The Democratic Party has its origins in the anti-Federalist party established in the first few years of the United States' existence. Thomas Jefferson was the leader of this group, arguing against the strong centralized government put forth by Alexander Hamilton and the leaders of the first administration. This group eventually began calling themselves the Democratic Republicans. With Jefferson and James Madison at the helm, the party grew; Jefferson's presidency in 1800 further solidified the party. The party was kept in the executive branch until 1824 by a coalition of Northern urbanites and Southern farmers. The Democratic Republicans were such a dominating force the Federalists dissolved and politics in the US became infighting within the Democratic Republicans.

Andrew Jackson's administration from 1828 to 1836 finally solidified the opposition to the Democratic Party (and was the period where the party finally simplified its name). The Whig party was formed primarily as an anti-Jackson party. This party had a tenuous existence however, winning only two presidential elections; it ultimately dissolved after the election of 1852. However, the opposition to the Democrats remained, centering on the divisive slavery issue. This opposition coalesced once more, forming the Republican Party in 1854. The Democrats, dividing their ticket between two candidates over the issue of slavery in the territories, made Republican Abraham Lincoln's 1860 victory an easy one. After the Civil War, Republicans were able to paint the Democrats as the party of the South -- and therefore the party of rebellion -- and take much of the power in the US throughout the last half of the 1800s. The Democrats finally won a presidential election in 1912, primarily because Theodore Roosevelt, running on the Progressive Party ticket, split the Republican vote.

The Democrats finally began regaining ground during the Great Depression. The incompetence of Republican Herbert Hoover helped sweep Franklin D. Roosevelt and the new reform-oriented Democrats into power. They pulled the country out of the depression through massive government spending in public works. They retained the presidency until Eisenhower's victory in 1952. John F. Kennedy retook the presidency for the Democrats; after his assasination Lyndon Johnson spent his administration passing social welfare and civil rights legistlation; however, the combination of the Vietnam War and George Wallace's third-party run poisoned the chances of Johnson's successor, Hubert Humphrey, who lost to Richard Nixon in 1968.

After that loss, the Democratic Party began to grow more and more troubled. Throughout the 70's and 80's, southern Democrats -- a traditional stronghold of the Democrats -- grew further and further away from the party. Jimmy Carter's election was largely a reaction to Richard Nixon's corrupt administration; after his loss to Ronald Reagan the Democrats' power diminished and there was more and more infighting in the party. However, the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 marked the arrival of so-called New Democrats: a coalition of the most moderate pieces of the old Democratic party. This has led to a new problem for many liberals; to many, the New Democrats are far too close to the post-Republican Revolution, sanitized Republican Party for comfort. This may have contributed to the relative success of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in the 2000 elections, and the defeat of Democrat Al Gore.

Democratic Party, one of the two chief divisions into which the voters of the United States are politically associated, first opposed to the Whigs, then to the Republicans.

The Cleveland View. -- The complete evolution of the Democratic party may be said to date from the accession of Andrew Jackson to the presidency, though its fundamental principles were enunciated by Thomas Jefferson. The political features of Jackson's administration were the opposition to the United States Bank, the denial of the right of any State to nullify the laws of Congress, and the excitement over the tarriff question. In 1836 though the influence of Jackson, Martin Van Buren was elected President, and during his administration the prestige of the Democratic party began to wane. In 1837 the country went through a severe commercial panic. Credit, speculation and banking had been carried to extreme limits and disaster followed. For this state of affairs the administration was held responsible. The election of 1840 was a revolution and in the choice of General Harrison by the electoral vote of 234 to 60 the Democratic party, after an ascendency of its principles entailing 40 years of power, was forced to retire. But the Whig triumph was shortlived. General Harrison died one month after his inauguration and John Tyler, who had been nominated for Vice-President to conciliate Virginia, succeeded to the presidential chair. All his life he had held and advocated Democratic docrines, especially the opposition to the United States Bank, a protective tarriff, and internal improvements by the general government. On his accession, he contined the cabinet of his predecessor, Daniel Webster being Secretary of State; but after two successive vetoes of the "Fiscal Bank of the United States" bill, his cabinet left him, Mr. Webster remaining only until the conclusion of the Webster-Ashburton treaty, and his administration became essentially Democratic.

