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History of the Democratic Party (United States)

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See also: History of the Republican Party (United States)

The History of the United States Democratic Party began in the 1820s with Andrew Jackson, and continues to the present. It is the oldest political party in the world.

Contents

Origins in the 1820s

After the War of 1812, the Federalist Party collapsed and the Jeffersonian Republicans became wholly dominant nationally and in nearly every state except Delaware. The Republicans had picked their presidential candidates by a caucus of members of Congress. That fell out of use in 1820 and could not be revived.

In 1824, four factions ran candidates. A rump caucus backed Georgia Senator William Crawford, but he was ill. The Crawford faction included most "Old Republicans," who remained committed to states' rights and the Principles of 1798, and were distrustful of the nationalization program promoted by Henry Clay and John Calhoun. Andrew Jackson, war hero from 1812, had a strong base in the southwest, especially among militia units. John Quincy Adams (son of Federalist John Adams but himself a Republican) had a base in New England. Finally, Henry Clay of Kentucky had been the party leader in Congress since 1811.

Jackson had the most popular and electoral votes, but not a majority. The House chose from the top three; Clay was fourth and threw his support to Adams, who was elected, and who then named Clay Secretary of State. Jackson, outraged at the "corrupt bargain", swore revenge and started organizing for 1828. His alliance with Martin Van Buren of New York, Thomas Ritchie of Virginia, and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. plus most of the Old Republicans from Crawford's faction, assured Jackson a national base of support.[1] Van Buren was the man instrumental in pulling together the coalition in the name of Jackson. It did not yet have a formal name, and most members still called themselves "Jackson Men" or "Republicans."[2]

Adams organized his supporters as the ad-hoc "National Republican" party. He lost badly, and Clay took over the party, making it into the Whig party by 1832.

Second Party System: The Jackson Movement

The Democratic party thus originated, under the national leadership of Jackson and Van Buren, with organizations in all the states comprised of local political leaders. The Jacksonians resembled the Jeffersonians especially in terms of anti-elite rhetoric of opposition to "aristocracy," distrust of banks (and paper money), and faith in "the people." By his extensive use of federal patronage, President Jackson removed old office-holders to make way for party loyalists. With the emergence of the Whig Party, the nation now had a new party system, the Second Party System, which lasted until 1854.

The party held its first national convention in 1832 to choose a new running mate for Jackson, as Calhoun had become estranged from him. The convention nominated Martin Van Buren for vice president and endorsed the reelection of Jackson.[3] Jackson easily defeated Clay in 1832. The name "Democratic Party" became common by the mid-1830s. In the political realignment of 1828-32, some of Jackson's supporters from the election of 1828, especially businessmen and bankers, switched to the opposition Whig Party as Jackson crusaded against the Second Bank of the United States.

Jacksonian Democracy: 1828-1854

After 1830, the Democratic Party drew support from a cross section of the country; every group was represented, but few rich merchants or bankers joined., The party was strongest among traditionalistic farmers, frontiersmen, unskilled workers, Irish Catholics, and local or state political leaders. It was weakest in New England, where industrialization turned most factory workers and white collar workers into Whigs, but was dominant in all other regions. The key issues it promoted were opposition to elites and aristocrats, popular democracy (in terms of voting rights and access to government patronage jobs) and opposition to the Bank of the United States. The policies were known as Jacksonian Democracy. Banking and tariffs were the central domestic policy issues from 1828 to 1848. The Democrats favored the Mexican-American War; Whigs opposed it. Democrats attracted Catholic Irish and German immigrants and denounced anti-immigrant nativism. Both the Democrats and Whigs were divided on the issue of slavery.

In the 1830s the Loco-Focos in New York City were radically democratic, anti-monopoly, and proponents of laissez-faire. Their chief spokesman was writer William Leggett. At this time labor unions were few; some were loosely affiliated with the party.

Martin Van Buren lost the presidency in 1840 to General William Henry Harrison, but the Democrats gained it back in 1844 with James K. Polk. The Democratic National Committee was created in 1848 at the convention that nominated General Lewis Cass, who lost to General Zachary Taylor of the Whigs. In state after state the Democrats gained small but permanent advantages over the Whigs, until by 1852 the Whig Party was fatally weakened by divisions regarding the issue of slavery and they soon vanished.

The party dominated the North from the 1840s to 1854. Despite the Democratic Party's southern fire-eater and slave-owner elements, its ideologies provided ideas and helped build an image for Democrats that pleased many northern voters. Northern Democrats espoused states' rights, opposed banks, criticized corporate practices, and preached the ideals of a free society. They called for rapid territorial expansion of the United States, saying that in territorial expansion lay a means for thwarting the pretensions of the Slave Power.

Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was elected president in 1852, followed by James Buchanan of Pennsylvania in 1856. They proved poor presidents who lost control of the slavery issue, and the party, as the nation broke apart and fought the American Civil War.

