Democratic Party

Democratic Party

The Democratic Party emerged under Thomas Jefferson in the 1790s in opposition to the Federalist Party. It initially drew most of its support from Southern planters and Northern farmers. Its good organization and popular appeal kept it in power for most of the time between 1825 and 1860. This included John Quincy Adams (1825-1829), Andrew Jackson (1829-37), Martin Van Buren (1837-41), James Polk (1845-49) and Franklin Pierce (1853-47). and James Buchanan (1857-61).

The Republican Party was established at Ripon, Wisconsin in 1854 by a group of former members of the Whig Party and the Free-Soil Party. Its original founders were opposed to slavery and called for the repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska and the Fugitive Slave Law. Early members thought it was important to place the national interest above sectional interest and the rights of individual States.

Over the next few years the Republican Party emerged as the main opposition party to the Democratic Party in the North. However, it had little support in the South. The party's first presidential candidate was John C. Fremont in 1856 who won 1,335,264 votes but was defeated by the Democrat, James Buchanan.

In the 1860s, Thomas Nast, of Harper's Weekly, developed the idea of the political cartoon. Nast originated the idea of using animals to represent political parties. In his cartoons the Democratic Party was a donkey and the Republican Party, an elephant.

During the presidency of James Buchanan, the Democrats split over the issue of slavery. At its convention at Charleston in April, 1860, Stephen A. Douglas was the choice of most northern Democrats but was opposed by those in the Deep South. When Douglas won the nomination, Southern delegates decided to hold another convention in Baltimore and in June selected John Beckenridge of Kentucky as their candidate. The situation was further complicated by the formation of the Constitutional Union Party and the nomination of John Bell of Tennessee as its presidential candidate.

Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election with with 1,866,462 votes (18 free states) and beat Stephen A. Douglas (1,375,157 - 1 slave state), John Beckenridge (847,953 - 13 slave states) and John Bell (589,581 - 3 slave states).

After the American Civil War the Republican Party dominated the political system. Its support of protective tariffs gained it the support of powerful industrialists and the Northern urban areas. It was also popular with Northern and Midwestern farmers and most of the immigrant groups, except for the Irish, who tended to support the Democrats. Republican presidents during this period included Ulysses Grant (1869-1877), Rutherhood Hayes (1877-1881), James Garfield (1881) and Chester Arthur (1881-1885).

Grover Cleveland managed two victories for the Democrats (1885-89 and 1893-97) and so did Woodrow Wilson (1913-23). However the Republican Party continued to be the major party during this period with victories for Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893), William McKinley (1897-1901), Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), William Taft (1909-1913), Warren Harding (1921-1923), Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) and Herbert Hoover (1929-33).

The Democratic Party re-emerged during the Great Depression when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in 1932. Roosevelt became the only President to be re-elected three times and served for twelve years (1933-45). During this period the Democrats gained the support of small farmers, trade unions, liberals, blacks and other minorities. After Roosevelt's death the Democrats remained in power under Harry S. Truman (1945-53).

The Republicans selected the war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower as its candidate in 1952. During the election the Republican Party took a strong anti-communist stance and advocated lower taxes for the rich. It also opposed civil rights legislation being proposed by the liberal Democratic candidate, Adlai Stevenson. Eisenhower won by 33,936,252 votes to 27,314,922.

Eisenhower's vice-president, Richard Nixon was narrowly defeated in 1960 by John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) who was followed by another Democrat, Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969).

The Republican Party candidate, Richard Nixon won in 1968 but was forced to resign in 1974 over the Watergate Scandal and was replaced by his vice-president, Gerald Ford (1974-1977). In 1976 Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter (1977-1981).

Primary Sources

(1) John Caldwell Calhoun, speech in the Senate (4th March, 1850)

How can the Union be saved? There is but one way by which it can with any certainty; and that is, by a full and final settlement, on the principle of justice of all the questions at issue between the two sections. But can this be done? Yes, easily; not by the weaker party, for it can of itself do nothing - not even protect itself - but by the stronger. The North has only to will it to accomplish it - to do justice by conceding to the South an equal right in the acquired territory, and to do her duty by causing the stipulations relative to fugitive slaves to be faithfully fulfilled and to cease the agitation of the slave question.

