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History of the Democratic Party

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A Brief History of the Democratic Party of the United States

Also note U-S-History’s  History of the Republican Party and History of the Dixiecrats

The US Democratic Party is the oldest political party in the United States and remains one of the oldest surviving political institutions of all time.    Although the current US President Barack Obama is a democrat, the history of the democratic party is replete with personality and policy changes that in many ways have shifted the party’s focus dramatically from the early days when the US two party system was in its infancy.   For example old school  “Conservative Democrats”  have in many states effectively been replaced by Republicans who now run on platforms not all that dissimilar to those “Southern Democrats”.   A focus on Religion, small government except for defense, and low tolerance for liberal social policies like gay marriage would have been consistent with the early history of the democratic party but not the current state of affairs.

From the elections of 1832 through 1856 the Democrats were dominant in the USA. This era saw the election of Presidents Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, James K. Polk, and Senator Stephen Douglas.

During this period both the Democratic Party and the Whig Party competed for votes and worked hard to establish large political organizations with broad based national support. For the Democrats this meant a focus on farmers, new immigrants, and urban workers.

At this time the platform of the Democratic party included westward expansion, Manifest Destiny, greater equality (although this was taken to mean equality among white men – it would take more than half a century to see universal suffrage and over one hundred forty years to see the election of a president who was not a white male).

A key figure in the history of the Democratic party during the years leading up to the civil war was James Buchanan.  Buchanan was the last president of this important Democratic era. His administration saw the Dred Scott case, the Economic Panic of 1857, and conflicts over forts in the south.  Buchanan’s successor, Abraham Lincoln, would see the attack on Fort Sumter by confederate forces, effectively beginning the United States Civil War. On a trivia note, Buchanan was the only bachelor president.

Starting with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 the Republican Party would dominate US national politics from 1860 to 1932. The Democrats would only see two party members elected to the presidency during that time, Presidents Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson. Interestingly, William Henry Harrison was president between the two terms of Grover Cleveland, a unique situation in US political history.

During this period there were major competing factions among Democrats. One was the Bourbon Democrats with Eastern business interests, another would become the “Progressive Movement” with large participation from farmers in the US South and West.

Democrats controlled the US House of Representatives from 1930 to 1994.  The Dems also held a majority in the US Senate for most of those years.  During this time prominent Democrats were Presidents Harry S. Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and the Kennedys:  Brothers John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Ted Kennedy.   More recent democratic Presidents are:  Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

Credits:  This article is based mostly on Wikipedia Content

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