Third Party System: Civil War, Gilded Age: 1854-1896

During the Third Party System (1854-1896) the Democrats became the minority in the face of the newly formed Republican Party, which controlled nearly all northern states by 1860, bringing a solid majority in the Electoral College. A powerful Republican issue was the allegation that northern Democrats, including "Doughfaces" like Pierce and Buchanan, and advocates of popular sovereignty like Stephen A. Douglas and Lewis Cass, were accomplices to the Slave Power. The Republicans meant by Slave Power the conspiracy of slaveholders to seize control of the federal government and block the progress of liberty.

In 1860 the Democrats were unable to stop the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln, even as they feared his election would lead to civil war. The party split in two. The northern wing nominated Douglas, and the southern wing nominated Vice President John C. Breckinridge. Douglas campaigned across the country and came in second in the popular vote, but carried only Missouri. Breckinridge carried 11 slave states.

The Republican Party was beginning a 50-year era of dominance (1858-1910). During the war, Northern Democrats divided into two factions, War Democrats, who supported the military policies of President Lincoln, and Copperheads, who strongly opposed them. Historian Kenneth Stampp has captured the Copperhead spirit in his depiction of Congressman Daniel W. Voorhees of Indiana:

There was an earthy quality in Voorhees, "the tall sycamore of the Wabash." On the stump his hot temper, passionate partisanship, and stirring eloquence made an irresistible appeal to the western Democracy. His bitter cries against protective tariffs and national banks, his intense race prejudice, his suspicion of the eastern Yankee, his devotion to personal liberty, his defense of the Constitution and state rights faithfully reflected the views of his constituents. Like other Jacksonian agrarians he resented the political and economic revolution then in progress. Voorhees idealized a way of life which he thought was being destroyed by the current rulers of his country. His bold protests against these dangerous trends made him the idol of the Democracy of the Wabash Valley.[4]

The Democrats lost consecutive presidential elections from 1860 through 1880 (1876 was in dispute) and 1884 was their next victory. The Democrats were weakened by their record of opposition to the war but nevertheless benefited from white Southerners' resentment of Reconstruction and consequent hostility to the Republican Party. The Redeemers gave the Democrats control of every Southern state (by the Compromise of 1877); the disenfranchisement of blacks took place 1890-1900. From 1880 to 1960 the "Solid South" voted Democratic in presidential elections (except 1928). After 1900 the southern states used primaries and victory in the Democratic primary was "tantamount to election" because the GOP was so weak.

Though Republicans continued to control the White House until 1884, the Democrats remained competitive, especially in the mid-Atlantic and lower Midwest, and controlled the House of Representatives for most of that period. In the election of 1884, Grover Cleveland, the reforming Democratic Governor of New York, won the Presidency, a feat he repeated in 1892, having lost in the election of 1888.

Cleveland was the leader of the Bourbon Democrats. They represented business interests, supported banking and railroad goals, promoted laissez-faire capitalism, opposed imperialism and U.S. overseas expansion, opposed the annexation of Hawaii, fought for the gold standard, and opposed Bimetallism. They strongly supported reform movements such as Civil Service Reform and opposed corruption of city bosses, leading the fight against the Tweed Ring. The leading Bourbons included Samuel J. Tilden, David Bennett Hill and William C. Whitney of New York, Arthur Pue Gorman of Maryland, Thomas F. Bayard of Delaware, William L. Wilson of West Virginia, John Griffin Carlisle of Kentucky, William F. Vilas of Wisconsin, J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska, John M. Palmer of Illinois, Horace Boies of Iowa, L.Q.C. Lamar of Mississippi, and railroad builder James J. Hill of Minnesota. A prominent intellectual was Woodrow Wilson. The Bourbons were in power when the Panic of 1893 hit, and they took the blame. A fierce struggle inside the party ensued, with catastrophic losses for both the Bourbon and agrarian factions in 1894, leading to the showdown in 1896.

Ethnocultural voting: pietistic Republicans versus liturgical Democrats

Religious lines were sharply drawn.[5] Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Scandinavian Lutherans and other pietists in the North were tightly linked to the Republican Party. In sharp contrast, liturgical groups, especially the Catholics, Episcopalians, and German Lutherans, looked to the Democratic Party for protection from pietistic moralism, especially prohibition. Both parties cut across the class structure, with the Democrats more bottom-heavy.

Cultural issues, especially prohibition and foreign language schools became important because of the sharp religious divisions in the electorate. In the North, about 50% of the voters were pietistic Protestants (Methodists, Scandinavian Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Disciples of Christ) who believed the government should be used to reduce social sins, such as drinking. Liturgical churches (Roman Catholics, German Lutherans, Episcopalians) comprised over a quarter of the vote and wanted the government to stay out of the morality business. Prohibition debates and referenda heated up politics in most states over a period of decade, as national prohibition was finally passed in 1918 (and repealed in 1932), serving as a major issue between the wet Democracy and the dry GOP.[6]

The Bryan Movement

Grover Cleveland led the party faction of conservative, pro-business Bourbon Democrats but as the depression of 1893 deepened his enemies multiplied. At the 1896 convention the silverite-agrarian faction repudiated the president, and nominated the crusading orator William Jennings Bryan on a platform of free coinage of silver. The idea was that minting silver coins would flood the economy with cash and end the depression. Cleveland supporters formed the Gold Democrats, which attracted politicians and intellectuals (including Woodrow Wilson and Frederick Jackson Turner) who refused to vote Republican.

