominee, John McCain, was defeated by Democrat Barack Obama, and the Democrats
increased their majority in both houses of Congress. The following year the Republican National Committee
elected Michael Steele as its first African American chairman.
Policy and structure Although its founders refused to recognize the right of states and territories to
practice slavery, the modern Republican Party supports states' rights against the power of the federal
government in most cases, and it opposes the federal regulation of traditionally state and local matters, such
as policing and education. Because the party is highly decentralized (as is the Democratic Party), it
encompasses a wide variety of opinion on certain issues, though it is ideologically more unified at the
national level than the Democratic Party is. The Republicans advocate reduced taxes as a means of
stimulating the economy and advancing individual economic freedom. They tend to oppose extensive
government regulation of the economy, government-funded social programs, affirmative action, and policies
aimed at strengthening the rights of workers. Many Republicans, though not all, favour increased
government regulation of the private, noneconomic lives of citizens in some areas, such as abortion, though
most Republicans also strongly oppose gun-control legislation. Republicans are more likely than Democrats
to support organized prayer in public schools and to oppose the legal recognition of equal rights for gays
and lesbians (see gay rights movement). Regarding foreign policy, the Republican Party traditionally has
supported a strong national defense and the aggressive pursuit of U.S. national security interests, even
when it entails acting unilaterally or in opposition to the views of the international community.
Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party formulate their platforms quadrennially at national
political conventions, which are held to nominate the parties' presidential candidates. The conventions take
place in the summer of each presidential election year; by tradition, the incumbent party holds its convention
second. The Republican National Convention typically gathers some 2,000 delegates who are selected
during the winter and spring.
Until the 1970s, few nationwide rules governed the selection of delegates to the Republican National
Convention. After the Democratic Party adopted a system based on state primaries and caucuses, the
Republicans followed suit. More than 40 states now select delegates to the Republican convention through
primary elections, while several other states choose delegates through caucuses. Virtually all Republican
primaries allocate delegates on a “winner-take-all” basis, so that the candidate who wins the most votes in a
state is awarded all the delegates of that state. In contrast, almost all Democratic primaries allocate
delegates based on the proportion of the vote each candidate receives. As a result, the Republicans tend to
choose their presidential nominees more quickly than the Democrats do, often long before the summer
nominating convention, leaving the convention simply to ratify the winner of the primaries.
In addition to confirming the party's presidential nominee and adopting the party platform, the national
convention formally chooses a national committee to organize the next convention and to govern the party
until the next convention is held. The Republican National Committee (RNC) consists of about 150 party
leaders representing all U.S. states and territories. Its chairman is typically named by the party's presidential
nominee and then formally elected by the committee. Republican members of the House and the Senate
organize themselves into party conferences that elect the party leaders of each chamber. In keeping with the
decentralized nature of the party, each chamber also creates separate committees to raise and disburse
funds for House and Senate election campaigns. Although Republican congressional party organizations
maintain close informal relationships with the RNC, they are formally separate from it and not subject to its
control. Similarly, state party organizations are not subject to direct control by the national committee.
Introduction In the United States, one of the two major political parties, the other being the Republican
Party. Historically, the Democratic Party has supported organized labor, ethnic minorities, and progressive
reform. It tends to favor greater government intervention in the economy and to oppose government
intervention in the private, noneconomic affairs of citizens. The logo of the Democratic Party, the donkey,
was popularized by cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 1870s; though widely used, it has never been officially
adopted by the party.
History The Democratic Party is the oldest political party in the United States and among the oldest political
parties in the world. It traces its roots to 1792, when followers of Thomas Jefferson adopted the name
Republican to emphasize their antimonarchical views. The Republican Party, also known as the Jeffersonian
Republicans, advocated a decentralized government with limited powers. Another faction to emerge in the
early years of the republic, the Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, favoured a strong central
government. Jefferson's faction developed from the group of Anti-Federalists who had agitated in favour of
the addition of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States. The Federalists called Jefferson's
faction the Democratic-Republican Party in an attempt to identify it with the disorder spawned by the “radical
democrats” of the French Revolution of 1789. After the Federalist John Adams was elected president in
1796, the Republican Party served as the country's first opposition party, and in 1798 the Republicans
adopted the derisive Democratic-Republican label as their official name.
