A Brief History of the Democratic Party by historyman

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									         A Brief History of the Democratic Party
The roots of the Democratic Party go all the way back to Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, “anti-
Federalists” who opposed the strong central government favored by Washington, Adams, and
Hamilton, among others. However, the name ‘Democrat’ wasn’t adopted until the 1828 election
of Andrew Jackson when the party became identified with a growing populist movement in the
young nation. Before that it was known as the Democratic-Republican Party, and before that, the
Republican Party!

The Democratic Party is generally considered to be the oldest political party in the world.

Since Jackson there have been 14 Democratic presidents and 18 Republicans1, the latter having
emerged as a political party in 1854.

 “Jeffersonian Democracy” advocated states’ rights, civil liberties, limited executive authority,
strict interpretation of the Constitution, and minimal regulation of business and commerce, while
favoring farmers,2 common folk, and the working class in general over the educated and elite.
(Keep in mind that until about 1850 many states allowed only white male property owners to
vote).

The Party split in 1860 over the unresolved issue of slavery, resulting in the election of the first
Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. Bitterness over the Civil War and post-Lincoln
Republican Reconstruction caused southern states to go solidly Democratic for the next 100
years, during which time they wielded considerable control over the party.

With time the party evolved from its original principles, favoring more government oversight
and regulation of business and economic affairs, starting with the progressive policies of
Woodrow Wilson’s administration (1913-1920)3 and even more so following the crisis of the
Great Depression, which ushered in Franklin Roosevelt’s social and public works programs
known as the New Deal. The party also moved towards a more liberal interpretation of the
Constitution which historians trace, ironically, to Jefferson’s administration (1801-1808),
especially in regard to the Louisiana Purchase, where he exercised considerable executive
prerogative to expand American territory westward.

Democrats dominated for most of the 20th century, particularly after Roosevelt’s election in
1932. During the 1900s they controlled the House for 66 years, the Senate for 58, and the
presidency for 48, holding majorities in the House of Representatives from 1933 to 1994 except
for 1947-48 and 1953-54 and in the Senate for those same years except for 1983-88.4



1
  Republicans Chester Arthur and Gerald Ford and “War Democrat”/Unionist Andrew Johnson succeeded to the
office but were never elected president themselves.
2
  Particularly in the South. Most New England landowners supported the Federalists.
3
  Although Republican Teddy Roosevelt (1901-1908) before him is generally regarded as the first progressive
president.
4
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party_divisions_of_United_States_Congresses


                                                     -1-
Another split occurred in 1948, again over racial issues, when southern “Dixiecrats” and the
Progressive wing of the party both decided to branch off and run their own candidates after the
nomination of the more moderate Harry Truman, who’d agreed to include civil rights for
African-Americans in the party platform. Despite the three-way split, Truman still managed to
soundly defeat heavily-favored Republican nominee Thomas Dewey in one of history’s greatest
upsets.

Along with the prosperity of the post-WWII period came increasing demands from Northern
leaders like Hubert Humphrey to grant full civil rights to all Americans, challenging the “Solid
South’s” long hold on the party. Ultimately it took a southern Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, to
force an end to publicly sanctioned discrimination and segregation, even though Johnson felt it
would cause Democrats to “lose the South.” Still, Democrats managed to control both houses of
Congress for most of the 40-year period from 1955 thru 1994.

Loss of the presidency in the close election of 1968 (Nixon v. Humphrey) was more likely
attributable to Johnson’s misguided escalation of the Vietnam War and the contention it caused
within the party, and to the assassination of Robert Kennedy that same year.

Republicans did begin to make substantial gains in the South, particularly in presidential races.
However, by standing on the sidelines during the long struggle for civil rights (or actively
opposing such efforts), the “party of Lincoln” lost virtually all African-Americans’ support,
which hurt the GOP when blacks finally secured the voting rights unconstitutionally denied them
in the century after the Civil War5 (and for the first 170 years of our republic).

After 40 straight years of controlling the House, Democrats lost it in 1994, and the Senate as
well, but gained both back in the election of 2006 (by 31 seats in the House and a bare majority
in the Senate6). The 2006 election also resulted in Democrats controlling 22 state legislatures vs.
15 for Republicans (12 states are evenly split; one is non-partisan) and 28 governorships
including several in the South and West.

Today, about half of the public identifies themselves either as a Democrat or say they “lean”
Democratic, compared with 35% who align with the GOP. This is a dramatic change from just
five years ago when the parties were tied.7 Actual registration shows Democrats outnumbering
Republicans nationally by approximately 33% to 25%, while those choosing to register
independent continue to exceed either party.



5
 The 15th Amendment of 1870 guaranteed voting rights to all U.S. citizens, which included blacks as a result of the
14th Amendment. However, after the defeat of Reconstruction efforts in the South, it was prevented from being
enforced.
6
 Actually Democrats and Republicans now have 49 senators each. Independents Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and
Bernard Sanders of Vermont choose to vote with the Democratic caucus, giving control of the Senate to Democrats,
although Sen. Lieberman often votes with Republicans on matters of defense, especially regarding the Iraq war.
[2000 VP candidate Lieberman was a Democrat prior to losing his primary in 2006; he then ran and won the election
as an “Independent Democrat.”]
7
    Pew Research Center, http://people-press.org/reports/pdf/312.pdf.


                                                         -2-
Despite Republican inroads in the 1980s into previous Democratic constituencies such as middle
class and blue-collar workers, Democrats remain the party of choice with civil servants, union
members, minorities, teachers, low-income workers and with a majority of college-educated
professionals, among others. And although Democrats beat back a balanced budget amendment
pushed by Republican congresses of the mid-90s, they have since evolved to be regarded as the
party of fiscal responsibility and fair tax policy after massive deficits run up by the last three
Republican presidents8 and four straight surpluses during Bill Clinton’s second term.

Democrats are also associated with a more multilateral, cooperative approach to international
crises; environmental protection; opening of global markets; fair trade practices; worker
protections; accessible health care; retirement security; women’s reproductive rights; and a
commitment to equal opportunity in education and the workplace, among other positions.

The Democratic Party platform may be viewed at
http://www.democrats.org/pdfs/2004platform.pdf.


                                                                                - Mike Burns




8
    Reagan, Bush, Bush.

                                               -3-

								
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