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. (January 2018)
The Democratic Party traces its origins to the inspiration of the
Democratic-Republican Party, founded by
James Madison and other influential opponents of the
Federalists in 1792. That party also inspired the
Whigs and modern Republicans. Organizationally, the modern Democratic Party truly arose in the 1830s with the election of
Andrew Jackson. Since the nomination of
William Jennings Bryan in 1896, the party has generally positioned itself to the
left of the Republican Party on economic issues. They have been more liberal on civil rights issues since 1948. On foreign policy, both parties changed position several times.
The Democratic Party evolved from the Jeffersonian Republican or Democratic-Republican Party organized by Jefferson and Madison in opposition to the Federalist Party of
Alexander Hamilton and
John Adams. The party favored
republicanism; a weak
states' rights; agrarian interests (especially Southern planters); strict adherence to the
Constitution; and it opposed a national bank, close ties to Great Britain and business and banking interests. The Democratic-Republican Party came to power in the
election of 1800.
War of 1812, the Federalists virtually disappeared and the only national political party left was the Democratic-Republicans. The era of one-party rule in the United States, known as the
Era of Good Feelings, lasted from 1816 until the early 1830s, when the Whig Party became a national political group to rival the Democratic-Republicans. However, the Democratic-Republican Party still had its own internal factions. They split over the choice of a successor to President
James Monroe and the party faction that supported many of the old
Jeffersonian principles, led by Andrew Jackson and
Martin Van Buren, became the modern Democratic Party. As Norton explains the transformation in 1828:
Jacksonians believed the people's will had finally prevailed. Through a lavishly financed coalition of state parties, political leaders, and newspaper editors, a popular movement had elected the president. The Democrats became the nation's first well-organized national party [...] and tight party organization became the hallmark of nineteenth-century American politics.
Opposing factions led by
Henry Clay helped form the Whig Party. The Democratic Party had a small yet decisive advantage over the Whigs until the 1850s, when the Whigs fell apart over the issue of slavery. In 1854, angry with the
Kansas–Nebraska Act, anti-slavery Democrats left the party and joined Northern Whigs to form the
Behind the platforms issued by state and national parties stood a widely shared political outlook that characterized the Democrats:
The Democrats represented a wide range of views but shared a fundamental commitment to the Jeffersonian concept of an agrarian society. They viewed the central government as the enemy of individual liberty. The 1824 "corrupt bargain" had strengthened their suspicion of Washington politics. [...] Jacksonians feared the concentration of economic and political power. They believed that government intervention in the economy benefited special-interest groups and created corporate monopolies that favored the rich. They sought to restore the independence of the individual—the artisan and the ordinary farmer—by ending federal support of banks and corporations and restricting the use of paper currency, which they distrusted. Their definition of the proper role of government tended to be negative, and Jackson's political power was largely expressed in negative acts. He exercised the veto more than all previous presidents combined. Jackson and his supporters also opposed reform as a movement. Reformers eager to turn their programs into legislation called for a more active government. But Democrats tended to oppose programs like educational reform mid the establishment of a public education system. They believed, for instance, that public schools restricted individual liberty by interfering with parental responsibility and undermined freedom of religion by replacing church schools. Nor did Jackson share reformers' humanitarian concerns. He had no sympathy for American Indians, initiating the removal of the Cherokees along the Trail of Tears.
The Democrats split over the choice of a successor to President
James Buchanan along Northern and Southern lines as factions of the party provided two separate candidacies for President in the
election of 1860, in which the Republican Party gained ascendancy. The radical pro-slavery
Fire-Eaters led a walkout at both the April Democratic convention in Charleston's Institute Hall and the June convention in
Baltimore when the national party would not adopt a resolution supporting the extension of slavery into territories even if the voters of those territories did not want it. These
Southern Democrats nominated the pro-slavery incumbent
John C. Breckinridge of
President and General
Joseph Lane, former
Governor of Oregon, for Vice President. The
Northern Democrats nominated
Stephen A. Douglas of
Illinois for President and former Governor of
Herschel V. Johnson for Vice President while some Southern Democrats joined the
Constitutional Union Party, backing its nominees (who had both been prominent Whig leaders), former Senator,
Speaker of the House and
Secretary of War
John Bell of
Tennessee for President and the politician, statesman and educator
Edward Everett of
Massachusetts for Vice President. This fracturing of the Democrats led to a Republican victory and
Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States.