In 1800 Adams was defeated by Jefferson, whose victory ushered in a period of prolonged Democratic-
Republican dominance. Jefferson won reelection easily in 1804, and Democratic-Republicans James
Madison (1808 and 1812) and James Monroe (1816 and 1820) were also subsequently elected. By 1820 the
Federalist Party had faded from national politics, leaving the Democratic-Republicans as the country's sole
major party and allowing Monroe to run unopposed in that year's presidential election.
During the 1820s new states entered the union, voting laws were relaxed, and several states passed
legislation that provided for the direct election of presidential electors by voters (electors had previously
been appointed by state legislatures). These changes split the Democratic-Republicans into factions, each
of which nominated its own candidate in the presidential election of 1824. The party's congressional caucus
nominated William H. Crawford of Georgia, but Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams, the leaders of the
party's two largest factions, also sought the presidency; Henry Clay, the speaker of the House of
Representatives, was nominated by the Kentucky and Tennessee legislatures. Jackson won the most
popular and electoral votes, but no candidate received the necessary majority in the electoral college. When
the election went to the House of Representatives (as stipulated in the Constitution), Clay—who had finished
fourth and was thus eliminated from consideration—threw his support to Adams, who won the House vote
and subsequently appointed Clay secretary of state.
Despite Adams's victory, differences between the Adams and the Jackson factions persisted. Adams's
supporters, representing Eastern interests, called themselves the National Republicans. Jackson, whose
strength lay in the South and West, referred to his followers simply as Democrats (or as Jacksonian
Democrats). Jackson defeated Adams in the 1828 presidential election. In 1832 in Baltimore, Maryland, at
one of the country's first national political conventions (the first convention had been held the previous year
by the Anti-Masonic Movement), the Democrats nominated Jackson for president, drafted a party platform,
and established a rule that required party presidential and vice presidential nominees to receive the votes of
at least two-thirds of the national convention delegates. This rule, which was not repealed until 1936,
effectively ceded veto power in the selection process to minority factions, and it often required conventions
to hold dozens of ballots to determine a presidential nominee. (The party's presidential candidate in 1924,
John W. Davis, needed more than 100 ballots to secure the nomination.) Jackson easily won reelection in
1836, but his various opponents—who derisively referred to him as “King Andrew”—joined with former
National Republicans to form the Whig Party, named for the English political faction that had opposed
absolute monarchy in the 17th century (see Whig and Tory).
From 1828 to 1856 the Democrats won all but two presidential elections (1840 and 1848). During the 1840s
and '50s, however, the Democratic Party, as it officially named itself in 1844, suffered serious internal strains
over the issue of extending slavery to the Western territories. Southern Democrats, led by Jefferson Davis,
wanted to allow slavery in all the territories, while Northern Democrats, led by Stephen A. Douglas,
proposed that each territory should decide the question for itself through referendum. The issue split the
Democrats at their 1860 presidential convention, where Southern Democrats nominated John C.
Breckinridge and Northern Democrats nominated Douglas. The 1860 election also included John Bell, the
nominee of the Constitutional Union Party, and Abraham Lincoln, the candidate of the newly established
(1854) antislavery Republican Party (which was unrelated to Jefferson's Republican Party of decades
earlier). With the Democrats hopelessly split, Lincoln was elected president with only about 40 percent of the
national vote; in contrast, Douglas and Breckinridge won 29 percent and 18 percent of the vote, respectively.
