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A Brief History of the Democratic Party
The roots of the Democratic Party go all the way back to Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, “anti-
Federalists” who opposed the strong central government favored by Washington, Adams, and
Hamilton, among others. However, the name “Democrat” wasn’t adopted until the 1828 election
of Andrew Jackson when the party became identified with a growing populist movement in the
young nation. Before that it was known as the Democratic-Republican Party, and before that, the
The Democratic Party is generally considered to be the oldest political party in the world.
Since Jackson there have been 15 Democratic presidents and 18 Republicans1, the latter having
emerged as a political party in 1854.
“Jeffersonian Democracy” advocated states’ rights, civil liberties, limited executive authority,
strict interpretation of the Constitution, and minimal regulation of business and commerce, while
favoring farmers2, common folk, and the working class in general over the educated and elite.
(Keep in mind that until about 1850, many states permitted only white male property owners to
The party split in 1860 over the unresolved issue of slavery, resulting in the election of the first
Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. Bitterness over the Civil War and post-Lincoln
Republican Reconstruction caused southern states to go solidly Democratic for the next 100
years, during which time they wielded considerable control over the party.
By the 1900s the party had evolved from its original principles, favoring more government
oversight and regulation of business and economic affairs, starting with the progressive policies
of Woodrow Wilson’s administration (1913-1920)3 and even more so following the crisis of the
Great Depression, which ushered in Franklin Roosevelt’s social and public works programs
known as the New Deal. The party also moved towards a more liberal interpretation of the
Constitution which historians trace, ironically,