Bryan, an overnight sensation because of his "Cross of Gold" speech, waged a new style crusade against the supporters of the gold standard. Crisscrossing the Midwest and East by special train—he was the first candidate ever to go on the road—he gave over 500 speeches to audiences in the millions. In St. Louis he gave 36 speeches to workingmen's audiences all over the city, all in one day. Most Democratic newspapers were hostile (except the New York Journal) but Bryan seized control of the media by making the news every day, as he hurled thunderbolts against Eastern monied interests. The rural folk in South and Midwest were ecstatic, showing an enthusiasm never before seen. Ethnic Democrats, especially Germans and Irish, however, were alarmed and frightened by Bryan. The middle classes, businessmen, newspaper editors, factory workers, railroad workers, and prosperous farmers generally rejected Bryan's crusade. Bryan was overwhelmed by William McKinley in the most exciting race in national history. (Historians have discovered there was little coercion involved.) McKinley promised a return to prosperity based on the gold standard, support for industry, railroads and banks, and pluralism that would enable every group to move ahead. Bryan did however, win the hearts and minds of a majority of Democrats. The election of 1896 was a political realignment. The victory of the Republican Party marked the start of the "Progressive Era," from 1896 to 1932, in which the GOP usually was dominant.

Fourth Party System: Bryan, Wilson, Progressivism: 1896-1932

The Fourth Party System began with the 1896 election, a realignment during which the GOP controlled the presidency for 28 of 36 years. The GOP dominated most of the Northeast and Midwest, and half the West. Bryan, with a base in the South and Plains states, was strong enough to get the nomination in 1900 (losing to McKinley) and 1908 (losing to Taft). Theodore Roosevelt dominated the first decade of the century—and to the annoyance of Democrats "stole" the trust issue by crusading against trusts.

Anti-Bryan conservatives controlled the convention in 1904, but they faced a Theodore Roosevelt landslide. Bryan dropped his free silver and anti-imperialism rhetoric and supported mainstream progressive issues, such as the income tax, anti-trust, and direct election of Senators. He backed Woodrow Wilson in 1912, was rewarded with the State Department, then resigned in protest against Wilson's non-pacifistic policies in 1916. Northern Democrats were progressive on most issues, but generally opposed prohibition, were lukewarm regarding woman's suffrage, and were reluctant to undercut the "boss system" in the big cities.

Taking advantage of a deep split in the GOP, the Democrats took control of the House in 1910, and elected the intellectual reformer Woodrow Wilson in 1912 and 1916. Wilson successfully led Congress to a series of Progressive laws, including a reduced tariff, stronger antitrust laws, the Federal Reserve System, hours-and-pay benefits for railroad workers, and outlawing of child labor (which was reversed by the Supreme Court). Furthermore, constitutional amendments for prohibition and woman suffrage were passed in his second term. In effect, Wilson laid to rest the issues of tariffs, money and antitrust that had dominated politics for 40 years. Wilson led the U.S. to victory in the First World War, and helped write the Versailles Treaty, which included the League of Nations. But in 1919 Wilson's political skills faltered, and suddenly everything turned sour. The Senate rejected Versailles and the League, a nationwide wave of strikes and violence caused unrest, and Wilson's health collapsed.

At the 1924 Democratic National Convention, a resolution denouncing the white-supremacist Ku Klux Klan was introduced by the Al Smith and Oscar W. Underwood forces in order to embarrass the front-runner, William McAdoo . After much debate, the resolution failed by just a single vote. The KKK faded away soon after, but the deep split in the party over cultural issues, especially Prohibition, facilitated Republican landslides in 1920, 1924 and 1928. However Al Smith did build a strong Catholic base in the big cities in 1928, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's election as Governor of New York that year brought a new leader to center stage.

Fifth Party System: The New Deal

The stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression set the stage for a more progressive government and Franklin D. Roosevelt won a landslide victory in the election of 1932, campaigning on a platform of "Relief, Recovery, and Reform." This came to be termed "The New Deal" after a phrase in his acceptance speech. The Democrats also swept to large majorities in both houses of Congress, and among state Governors. Roosevelt altered the nature of the Party, away from laissez-faire capitalism, and towards an ideology of economic regulation and insurance against hardship. Conservative Democrats were outraged; led by Al Smith they formed the American Liberty League in 1934 and counterattacked. They failed and either retired from politics or joined the GOP. A few of them, such as Dean Acheson found their way back to the Democratic Party.

After making gains in Congress in 1934 Roosevelt embarked on an ambitious legislative program that came to be called "The Second New Deal." It was characterized by building up labor unions, nationalizing welfare by the WPA, setting up Social Security and raising taxes on business profits. Roosevelt's New Deal programs focused on job creation through public works projects as well as on social welfare programs such as Social Security. It also included sweeping reforms to the banking system, work regulation, transportation, communications, stock markets and attempts to regulate prices. His policies soon paid off by uniting a diverse coalition of Democratic voters called the New Deal Coalition, which included labor unions, minorities (most significantly, Catholics and Jews), and liberals. This united voter base allowed Democrats to be elected to Congress and the presidency for much of the next 30 years.