American Civil War broke out, Northern Democrats were divided into
War Democrats and
Peace Democrats. The
Confederate States of America, whose political leadership, mindful of the
welter prevalent in antebellum American politics and with a pressing need for unity, largely viewed political parties as inimical to good governance and consequently the Confederacy had none or at least none with the wide organization inherent to other American parties. Most War Democrats rallied to Republican President Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans'
National Union Party in the
election of 1864, which featured
Andrew Johnson on the Republican ticket even though he was a Democrat from the South. Johnson replaced Lincoln in 1865, but he stayed independent of both parties. The Democrats benefited from white Southerners' resentment of
Reconstruction after the war and consequent hostility to the Republican Party. After
Redeemers ended Reconstruction in the 1870s and following the often extremely violent
disenfranchisement of African Americans led by such
white supremacist Democratic politicians as
Benjamin Tillman of
South Carolina in the 1880s and 1890s, the South, voting Democratic, became known as the "
Solid South". Though Republicans won all but two presidential elections, the Democrats remained competitive. The party was dominated by pro-business
Bourbon Democrats led by
Samuel J. Tilden and
Grover Cleveland, who represented mercantile, banking and railroad interests; opposed
imperialism and overseas expansion; fought for the
gold standard; opposed
bimetallism; and crusaded against corruption, high taxes and tariffs. Cleveland was elected to non-consecutive presidential terms in 1884 and 1892.
Agrarian Democrats demanding
free silver overthrew the Bourbon Democrats in 1896 and nominated
William Jennings Bryan for the presidency (a nomination repeated by Democrats in 1900 and 1908). Bryan waged a vigorous campaign attacking Eastern moneyed interests, but he lost to Republican
William McKinley. The Democrats took control of the House in 1910 and elected
Woodrow Wilson as President in 1912 and 1916. Wilson effectively led Congress to put to rest the issues of tariffs, money and antitrust, which had dominated politics for 40 years, with new progressive laws.
Great Depression in 1929 that occurred under Republican President
Herbert Hoover and the Republican Congress set the stage for a more liberal government as the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives nearly uninterrupted from 1930 until 1994 and won most presidential elections until 1968.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected to the presidency in 1932, came forth with government programs called the
New Deal. New Deal liberalism meant the regulation of business (especially finance and banking) and the promotion of labor unions as well as federal spending to aid to the unemployed, help distressed farmers and undertake large-scale public works projects. It marked the start of the American welfare state.
 The opponents, who stressed opposition to unions, support for business and low taxes, started calling themselves "conservatives".
Until the 1980s, the Democratic Party was a coalition of two parties divided by the Mason–Dixon line: liberal Democrats in the North and culturally conservative voters in the South, who though benefitting from many of the New Deal public works projects opposed increasing
civil rights initiatives advocated by Northeastern liberals. The polarization grew stronger after Roosevelt died. Southern Democrats formed a key part of the bipartisan
conservative coalition in an alliance with most of the Midwestern Republicans. The economically activist philosophy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which has strongly influenced
American liberalism, shaped much of the party's economic agenda after 1932. From the 1930s to the mid-1960s, the liberal
New Deal coalition usually controlled the presidency while the conservative coalition usually controlled Congress.
Issues facing parties and the United States after
World War II included the
Cold War and the
Civil Rights Movement. Republicans attracted conservatives and white Southerners from the Democratic coalition with their use of the
Southern strategy and resistance to New Deal and
Great Society liberalism. African Americans had traditionally supported the Republican Party because of the anti-slavery policies of
Abraham Lincoln and the civil rights policies of his successors, such as
Ulysses S. Grant, but they began supporting Democrats following the ascent of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, the New Deal, the integration of the military and embrace of proposed civil rights legislation by President Harry Truman in 1947–1948 and the postwar Civil Rights movement. The Democratic Party's main base of support shifted to the
Northeast, marking a dramatic reversal of history.
The election of President
John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts in 1960 was a partial reflection of this shift. In the campaign, Kennedy attracted a new generation of younger voters. In his agenda dubbed the
New Frontier, Kennedy introduced a host of social programs and public works projects, along with enhanced support of the
space program, proposing a manned spacecraft
trip to the moon by the end of the decade. He pushed for civil rights initiatives and proposed the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, but with his
assassination in November 1963 was not able to see its passage.