In 1844 James K. Polk was elected President, after a bitter and exciting contest, over Henry Clay. The annexation of Texas, which was urged by the Democratic Party, was the great question in determining this election, and was accomplished March 1, 1845, three days before the inauguration of Mr. Polk. This led to a war with Mexico, which was declared May 12, 1846. At its successful conclusion, not only was the Rio Grande established as the boundary of Texas, but all New Mexico and Upper California were reliquished to the United States. In March, 1820, an act known as the Missouri Compromise had been passed, forbidding the introduction of slavery in any of the States formed from the Louisiana Cession N. of 36 degrees 30'. On Aug. 8, 1846, the rejection of the so-called Wilmot Proviso by the Senate, which provided "That as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico by the United States . . . neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory," became the starting-point of the Free Soil Party in 1848. Mr. Wilmot, the mover, was a Democrat. The popularity of General Taylor caused the defeat of Lewis Cass in the election of 1848, and the Democratic party went out of power until 1853, when Franklin Pierce became President. In 1856 it elected James Buchanan President and John C. Breckenridge Vice-President. At the convention held in Charleston, S.C., April, 1860, the slavery issue caused a disruption of the party, the slave section nominating John C. Breckenridge, and the free, Stephen A. Douglas, and, on Mr. Lincoln's election, it lost the supremacy which it had held with little interruption for 60 years. It had, however, a vigorous life, and contested very hotly every presidential election, its unsuccessful candidates being George B. McClellan, 1864; Horatio Seymour, 1868; Horace Greeley, 1872; Samuel J. Tilden, 1876; and Winfield S. Hancock, 1880. In 1884, the party elected its candidate for the presidency, Grover Cleveland. In 1888, Mr. Cleveland having been renominated, the party was defeated. In 1892 Mr. Cleveland again came to be the nominee of the party against the sharp and critical opposition of the Democratic organization of his own State (New York). In the nominating convention the solid vote of New York, under the unit rule, was case for Mr. Hill, then United States Senator, against Mr. Cleveland, but the West, the South, and largely New England voted for the latter.

In the first year of his second administration Mr. Cleveland called a special session of Congress for the purpose of repealing the law compelling the monthly purchase of silver by the government; and this was accomplished against the determined opposition of many prominent Democrats. Dissensions soon therefore arose in the party over the tarriff, centering around the so-called Wilson Bill. The opponents of the adminstration, led by Gorman of Maryland, Brice of Ohio, and others, succeeded in amending the bill to an extent deemed so undemocratic that the President could give it but a qualified approval, and it became a law without his signature. The necessity of issuing bonds for the purpose of maintaining the gold reserve, thus increasing the public debt, and the adoption of silver free coinage in the platform of 1896 overthrew the party, its candidate, William Jennings Bryan, being defeated by William McKinley, for whom many Democrats in favor of sound money and the gold standard voted.


The Bryan View. -- Some of the claims of the so-called Free Silver Wing of the Democratic party were thus formulated in an article by William Jennings Bryan in the "North American Review," in 1900, and are here with that gentleman's permission. Mr. Bryan wrote:

"The Declaration of Independence set before the world four great truths which were declared to be self-evident: first, that all men are created equal; second, that they are endowed with inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; third, that governments are instituted among men to secure these rights; fourth, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

"Upon these four pillars, quarried from the mountain of eternal truth, all free government must forever rest.

"Then followed the War of the Revolution, with its sacrifices and its sacred memories, with its trials and its triumphs, establishing a government dedicated to liberty.

"But before a generation had passed, wealth, represented by Hamilton, began to assert itself, and contempt for the rights of man and distrust of the people themselves began to be manifest. Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, undertook the task of arousing the friends of human rights and civil liberties, and he led them to victory in 1800. The impetus given to American Democracy by its first success in the forum of politics carried it through several presidential terms.

"During Jackson's administration another battle was fought between the capitalistic classes and the people at large. The National bank marshalled an almost irresistible army of financiers, business men, newspapers and politicians in defense of a gigantic monopoly.