After a triumphant reelection in 1936, he announced plans to enlarge the Supreme Court by five new members. A firestorm of opposition erupted, led by his own vice president John Nance Garner. Roosevelt was defeated by an alliance of Republicans and conservative Democrats, who formed a Conservative coalition that managed to block nearly all liberal legislation. (Only a minimum wage law got through.) Annoyed by the conservative wing of his own party, Roosevelt made an attempt to rid himself of it; in 1938, he actively campaigned against five incumbent conservative Democratic senators; all five senators won re-election.

Under FDR, the Democratic Party became identified more closely with modern liberalism, which included the promotion of social welfare, civil rights, and regulation of the economy.

Truman to Kennedy: 1945-1963

Harry Truman took over unexpectedly in 1945, and the rifts inside the party that Roosevelt had papered over began to emerge. Former Vice President Henry A. Wallace denounced Truman as a war-monger for his anti-Soviet programs, the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, and NATO. By cooperating with internationalist Republicans, Truman succeeded in defeating isolationists on the right and pro-Soviets on the left to establish a Cold War program that lasted until the fall of Communism in 1991. Wallace supporters and fellow travelers of the far left were pushed out of the party and the CIO in 1946-48 by young anti-Communists like Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.. Hollywood emerged in the 1940s as an importance new base in the party, led by movie-star politicians such as Ronald Reagan, who strongly supported Roosevelt and Truman at this time.

On the right the Republicans blasted Truman’s domestic policies. “Had Enough?” was the winning slogan as Republicans recaptured Congress in 1946. Many party leaders were ready to dump Truman, but they lacked an alternative. Truman counterattacked, pushing J. Strom Thurmond and his Dixiecrats out, and taking advantage of the splits inside the GOP. He was reelected in a stunning surprise. However all of Truman’s Fair Deal proposals, such as universal health care were defeated by the Conservative Coalition in Congress. His seizure of the steel industry was reversed by the Supreme Court. In foreign policy, Europe was safe but troubles mounted in Asia. China fell to the Communists in 1949. Truman entered the Korean War without formal Congressional approval—the last time a president would ever do so. When the war turned to a stalemate and he fired General Douglas MacArthur in 1951, Republicans blasted his policies in Asia. A series of petty scandals among friends and buddies of Truman further tarnished his image, allowing the Republicans in 1952 to crusade against “Korea, Communism and Corruption.” Truman dropped out of the presidential race early in 1952, leaving no obvious successor. The convention nominated Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, only to see him overwhelmed by two Eisenhower landslides.

Stevenson and labor unions warn against a return of the Republican policies of Herbert Hoover in 1952 campaign poster

In Congress the powerful duo of House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority leader Lyndon B. Johnson held the party together, often by compromising with Eisenhower. In 1958 the party made dramatic gains in the midterms and seemed to have a permanent lock on Congress. Indeed, Democrats had majorities in the House every election from 1930 to 1992 (except 1946 and 1952). Most southern Congressmen were conservative Democrats, however, and they usually worked with conservative Republicans. The result was a Conservative Coalition that blocked practically all liberal domestic legislation from 1937 to the 1970s, except for a brief spell 1964-65, when Johnson neutralized its power.

The nomination of John F. Kennedy in 1960 energized the Catholic population, which jammed motorcades and turned out in heavy numbers (over 80% voted for Kennedy), while also causing a backlash among white Protestants (over 70% of whom voted for Republican candidate Richard Nixon. Reaching beyond the traditional Irish, German, Italian and Polish Catholic ethnics, Viva Kennedy set out to mobilize the previously passive Latino vote, and it provided the margin of victory for Kennedy in Texas and New Mexico. Kennedy's victory reinvigorated the party. His youth, vigor and intelligence caught the popular imagination. New programs like the Peace Corps harnessed idealism. In terms of legislation, Kennedy was stalemated by the Conservative Coalition, and anyway his proposals were all cautious and incremental. In three years he was unable to pass any significant new legislation. His election did mark the coming of age of the Catholic component of the New Deal Coalition. After 1964 middle class Catholics started voting Republicans in the same proportion as their Protestant neighbors. Except for the Chicago of Richard J. Daley, the last of the Democratic machines faded away. His involvement in Vietnam proved momentous, for his successor Lyndon Johnson decided to stay, and double the investment, and double the bet again and again until over 500,000 American soldiers were fighting in that small country.

Civil Rights Movement

President Lyndon Johnson ran for reelection in the shadow of Kennedy

The New Deal Coalition began to fracture as union and religious leaders demanded support for civil rights, upsetting the party's traditional base of conservative Southern Democrats. After Harry Truman's platform showed support for civil rights and anti-segregation policies during the 1948 Democratic National Convention, many Southern Democratic delegates decided to split from the Party and formed the "Dixiecrats," led by South Carolina governor Strom Thurmond (who, as a Senator, would later join the Republican Party). Over the next few years, many conservative Democrats in the "Solid South" drifted away from the party. By 1940 most northern Blacks had shifted to the Democratic Party due to its New Deal relief programs and support for civil rights.