The election of 1860 is regarded by most political observers as the first of the country's three “critical”
elections—contests that produced sharp yet enduring changes in party loyalties across the country. (Some
scholars also identify the 1824 election as a critical election.) It established the Democratic and Republican
parties as the major parties in what was ostensibly a two-party system. In federal elections from the 1870s to
the 1890s, the parties were in rough balance—except in the South, where the Democrats dominated
because most whites blamed the Republican Party for both the American Civil War (1861–65) and the
Reconstruction (1865–77) that followed; the two parties controlled Congress for almost equal periods
through the rest of the 19th century, though the Democratic Party held the presidency only during the two
terms of Grover Cleveland (1885–89 and 1893–97). Repressive legislation and physical intimidation
designed to prevent newly enfranchised African Americans from voting—despite passage of the Fifteenth
Amendment—ensured that the South would remain staunchly Democratic for nearly a century (see black
code). During Cleveland's second term, however, the United States sank into an economic depression. The
party at this time was basically conservative and agrarian-oriented, opposing the interests of big business
(especially protective tariffs) and favouring cheap-money policies, which were aimed at maintaining low
In the country's second critical election, in 1896, the Democrats split disastrously over the free-silver and
Populist program of their presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan lost by a wide margin to
Republican William McKinley, a conservative who supported high tariffs and money based only on gold.
From 1896 to 1932 the Democrats held the presidency only during the two terms of Woodrow Wilson (1913–
21), and even Wilson's presidency was considered somewhat of a fluke. Wilson won in 1912 because the
Republican vote was divided between President William Howard Taft (the official party nominee) and former
Republican president Theodore Roosevelt, the candidate of the new Bull Moose Party. Wilson championed
various progressive economic reforms, including the breaking up of business monopolies and broader
federal regulation of banking and industry. Although he led the United States into World War I to make the
world “safe for democracy,” Wilson's brand of idealism and internationalism proved less attractive to voters
during the spectacular prosperity of the 1920s than the Republicans' frank embrace of big business. The
Democrats lost decisively the presidential elections of 1920, 1924, and 1928.
The country's third critical election, in 1932, took place in the wake of the stock market crash of 1929 and in
the midst of the Great Depression. Led by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democrats not only regained the
presidency but also replaced the Republicans as the majority party throughout the country—in the North as
well as the South. Through his political skills and his sweeping New Deal social programs, such as social
security and the statutory minimum wage, Roosevelt forged a broad coalition—including small farmers,
Northern city dwellers, organized labour, European immigrants, liberals, intellectuals, and reformers—that
enabled the Democratic Party to retain the presidency until 1952 and to control both houses of Congress for
most of the period from the 1930s to the mid-1990s. Roosevelt was reelected in 1936, 1940, and 1944; he
was the only president to be elected to more than two terms. Upon his death in 1945 he was succeeded by
his vice president, Harry S. Truman, who was narrowly elected in 1948.
Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander during World War II, won overwhelming
victories against Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson in the presidential elections of 1952 and 1956. The
Democrats regained the White House in the election of 1960, when John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated
Eisenhower's vice president, Richard M. Nixon. The Democrats' championing of civil rights and racial
desegregation under Truman, Kennedy, and especially Lyndon B. Johnson—who secured passage of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—cost the party the traditional allegiance of many
of its Southern supporters. Although Johnson defeated Republican Barry M. Goldwater by a landslide in
1964, his national support waned because of bitter opposition to the Vietnam War, and he chose not to run
for reelection. Following the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, the party nominated Johnson's
vice president, Hubert H. Humphrey, at a fractious convention in Chicago that was marred by violence
outside the hall between police and protesters. Meanwhile, many Southern Democrats supported the
candidacy of Alabama Governor George C. Wallace, an opponent of federally mandated racial integration.
In the 1968 election Humphrey was soundly defeated by Nixon in the electoral college (among Southern
states Humphrey carried only Texas), though he lost the popular vote by only a narrow margin.
