Political Parties--Democratic Party (U.S.)



The Democratic Party is national political party in the United States. It was created in 1828 as a coalition of state political groups who supported Andrew Jackson for national office. Its original principles included support for strong presidential authority, agrarianism, and westward expansionism, while opposing a national bank and high import tariffs. The party enjoyed political success with Jackson’s election to the presidency in 1828 and eventually established itself as a the most powerful political group in the mid-nineteenth century United States, with the younger Whig Party slightly behind.

The Democratic Party’s biggest challenge was the issue of slavery. The topic primarily divided American politics along north versus south (or free versus slave state) geographical factions. By 1850, the Democratic Party was largely dominated by southern and pro-slavery figures, who advocated the expansion and protection of the institution. Many northern Democrats adopted a neutral, if not pro-slavery, approach to the slavery debate to maintain party cohesion. Then in 1854, aspiring Democratic politician Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois introduced legislation known as the Kansas-Nebraska Act to strike down the Missouri Compromise, which had prohibited slavery in the western territories above the 36°30′ parallel (a line extending westward from Missouri’s southern border) since 1820. Douglas’ act proposed the principle of “popular sovereignty,” or popular vote by the people, within a territory to determine its slaveholding laws. Strongly supported by southern Democrats, the highly controversial bill passed through the U.S. Congress and was signed into law by Democratic president Franklin Pierce. The sudden introduction of slavery into northern territories restructured American politics. The Whig Party, which had been largely made up of northerners, crumbled as its anti-slavery members flocked to the emerging Republican Party with its strong commitment to prohibiting slavery from the territories. The bill also sent shockwaves through the Democratic Party, as many northern Democrats who had tried to remain neutral on the matter of slavery but now believed the party had given in to pro-slavery demands of its southern members. Additionally, several northern Democratic congressmen lost reelection due to the northern public’s backlash to passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Many disgruntled northern Democrats also joined the Republican Party.

Unlike the Whigs, the Democratic Party survived the 1850s, but once again fractured during the 1860 presidential election. Demanding better protections for slavery, especially in the face of a surging Republican Party movement in the northern states that nominated Abraham Lincoln, pro-slavery southern Democrats staged a walkout of the party’s national convention. The main party nominated northerner Stephen A. Douglas, while the southern Democrats, many of whom styled their faction as the "states rights" party, held their own competing convention and nominated John C. Breckenridge for president. This divide in the Democratic Party helped Abraham Lincoln win the 1860 presidential election.

Southern secession sent most southern Democrats into the Confederacy. The national party survived in the northern states, but split into two factions during the Civil War: the War Democrats and the Peace Democrats. The War Democrats were strongly anti-secession and generally approved of the Lincoln administration’s military efforts. Peace Democrats largely opposed the Lincoln administration and recommended negotiation to restore the Union, if not outright Confederate statehood. During the 1864 election, Republicans who supported Lincoln rebranded themselves the National Union Party to draw votes from War Democrats who would otherwise not support an openly Republican ticket. The effort worked, in part due to the National Union Party nominating Democrat Andrew Johnson for vice president.

After the Civil War, former Confederates boosted the Democratic Party’s numbers in the United States. In the south during Reconstruction, the Democratic Party labored to limit African American rights and preserve white supremacy in southern society. In late 1874, conservative whites in Mississippi began the “Mississippi Plan” to regain Democratic control of the state government. Over the next several months, and particularly during the 1875 election, Democrats secured political power in Mississippi, in large part through voter suppression and intimidation aimed at African Americans and Republicans. A year later, when New York Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote in the 1876 presidential election, Republicans contested the results with accusations of voter fraud. During tense debates, Democrat leaders agreed to accept the election of the Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, if Republicans would end Reconstruction in the South. This agreement led to the withdrawal of federal troops from the south, the domination of southern politics by the Democratic Party, and the elimination of many African American civil rights in that region.

The Democratic Party remained the most powerful political force in the south well into the twentieth century. (Wikipedia)

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_(United_States)#History

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