The party's dramatic reversal on civil rights issues culminated when Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The new laws ended segregation and also ended the main argument Democrats had used to block Republican gains in the South (that is, only the Democrats could protect segregation). The South became competitive in presidential politics in the 1970s and 1980s, giving strong support to Republican Ronald Reagan and rejecting the liberal northern candidates. The Democrats responded by nominating Southerners (Carter in 1976 and 1980, Clinton in 1992 and 1996, Gore in 2000). Few southern states were won by Democratic presidential candidates from the North (Humphrey in 1968, McGovern in 1972, Mondale in 1984, Dukakis in 1988, Kerry in 2004). At the state and local level the Republicans made slow, steady gains, especially among upscale middle class whites and migrants from the North. By the 1990s the GOP was competitive at the state and local level throughout the South. The Democrats made gains in the west, converting California to a Democratic stronghold and gaining in fast-growing Arizona and Nevada. The Northeast became more and more a Democratic enclave, especially after 2006 when numerous Republican moderates were defeated for reelection. the Midwest remained a battleground. The Democrats made strong gains in Illinois, but slipped a little in Minnesota.

1972 to 1999

In 1972, the Democrats nominated Sen. George McGovern (SD) as the presidential candidate on a platform which advocated, among other things, U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam and a guaranteed minimum income for all Americans. McGovern's forces at the national convention ousted Mayor Richard J. Daley and the entire Chicago delegation, replacing them with insurgents led by Jesse Jackson. After it became know that McGovern's running mate, Thomas Eagleton, had received electric shock therapy, McGovern said he supported Eagleton "1000%" but he was soon forced to drop him and find a new running mate. With his campaign stalled for several weeks McGovern finally selected Sargent Shriver, a Kennedy-in-law who was close to Mayor Daley. On July 14, 1972, McGovern appointed his campaign manager, Jean Westwood as the first woman chair of the Democratic National Committee. McGovern was defeated in a landslide by incumbent Richard Nixon, winning only Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. The Watergate scandal of 1973-74 made corruption a central issue, especially after Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon in September 1974. The Democrats made major gains in the 1974 off-year elections.

In 1976, mistrust of the administration, complicated by a combination of economic recession and inflation, sometimes called stagflation, led to Ford's defeat in 1976 by Jimmy Carter, a former Governor of Georgia.

Carter represented the total outsider, who promised honesty in government. He had served as a naval officer, a farmer, a state senator, and a one-term governor. His only experience with federal politics was when he chaired the Democratic National Committee's congressional and gubernatorial elections in 1974. Some of Carter's major accomplishments consisted of the creation of a national energy policy and the consolidation of governmental agencies, resulting in two new cabinet departments, the United States Department of Energy and the United States Department of Education. Carter also successfully deregulated the trucking, airline, rail, finance, communications, and oil industries, bolstered the social security system, and appointed record numbers of women and minorities to significant government and judicial posts. He also enacted strong legislation on environmental protection, through the expansion of the National Park Service in Alaska, creating 103 million new acres of land. In foreign affairs, Carter's accomplishments consisted of the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties, the creation of full diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, and the negotiation of the SALT II Treaty. In addition, he championed human rights throughout the world and used human rights as the center of his administration's foreign policy.

Even with all of these successes, Carter failed to implement a national health plan or to reform the tax system, as he had promised in his campaign. Inflation was also on the rise. Abroad, the Iranians held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days, and Carter's diplomatic and military rescue attempts failed. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan later that year weakened the perception Americans had of Carter. Even though he had already been defeated for re-election, Carter fortunately was able to negotiate the release of every American hostage. They were lifted out of Iran minutes after Reagan was inaugurated and Carter served as Reagan's emissary to greet them when they arrived in Germany. In 1980, Carter defeated Edward Kennedy to gain renomination, but lost to Ronald Reagan in November. The Democrats lost 12 Senate seats, and for the first time since 1954, the Republicans controlled the Senate. The House, however, remained in Democratic hands.

1980s: Battling Reaganism

Instrumental in the election of Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980, were Democrats who supported many conservative policies. The "Reagan Democrats" were Democrats before the Reagan years, and afterward, but they voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 (and for George H. W. Bush in 1988), producing their landslide victories. They were mostly white ethnics in the Northeast who were attracted to Reagan's social conservatism on issues such as abortion, and to his strong foreign policy. They did not continue to vote Republican in 1992 or 1996, so the term fell into disuse except as a reference to the 1980s. The term is not used to describe southern whites who became permanent Republicans in presidential elections. Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster analyzed white ethnic voters, largely unionized auto workers, in suburban Macomb County, Michigan, just north of Detroit. The county voted 63 percent for Kennedy in 1960 and 66 percent for Reagan in 1984. He concluded that Reagan Democrats no longer saw Democrats as champions of their middle class aspirations, but instead saw it as being a party working primarily for the benefit of others, especially African Americans and the very poor. Bill Clinton targeted the Reagan Democrats with considerable success in 1992 and 1996.