From 1972 to 1988 the Democrats lost four of five presidential elections. In 1972 the party nominated
antiwar candidate George S. McGovern, who lost to Nixon in one of the biggest landslides in U.S. electoral
history. Two years later the Watergate scandal forced Nixon's resignation, enabling Jimmy Carter, then the
Democratic governor of Georgia, to defeat Gerald R. Ford, Nixon's successor, in 1976. Although Carter
orchestrated the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel, his presidency was plagued by a sluggish
economy and by the crisis over the kidnapping and prolonged captivity of U.S. diplomats in Iran following the
Islamic revolution there in 1979. Carter was defeated in 1980 by conservative Republican Ronald W.
Reagan, who was easily reelected in 1984 against Carter's vice president, Walter F. Mondale. Mondale's
running mate, Geraldine A. Ferraro, was the first female candidate on a major-party ticket. Reagan's vice
president, George Bush, defeated Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis in 1988. Despite its losses
in the presidential elections of the 1970s and '80s, the Democratic Party continued to control both houses of
Congress for most of the period (although the Republicans controlled the Senate from 1981 to 1987).
In 1992 Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton recaptured the White House for the Democrats by defeating Bush
and third-party candidate Ross Perot. Clinton's support of international trade agreements (e.g., the North
American Free Trade Agreement) and his willingness to cut spending on social programs to reduce budget
deficits alienated the left wing of his party and many traditional supporters in organized labour. In 1994 the
Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress, in part because of public disenchantment with Clinton's
health-care plan. During Clinton's second term the country experienced a period of prosperity not seen since
the 1920s, but a scandal involving Clinton's relationship with a White House intern led to his impeachment
by the House of Representatives in 1998; he was acquitted by the Senate in 1999. Al Gore, Clinton's vice
president, easily won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000. In the general election, Gore won
500,000 more popular votes than Republican George W. Bush but narrowly lost in the electoral college after
the Supreme Court of the United States ordered a halt to the manual recounting of disputed ballots in
Florida. The party's nominee in 2004, John Kerry, was narrowly defeated by Bush in the popular and
Aided by the growing opposition to the Iraq War (2003– ), the Democrats regained control of the Senate and
the House following the 2006 midterm elections. This marked the first time in some 12 years that the
Democrats held a majority in both houses of Congress. In the general election of 2008 the party's
presidential nominee, Barack Obama, defeated Republican John McCain, thereby becoming the first African
American to be elected president of the United States. The Democrats also increased their majority in the
Senate and the House. The party scored another victory in mid-2009, when an eight-month legal battle over
one of Minnesota's Senate seats concluded with the election of Al Franken, a member of the state's
Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party. With Franken in office, Democrats in the Senate (supported by the
chamber's two independents) would be able to exercise a filibuster-proof 60–40 majority.
Policy and structure Despite tracing its roots to Thomas Jefferson—who advocated a less-powerful,
more-decentralized federal government—the modern Democratic Party generally supports a strong federal
government with powers to regulate business and industry in the public interest; federally financed social
services and benefits for the poor, the unemployed, the aged, and other groups; and the protection of civil
rights. Most Democrats also endorse a strong separation of church and state, and they generally oppose
government regulation of the private, noneconomic lives of citizens. Regarding foreign policy, Democrats
tend to prefer internationalism and multilateralism—i.e., the execution of foreign policy through international
institutions such as the United Nations—over isolationism and unilateralism. However, because the party is
highly decentralized (as is the Republican Party), it encompasses a wide variety of opinion on certain issues.
Although most Democrats favour affirmative action and gun control, for example, some moderate and
conservative Democrats oppose these policies or give them only qualified support.
Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party formulate their platforms quadrennially at national
conventions, which are held to nominate the parties' presidential candidates. The conventions take place in
the summer of each presidential election year; by tradition, the incumbent party holds its convention second.
The Democratic National Convention is typically attended by some 4,000 delegates, most of whom are
selected during the preceding winter and spring. So-called “superdelegates,” which include members of the
Democratic National Committee (the party's formal governing body) as well as Democratic governors and
members of Congress, also participate.
Until the 1970s, few nationwide rules governed the selection of delegates to the Democratic National
Convention. After the 1968 convention, during which Humphrey was able to secure the Democratic
nomination without having won a single primary election or caucus, the party imposed strict rules requiring
that states select delegates through primaries or caucuses and that delegates vote on the first ballot for the
candidate to whom they are pledged, thus eliminating the direct election of candidates by the conventions.