(2) Abraham Lincoln, debate with Stephen Douglas in Alton, Illinois (15th October, 1858)

Stephen Douglas assumes that I am in favor of introducing a perfect social and political equality between the white and black races. These are false issues. The real issue in this controversy is the sentiment on the part of one class that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong, and of another class that does not look upon it as a wrong. One of the methods of treating it as a wrong is to make provision that it shall grow no larger.

(3) The journalist, Henry Villard, described the Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas debate at Ottawa, Illinois, on 21st August, 1858.

The first joint debate between Douglas and Lincoln, which I attended, took place on the afternoon of August 21, 1858, at Ottawa, Illinois. It was the great event of the day, and attracted an immense concourse of people from all parts of the State.

Senator Douglas was very small, not over four and a half feet height, and there was a noticeable disproportion between the long trunk of his body and his short legs. His chest was broad and indicated great strength of lungs. It took but a glance at his face and head to convince one that they belonged to no ordinary man. No beard hid any part of his remarkable, swarthy features. His mouth, nose, and chin were all large and clearly expressive of much boldness and power of will. The broad, high forehead proclaimed itself the shield of a great brain. The head, covered with an abundance of flowing black hair just beginning to show a tinge of grey, impressed one with its massiveness and leonine expression. His brows were shaggy, his eyes a brilliant black.

Douglas spoke first for an hour, followed by Lincoln for an hour and a half; upon which the former closed in another half hour. The Democratic spokesman commanded a strong, sonorous voice, a rapid, vigorous utterance, a telling play of countenance, impressive gestures, and all the other arts of the practiced speaker.

As far as all external conditions were concerned, there was nothing in favour of Lincoln. He had a lean, lank, indescribably gawky figure, an odd-featured, wrinkled, inexpressive, and altogether uncomely face. He used singularly awkward, almost absurd, up-and-down and sidewise movements of his body to give emphasis to his arguments. His voice was naturally good, but he frequently raised it to an unnatural pitch.

Yet the unprejudiced mind felt at once that, while there was on the one side a skillful dialectician and debater arguing a wrong and weak cause, there was on the other a thoroughly earnest and truthful man, inspired by sound convictions in consonance with the true spirit of American institutions. There was nothing in all Douglas's powerful effort that appealed to the higher instincts of human nature, while Lincoln always touched sympathetic cords. Lincoln's speech excited and sustained the enthusiasm of his audience to the end.

(4) William Seward, speech, Rochester, New York (25th October, 1858)

The Democratic Party derived its strength originally from its adoption of the principles of equal and exact justice to all men. So long as it practised this principle faithfully, it was invulnerable. It became vulnerable when it renounced the principle, and since that time it has maintained itself not by virtue of its own strength, or even of its traditional merits, but because there as yet had appeared in the political field no other party that had the conscience and the courage to take up, and avow, and practice the life-inspiring principle which the Democratic Party surrendered.

At last, the Republican Party had appeared. It avows now, as the Republican Party of 1800 did, in one word, its faith and its works, "Equal and exact justice to all men." The secret of its assured success lies in that very characteristic, which in the mouth of scoffers constitutes its great and lasting imbecility and reproach. It lies in the fact that it is a party of one idea; but that idea is a noble one - an idea that fills and expands all generous souls - the idea of equality - the equality of all men before human tribunals and human laws, as they are equal before the divine tribunal and divine laws.

(5) Jefferson Davis, inaugural address (18th February, 1861)

The right solemnly proclaimed at the birth of the States, and which has been affirmed and reaffirmed in the bills of rights of the states subsequently admitted into the Union of 1789, undeniably recognizes in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the purposes of government. Thus the sovereign states here represented proceeded to form the Confederacy; and it is by the abuse of language that their act has been denominated revolution.