The failure to hold the Reagan Democrats and the white South led to the final collapse of the New Deal coalition. Reagan carried 49 states against former Vice President and Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale, a New Deal stalwart, in 1984. Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, running not as a New Dealer but as an efficiency expert in public administration, lost by a landslide in 1988 to Vice President George H. W. Bush.

In response to these landslide defeats, the Democratic Leadership Council was created. It worked to move the Party rightwards to the ideological center in order to recover some of the fundraising that had been lost to the Republicans due to corporate donors supporting Reagan. With the Party retaining left-of-center supporters as well as supporters holding moderate or conservative views on some issues, the Democrats became generally a "big tent" or "catch all party" with widespread appeal to most opponents of the Republicans.

The South Becomes Republican

In the century after Reconstruction, the white South identified with Democratic Party. The Democrats' lock on power was so strong, the region was called the Solid South. The Republicans only controlled parts of the Appalachian mountains, but they sometimes did compete for statewide office in the border states. Before 1964, the southern Democrats saw their party as the defender of the southern way of life, which included a respect for states' rights and an appreciation for traditional southern values. They repeatedly warned against the aggressive designs of Northern liberals and Republicans, as well as civil rights activists whom they denounced as "outside agitators."

However, between 1964 and 2004, the Democratic Party's lock on the South was broken. The long-term cause had to do with the South becoming more like the rest of the nation. It could not long stand apart in terms of racial segregation. Modernization had brought factories, national businesses, and larger, more cosmopolitan cities to the South, as well as millions of migrants from the North and more opportunities for higher education. Meanwhile, the cotton and tobacco economy of the traditional rural South faded away, as former farmers commuted to factory jobs.

Integration and the civil rights movement caused enormous controversy in the white South, with many attacking it as a violation of states' rights. When segregation was outlawed by court order and by the Civil Rights acts of 1964 and 1965, a die-hard element resisted integration, led by Democratic governors Orval Faubus of Arkansas, Lester Maddox of Georgia, and, especially George Wallace of Alabama. These populist governors appealed to a less-educated, blue-collar electorate that on economic grounds favored the Democratic Party, but opposed desegregation. After 1965 most Southerners accepted integration (with the exception of public schools). Believing themselves betrayed by the Democratic Party, traditional white southerners joined the new middle-class and the Northern transplants in moving toward the Republican Party. Meanwhile, newly enfranchised Black voters began supporting Democratic candidates at the 80-90-percent levels, producing Democratic leaders such as Julian Bond and John Lewis of Georgia, and Barbara Jordan of Texas. Just as Martin Luther King had promised, integration had brought about a new day in Southern politics, freeing both blacks and whites from old hatreds and fears.

Using issues of cultural conservatism, especially opposition to abortion and homosexuality and support for school prayer, Republicans attracted strong majorities among evangelical Christians. They were nationwide, but strongest in the South; before to the 1980s they were largely apolitical. Exit polls in 2004 showed that Bush led Kerry by 70-30% among Southern whites, who comprised 71% of the voters. Kerry had a 90-9 lead among the 18% of Southern voters who were black. One third of the Southern voters said they were white evangelicals; they voted for Bush by 80-20.[7]

1990s

In the 1990s the Democratic Party revived itself, in part by moving to the right on economic and social policy. President Bill Clinton, who defeated the incumbent George H. W. Bush in 1992, implemented a balanced federal budget and welfare reform (cutting benefits and requiring many recipients to take jobs), traditionally conservative causes. Labor unions, which had been steadily losing membership since the 1960s, found they had also lost political clout inside the Democratic Party: Clinton enacted the NAFTA free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico over the strong objection of these labor unions, much to the disappointment of those on the left of the party. The Republican Party took control of both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate after the 1994 election. Clinton was impeached in 1998 and subsequently acquitted in 1999.

When the DLC attempted to move the Democratic agenda in favor of more centrist positions, prominent Democrats from both the centrist and conservative factions (such as Terry McAuliffe) assumed leadership of the party and its direction. Some liberals and progressives felt alienated by the Democratic Party, which they felt had become unconcerned with the interests of the common people and left-wing issues in general. Some Democrats challenged the validity of such critiques, citing the Democratic role in pushing for progressive reforms.

21st century

Election of 2000

During the presidential election of 2000, the Democrats chose Vice President Al Gore to be the party's candidate for the presidency. Gore and George W. Bush, the Republican candidate and son of former President George H.W. Bush, disagreed on a number of issues, including abortion, gun control, environmentalism, gay rights, tax cuts, foreign policy, public education, global warming, judicial appointments, and affirmative action. Nevertheless, Gore's affiliation with Clinton and the DLC caused critics—Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader in particular—to assert that Bush and Gore were too similar, especially on free trade, reductions in social welfare, and the death penalty. "We want to punish the Democrats, we want to hurt them, wound them," Nader's closest advisor said.[8]

Gore won a popular plurality of over 500,000 votes over Bush, but lost in the electoral vote by four votes. In a close election anything can be decisive, but many angry Democrats blamed Nader's third-party spoiler role for Gore's defeat. Controversy plagued the election, and Gore largely dropped from politics for years; by 2005 however he was making speeches critical of Bush's foreign and environmental policies.