More than 40 states now select delegates to the Democratic convention through primary elections. Virtually
all Democratic primaries allocate delegates on a proportional basis, so that the proportion of delegates
awarded to a candidate in a state is roughly the same as the proportion of the vote he receives in that state
(provided that he receives at least 15 percent). In contrast, almost all Republican presidential primaries
award all delegates to the candidate who receives the most votes. Thus, candidates running for the
Democratic nomination tend to win at least some delegates in each primary, resulting generally in closer and
longer nominating contests. Nevertheless, one candidate usually captures a majority of delegates before the
summer nominating convention, leaving the convention simply to ratify the winner.
In addition to confirming the party nominee and adopting the party platform, the national convention formally
chooses a national committee to organize the next convention and to govern the party until the next
convention is held. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) consists of about 400 party leaders
representing all U.S. states and territories. Its chairman is typically named by the party's presidential
nominee and then formally elected by the committee. The DNC has little power, because it lacks direct
authority over party members in Congress and even in the states. Democratic members of the House and
the Senate organize themselves into party conferences that elect the party leaders of each chamber. In
keeping with the decentralized nature of the party, each chamber also creates separate committees to raise
and disburse funds for House and Senate election campaigns.
Politics and Public Service, 1912-1952
The Progressive Party was a factor in the presidential campaigns of
three men — Theodore Roosevelt, Robert La Follette, and Henry
Wallace. There were a few Progressive Party organizations spanning
this period of time but after the 1952 elections, they disappeared
Its first incarnation came in 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt led
progressive elements out of the Republican Party. Roosevelt had
made no secret of his low opinion of President William H. Taft and
felt he could not support the ticket. Taft had particularly angered
Roosevelt, an ardent conservationist, by removing Gifford Pinchot as
Roosevelt struck out on his own and formed the first Progressive
Party, saying he was as fit as a bull moose, from which came the
colloquial name "Bull Moose Party." His platform called for tariff
reform, stricter regulation of industrial combinations, women’s
suffrage, prohibition of child labor, and other reforms.
The new party nominated Roosevelt for president and Hiram Johnson for vice president.
Although the Progressives finished well ahead of Republicans in the election, they lost to
the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson. When Roosevelt returned to the Republican
fold in 1916, the Progressive Party vanished for a time.
In 1924, liberals were so frustrated with conservative control of both major political
parties that they formed the League of Progressive Political Action, better known as the
Progressive Party. Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, a Republican, decided to run for
president as an independent, but later accepted the nomination from the Progressive
Party. Senator Burton K. Wheeler, a Democrat from Montana, was nominated for vice-
The party advocated government ownership of public utilities and such labor reforms as
collective bargaining. It also supported farm-relief measures, lower taxes for persons with
moderate incomes, and other such laws. Although La Follette received 17 percent of the
popular vote, he only carried Wisconsin’s electoral vote.
In 1934, La Follette’s sons organized a progressive party in Wisconsin. Robert La
Follette, Jr. was elected to the Senate but was beaten in 1946 by Joseph McCarthy.
Yet another progressive party was formed in 1948. Former New Deal Democrats had
become dissatisfied with the policies of Harry Truman and wanted their own party. They
nominated Henry A. Wallace for president and Glen H. Taylor for vice president. They
advocated liberal policies that included rights for minorities,
curbs on monopolies, and the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act.
The party's platform should have appealed strongly to
blacks, intellectuals, and labor union members, but the
support given them by the Communist Party was used
against them by both major parties. The progressives
maintained their right to accept support from any group. This was high-principled but
politically fatal. Wallace received only 2.4 percent of the popular vote and carried no
In 1950, the party opposed America's decision to fight in Korea. Wallace split with the
party's leadership on the issue and resigned from the party. The Progressive Party
disappeared after the 1952 election. Only time will tell if another progressive party will