Lyndon B. Johnson was able to persuade the largely conservative Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and with a more progressive Congress in 1965 passed much of the
Great Society, which consisted of an array of social programs designed to help the poor. Kennedy and Johnson's advocacy of civil rights further solidified black support for the Democrats, but had the effect of alienating Southern whites who would eventually gravitate towards the Republican party, particularly after the election of
Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. The United States' involvement in the
Vietnam War in the 1960s was another divisive issue that further fractured the fault lines of the Democrats' coalition. After the
Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, President Johnson committed a large contingency of combat troops to Vietnam, but the escalation failed to drive the
Viet Cong from South Vietnam, resulting in an increasing
quagmire, which by 1968 had become the subject of widespread anti-war protests in the United States and elsewhere. With increasing casualties and nightly news reports bringing home troubling images from Vietnam, the costly military engagement became increasingly unpopular, alienating many of the kinds of young voters that the Democrats had attracted the early 1960s. The protests that year along with assassinations of
Martin Luther King Jr. and Democratic presidential candidate Senator
Robert F. Kennedy (younger brother of John F. Kennedy) climaxed in turbulence at the hotly contested
Democratic National Convention that summer in Chicago (which amongst the ensuing turmoil inside and outside of the convention hall nominated Vice President
Hubert Humphrey) in a series of events that proved to mark a significant turning point in the decline of the Democratic party's broad coalition.
Republican presidential nominee
Richard Nixon was able to capitalize on the Democrat's confusion that year and won the 1968 election to become the 37th president and would win again in 1972 against Democratic nominee
George McGovern, who like Robert F. Kennedy reached out to the younger anti-war and counterculture voters, but unlike Kennedy was not able to appeal to the party's more traditional white working class constituencies. During Nixon's second term, his presidency was rocked by the
Watergate scandal, which forced him to resign in 1974, being succeeded by vice president
Gerald Ford, who served a brief tenure. Watergate offered the Democrats an opportunity to recoup and their nominee
Jimmy Carter won the 1976 presidential election. With the initial support of
evangelical Christian voters in the South, Carter was temporarily able to reunite the disparate factions within the party, but
inflation and the
Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979–1980 took their toll, resulting in a landslide victory for Republican presidential nominee
Ronald Reagan in 1980, which shifted the tectonic plates of the political landscape in favor of the Republicans for years to come.
With the ascendancy of the Republicans under Ronald Reagan, the Democrats searched for ways to respond yet were unable to succeed by running traditional candidates, such as former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee
Walter Mondale, who lost to Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. Many Democrats attached their hopes to the future star of
Gary Hart, who had challenged Mondale in the 1984 primaries running on a theme of "New Ideas"; and in the subsequent 1988 primaries became the de facto front-runner and virtual "shoe-in" for the Democratic presidential nomination before his campaign was ended by a sex scandal. The party nevertheless began to seek out a younger generation of leaders, who like Hart had been inspired by the pragmatic idealism of John F. Kennedy.
Bill Clinton was one such figure, who was elected President in 1992 as the Democratic nominee. He labeled himself and governed as a "
New Democrat". The party adopted a
centrist economic yet
socially progressive agenda, with the voter base after Reagan having shifted considerably to the
right. In an effort to appeal to both liberals and fiscal conservatives, Democrats began to advocate for a
balanced budget and
market economy tempered by
government intervention (
mixed economy), along with a continued emphasis on
social justice and
affirmative action. The economic policy adopted by the Democratic Party, including the former
Clinton administration, has been referred to as "
Third Way". The Democrats lost control of Congress in the
election of 1994 to the Republican Party. Re-elected in 1996, Clinton was the first Democratic President since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected to two terms. Following twelve years of Republican rule, the Democrats regained majority control of both the House and the Senate in the
In the wake of the 2001
World Trade Center
terrorist attacks and with growing concern over
global warming, some of the party's key issues in the early 21st century have included the methods of how to combat
homeland security, expanding access to
labor rights, environmentalism and the preservation of liberal government programs.
Barack Obama won the Democratic Party's nomination and was elected as the first
African American president in 2008. The Democrats gained control of both chambers of Congress in the wake of the
2007 economic recession. The Democratic Party under the Obama presidency moved forward reforms including an
Economic Stimulus package, the
Dodd-Frank financial reform act and the
Affordable Care Act. In the
2010 elections, the Democratic Party lost control of the House and lost its majority in state legislatures and state governorships. In the
2012 elections, President Obama was re-elected, but the party kept its minority in the House of Representatives and in 2014 the party lost control of the Senate for the first time since 2006. After the
2016 election of
Donald Trump, the Democratic Party transitioned into the role of an opposition party and currently hold neither the presidency nor a majority in the House or Senate.
According to a
Pew Research poll, the Democratic Party has become more socially liberal and secular compared to how it was in 1987.
 Based on a poll conducted in 2014,
Gallup found that 30% of Americans identified as Democrats, 23% as Republicans and 45% as
 In the same poll, a survey of registered voters stated that 47% identified as Democrats or leaned towards the party—the same poll found that 40% of registered voters identified as Republicans or leaned towards the Republican party.