Despite Gore's close defeat, the Democrats gained five seats in the Senate (including the election of Hillary Clinton in New York), to turn a 55-45 Republican edge into a 50-50 split (with a Republican Vice President breaking a tie). However, when Republican Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont decided in 2001 to become an independent and vote with the Democratic Caucus, the majority status shifted along with the seat, including control of the floor (by the Majority Leader) and control of all committee chairmanships. However, the Republicans regained their Senate majority with gains in 2002 and 2004, leaving the Democrats with only 44 seats, the fewest since the 1920s.

2001-2003

In the aftermath of the 9-11 Attacks, the nation's focus was changed to issues of national security. All but one Democrat (Representative Barbara Lee) joined the Republicans to authorize President Bush to invade invasion of Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban. House leader Richard Gephardt and Senate leader Thomas Daschle pushed Democrats to vote for the USA PATRIOT Act and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Democrats were split over entering Iraq in 2003 and increasingly expressed concerns about both the justification and progress of the War on Terrorism, as well as the domestic effects, including threats to civil rights and civil liberties, from the USA PATRIOT Act. Senator Russ Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the act; it received more resistance when it came up for renewal, but was renewed in 2006.

In the wake of the financial fraud scandal of the Enron Corporation and other corporations, Congressional Democrats pushed for a legal overhaul of business accounting with the intention of preventing further accounting fraud. This led to the bipartisan Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002. With job losses and bankruptcies across regions and industries increasing in 2001 and 2002, the Democrats generally campaigned on the issue of economic recovery. That did not work for them in 2002 as the Democrats lost a few seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. They lost three seats in the Senate (Georgia as Max Cleland was unseated, Minnesota as Paul Wellstone died and Walter Mondale lost the election, and Missouri as Jean Carnahan was unseated) in the Senate. While Democrats gained governorships in New Mexico (where Bill Richardson was elected), Arizona (Janet Napolitano) and Wyoming (Dave Freudenthal), other Democrats lost governorships in South Carolina (Jim Hodges), Alabama (Don Siegelman) and, for the first time in more than a century, Georgia (Roy Barnes). The election led to another round of soul searching about the party's narrowing base. The party's miseries mounted in 2003, when a voter recall unseated their unpopular governor of California, Gray Davis, and replaced him which a charismatic Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. By the end of 2003 the four largest states had Republican governors: California, Texas, New York and Florida.

Election of 2004

The 2004 campaign started as early as December 2002, when Gore announced he would not run again in the 2004 election. Howard Dean, former Governor of Vermont, an opponent of the war and a critic of the Democratic establishment, was the front-runner leading into the Democratic primaries. Dean had immense grassroots support, especially from the left wing of the party. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a more centrist figure with heavy support from the Democratic Leadership Council, was nominated because he was seen as more "electable" than Dean.[9]

As layoffs of American workers occurred in various industries due to outsourcing, some Democrats (including Dean and senatorial candidate Erskine Bowles of North Carolina) began to refine their positions on free trade, and some even questioned their past support for it. By 2004, the failures of George W. Bush's administration to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, mounting combat casualties and fatalities in that country, and the lack of any end point for the War on Terror were frequently debated issues in the election. That year, Democrats generally campaigned on surmounting the jobless recovery, solving the Iraq crisis, and fighting terrorism more efficiently.


In the end, Kerry lost both the popular vote (by 3 million out of over 120 million votes cast) and the Electoral College. Republicans also gained four seats in the Senate and three seats in the House of Representatives. Also, for the first time since 1952, the Democratic leader of the Senate lost re-election. In the end, there were 3,660 Democratic state legislators across the nation to the Republicans' 3,557. Democrats gained governorships in Louisiana, New Hampshire and Montana. However, they lost the governorship of Missouri and a legislative majority in Georgia—which had long been a Democratic stronghold.

There were many reasons for the defeat. After the election most analysts concluded that Kerry was a poor campaigner.[10] A group of Vietnam veterans opposed to Kerry called the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" undercut Kerry's use of his military past as a campaign strategy. Kerry was unable to reconcile his initial support of the Iraq War with his opposition to the war in 2004, or manage the deep split in the Democratic Party between those who favored and opposed the war. Republicans ran thousands of television commercials to argue that Kerry had flip-flopped on Iraq. When Kerry's home state of Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, the issue split liberal and conservative Democrats and independents (Kerry publicly stated throughout his campaign that he opposed same sex marriage, but favored civil unions). Republicans exploited the same-sex marriage issue by promoting ballot initiatives in 11 states that brought conservatives to the polls in large numbers; all 11 initiatives passed. Some Democrats argued that flaws in vote-counting systems may also have played a role in Kerry's defeat in Ohio. Other factors include a healthy job market, a rising stock market, strong home sales, and low unemployment.