"Jackson sounded the alarm, rallied the hosts of Democracy, and, in a contest seldom, if ever, equalled in bitterness, won the second peaceful victory for human rights against inhuman greed . . .

"For many years after the close of the Civil War the Republicans held undisputed control of the Federal government, and an appeal to the prejudices and passions sprouted by that great conflict was sufficient answer to any criticism or complaint coming from the party out of power. During this period class legislation became the order of the day, and wealth not only sought favors from the government but secured exemption from just burdens. When war taxes were to be reduced, the taxes bearing upon the rich were taken off first. When the income tax was repealed, Senator Sherman of Ohio, placed his protest on record.

"High duties were placed upon the necessities of life on the ground that infant industries required assistance, with the result that the owners of the aided industries grew rich, while home-owning decreased and tenancy increased among the consumers.

"Railroads were constructed upon a plan which permitted watered stock, fictitious competition and the over-issue of bonds, with the result that the patrons of the roads became the victims of extortionate rates and the manipulators of the roads became suddenly and enormously rich.

"Under the euphonious plea that public credit would be strengthened thereby, the terms of government contracts were altered in the interest of the bondholders. Then, in 1873, a change was made in the standard money, a change so indefensible that nearly every public man denied any knowledge of the purpose of the act. For 23 years following the passage that act every party pledged itself to restore the double standard, but the financiers succeeded in controlling the dominant party and thus maintained the gold standard in spite of popular protest.

"In 1896 the Democrats refused to be any longer parties to the duplicity and took an open and unequivocal position in favor of the immediate restoration of bimetallism by the independent action of this country at the present legal ratio. This positive and definite platform was necessary because of the cunningly devised evasions and ambiguities which had been written into the platforms of the two leading parties. The Republican leaders, on the other hand, continued their policy of deception, and held out to the Republican bimetallists of the West the delusive hope of an international agreement, while they openly promised the Eastern believers in monometallism that the gold standard would be maintained until an international agreement could be secured, and secretly assured them that they meant forever.

"After the election the administration adopted a double standard method of dealing with the subject. A commission was sent to Europe to plead for international bimetallism, while a gold standard Secretary of the Treasury was openly at work in this country defending monometallism. In 1896 the money question occupied by far the greater portion of public attention. Since 1896 the same sordid doctrine that manifested itself in the gold standard has manifested itself in several new ways and today three questions contest for primacy -- the money question, the trust question, and imperialism. There are several other questions of scarcely less importance, but the lines of division upon these run practically parallel with the lines which separate the people upon the three greater ones. If a man opposes the gold standard, trusts, imperialism -- all three -- the chances are a hundred to one that he is in favor of arbitration, the income tax and the election of United States Senators by a direct vote of the people, and is opposed to government by injunction and the black-list. If a man favors the gold standard, the trust, and imperialism -- all three -- the chances are equally great that he regards the demand for arbitration as an impertinence, defends government by injunction and the black-list, views the income tax as a 'discouragement to thrift' and will oppose the election of Senators by the people as soon as he learns that it will lessen the influence of corporations in the Senate. When a person is with the Democrats on one or two of these questions but not on all, his position on the subordinate questions is not so easily calculated."


In 1896, 1900, and 1908 the Democratic Party appealed to the country under the leadership of William J. Bryan, and in 1904 under that of Judge Alton B. Parker, and in each contest was defeated by the Republican candidates; William McKinley (1896 and 1900), Theodore Roosevelt (1904), and William H. Taft (1908). In 1910 it made heavy gains in many States and secured control of the National House of Representatives, with the Speakership. Early in 1912, Woodrow Wilson, Governor of New Jersey and former president of Princeton University, was put forward by his friends as a candidate for the party nomination for the Presidency. He made an active canvas throughout, speaking for high ideals in political life and administration and for tariff reform, and at the Democratic National Convention at Baltimore, Md., on July 2, he was nominated by a vote of 990 to 96 on the forty-sixth ballot. On the following day, Governor Thomas R. Marshall, of Indiana, was unanimously nominated for Vice-President. On Nov. 5, 1912, Governor Wilson was elected, defeating President Taft and Theodore Roosevelt by the greatest electoral majority on record.

Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.

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