Historica Wiki

The Democratic Party is a liberal political party and one of two major political parties in the United States, alongside the conservative Republican Party. It was founded in 1828, originating from Andrew Jackson's supporters in the Democratic-Republican Party. Before 1860, the party supported limited government and states' rights while opposing a national bank and high tariffs, and it dominated American politics from the 1840s until the 1860s, rivalling the liberal-conservative Whig Party, the predecessor of the Republican Party. The Democratic Party split in two in 1860 over the issue of slavery, and pro-slavery Southern Democrats led the formation of the Confederate States of America in response to the Republican Abraham Lincoln's victory in the 1860 presidential election.

After the American Civil War and during the Reconstruction era, the Democrats tried to block the civil and political emancipation of African-Americans, especially in the American South, and the end of Reconstruction in 1877 allowed for the Democrats to retake control of the Southern states and implement Jim Crow segregationist policies. Despite the slavery issue, the Democratic Party proposed certain egalitarian policies, supported democracy, and proclaimed itself the party of the common people. From 1860 to the early 20th century, the Republicans attacked the Democrats as the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion" due to its purported support for liquor interests and tavernkeepers, the Catholic Irish community's domination of most urban Democratic parties and machines, and the party's culpability in the instigation of the Civil War. During that period, the Democratic Party commanded the loyalty of most of the recent immigrant community, including 80% of Irish Catholics, 70% of all Catholics, 65% of confessional German Lutherans, 60% of German Calvinists, 50% of French-Canadian Catholics, 40% of Anglo-Canadians, 35% of British stock, 30% of German sectarians, 20% of Norwegian Lutherans, 15% of Swedish Lutherans, and 5% of Haugean Norwegians. Among native-born Northerners, the Democrats won the support of 45% of Episcopalians, 40% of Presbyterians, 40% of African-Americans, 35% of Baptists, 25% of Methodists, 25% of Congregationalists, 20% of Free Will Baptists, and 5% of Quakers.

Among Southern-born Northerners, the Democrats won the support of 50% of Disciples of Christ, 70% of Presbyterians, 75% of Baptists, and 90% of Methodists. Irish and German Catholic immigrants outnumbered English and Scandinavian Republicans, leading to election results becoming closer during the late 19th century, and allowing for the Bourbon Democrat Grover Cleveland to win the 1884 and 1892 presidential elections. Catholics, Episcopalians, and German Lutherans backed the Democratic Party against the moralistic and prohibitionist Republicans, and the Democrats mostly represented the working-class, while the Republicans represented Northern businessmen and professionals. In the late 19th century, the Democratic Party continued to oppose high tariffs and had bitter internal debates on the Gold Standard. The party moved further to the left on economic matters following the victory of William Jennings Bryan's populist wing in 1896, although it retained many conservative Democrats who continued to support segregation.

Into the early 20th century, the Democratic Party supported progressive reforms and opposed imperialism, with Woodrow Wilson winning the White House in 1912 and 1916. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal coalition after 1932, the Democratic Party promoted a social liberal platform. The party attracted the support of recent European immigrants, many of whom were Catholics based in cities, but caused a decline of the party's conservative pro-business wing. Beginning in 1948, with Harry S. Truman's desegregation of the US military, the Democrats also moved to the left on social issues. The civil rights actions of Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency broke the party loyalty of the still segregationist Southern Democrats who began to leave the party to vote Republican on the national level starting with the 1964 presidential election, continuing to vote Democrat in local elections until the 1980s. Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Southern states became more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northeastern states more Democratic. While the party's labor union element declined in the 1970s, it still retained its working-class support base, and women, urban residents, younger Americans, college graduates, and sexual, religious, and racial minorities tended to support the Democratic Party by the early 21st century. Since the 1970s, environmentalism became an important current in the party. From the 1990s, Democrats endorsed Bill Clinton's centrist Third Way program, which was adhered to by New Democrats, including President Barack Obama. On foreign policy issues, the Democrats and Republicans changed their respective policies several times. Initially promoters of Manifest Destiny and expansion to the American West, the Democrats became anti-imperialists and isolationists during the presidency of Grover Cleveland, interventionists and internationalists starting with the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, and anti-communists during the Cold War. Many Democratic activists opposed the Vietnam War, alienated from growing militarism and becoming promoters of the counterculture and New Left movements. Since then, the party became more pragmatic and open to multilateralism, approving interventionism in Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the Middle East in the 2010s, while largely rejecting the Iraq War in the early 2000s. By the 2020s, the party's agenda emphasized civil liberty, social equality, a mixed economy, corporate governance reform, environmental protection, support for organized labor, expansion of social programs, affordable college tuition, universal health care, equal opportunity, consumer protection, campaign finance reform, gay rights, criminal justice and immigration reform, stricter gun laws, abortion rights, and the legalization of marijuana.


19th century

20th century

Modern era

Ideological shifts