After the 2004 election, prominent Democrats began to rethink the party's direction, and a variety of strategies for moving forward were voiced. Some Democrats proposed moving towards the right to regain seats in the House and Senate and possibly win the presidency in the election of 2008; others demanded that the party move more to the left and become a stronger opposition party. One topic of discussion was the party's policies surrounding reproductive rights. Rethinking the party's position on gun control became a matter of discussion, brought up by Howard Dean, Bill Richardson, Brian Schweitzer and other Democrats who had won governorships in states where Second Amendment rights were important to many voters. In What's the Matter with Kansas?, commentator Thomas Frank wrote the Democrats needed to return to campaigning on economic populism.


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2005 - 2007

These debates were reflected in the 2005 campaign for Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, which Howard Dean won. He sought to move the Democratic strategy away from the establishment, and bolster support for the party's state organizations, even in Red states.

When the 109th Congress convened, Harry Reid, the new Senate Minority Leader, tried to convince the Democratic Senators to vote more as a bloc on important issues; he forced the Republicans to abandon their push for privatization of Social Security. In 2005, the Democrats retained their governorships in Virginia and New Jersey, electing Tim Kaine and Jon Corzine, respectively. However, the party lost the mayoral race in New York City, a Democratic stronghold, for the fourth straight time.

In 2006, with scandals involving Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, as well as GOP House leader Tom DeLay, Ohio GOP governor Bob Taft and others, the Democrats used the slogan "Culture of corruption." Negative public opinion on the war in Iraq, along with widespread dissatisfaction among conservatives over government spending, dragged President Bush's job approval ratings down to the lowest levels of his presidency. To win control the Democrats had to add 15 seats in the House (they added 30), and 6 in the Senate (they added 6).

The Democratic Party's electoral success has been attributed to running relatively conservative Democrats in close seats, such as the Senate races in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Montana. [11] Exit polling suggested that corruption was a key issue for many voters.[12]

The Democrats gained a majority of governorships and made gains in many state legislatures. No Democratic incumbent was defeated in any major race.

The Democrats chose Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California for Speaker, the first woman ever, but rejected her choice for Majority Leader. Senate Democrats promoted Harry Reid to Majority Leader.

Symbols

The most common symbol for the party is the donkey, although the party itself never officially adopted this symbol.[13] Some historians suggest the jackass was born 1828 when Jackson was sometimes called a jackass by his opponents as a play on his name. A political cartoon depicting Jackson riding and directing a donkey (representing the Democratic Party) was published in 1837. A political cartoon by Thomas Nast in an 1870 revived the donkey as a symbol for the Democratic Party. Cartoonists ever since have followed Nast and used the donkey to represent the Democrats, and the elephant to represent the Republicans.

In the early 20th century, the traditional symbol of the Democratic Party in many states was the rooster, as opposed to the Republican eagle. This symbol still appears on Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Indiana ballots.

There is no official color, but since election night 2000 blue has become the identification color of the Democratic Party for maps, while the red has become the color of the Republicans. Increasingly blue is used by Democrats for promotions (e.g BuyBlue, BlueFund) and by the party itself, which in 2006 unveiled the "Red to Blue Program" to support Democratic candidates running against Republican incumbents in the 2006 midterm election.

Jefferson-Jackson Day annual fundraising celebrations are held by local chapters of the Democratic Party.

The song "Happy Days Are Here Again" is the unofficial song of the Democratic Party. It was used prominently when Roosevelt was nominated for president at the 1932 Democratic National Convention and remains a sentimental favorite for Democrats today.

Footnotes

  1. Remini gives special credit as well to organizational work by James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, Caleb Atwater of Ohio, Francis P. Blair and Amos Kendall of Kentucky, Isaac Hill of New Hampshire, Edward Livingston of Louisiana, and John H. Eaton and William B. Lewis of Tennessee. Remini (1959), 193.
  2. See for example Proceedings and Address of the Vermont Republican Convention Friendly to the Election of Andrew Jackson to the Next Presidency of the United States, Holden at Montpelier, June 27, 1828.
  3. See Summary Of The Proceedings Of A Convention Of Republican Delegates, From The Several States In The Union, For The Purpose of Nominating A Candidate For The Office Of Vice-President Of The United States; Held At Baltimore, In The State Of Maryland, May, 1832 at online
  4. Stampp, 211.
  5. Kleppner (1979).
  6. Kleppner (1979).
  7. See the exit polls at |date=2004-11-02|accessdate=2006-11-18
  8. Harry G. Levinem "Ralph Nader, Suicide Bomber." The Village Voice May 3, 2004 at [1]
  9. Mahajan, Rahul (2004-01-28). Kerry vs. Dean; New Hampshire vs. Iraq. Common Dreams NewsCenter. Retrieved on 2006-10-12.
  10. Evan Thomas and Staff of Newsweek, Election 2004: How Bush Won and What You Can Expect in the Future (2005)
  11. Dewan Shaila and Anne E. Kornblut, "In Key House Races, Democrats Run to the Right," New York Times, 2006-10-30; but compare Rick Perlstein, "Who deserves credit for the Democratic comeback?" The New Republic 2006-11-08]] at [2]
  12. CNN, "Corruption named as key issue by voters in exit polls," 2006-11-08 at [3]
  13. History of the Democratic Donkey.

See also



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