History and Today

Federalists (1780's to 1801)

Favored strong central government, Followed a loose interpretation of the government, Encouraged commerce and manufacturing, Favored close ties with Britain, Emphasized order and stability, Was the strongest in the Northeast

Democrats (1836 to 1850)

The party of tradition, Looked backward to the past, Spoke to the fears of Americans, Opposed banks and corporations as state-legislated economic privilege, Opposed state-legislated reforms and preferred individual freedom of choice, Were Jeffersonian agrarians who favored farms and rural independence and the right to own slaves, Favored rapid territorial expansion over space by purchase or war, Believed in progress through external growth, Democratic ideology of agrarianism, slavery, states rights, territorial expansion was favored in the South.

Liberty Party and Whigs (Mid-19th Century political Crisis)

Liberty Party

Run abolitionist candidate James Birney, for president in 1844.
Won only 2% of the vote but drew votes from the Whigs, especially in New York.


Split over slavery into:

Southern, "Cotton" Whigs who eventually drifted into the Democratic Party.
Northern, "Conscience" Whigs who moved to new parties, i.e. Free Soil and, later, into the Republican Party.

Democrats (Election of 1860)

Split at its 1860 Convention in Charleston, South Carolina when a platform defending slavery was defeated and Deep South delegates walked out.
At a splinter convention held at Baltimore, Maryland, Stephen Douglas of Illinois was nominated as presidential candidate on a platform opposing any Congressional interference with slavery.
Southern delegates met and nominated John Breckenridge of Kentucky as a candidate on a pro-slavery platform.

Republicans and Democrats (Politics of the Glided Age)

Party differences blur during this period with loyalties determined by region, religious, and ethnic differences.
Voter turnout for presidential elections averaged over 78 percent of eligible voters; 60 to 80 percent in non-presidential years.
Both parties were pro-business.
Both parties were opposed to any type of economic radicalism or reform.
Both parties advocated a "sound currency" and supported the status quo in the existing financial system.
Federal government and, to some extent, state governments tended to do very little.
Republicans dominate the Senate; Democrats dominate the House of Representatives.
Republican Party splinter groups during this period: Stalwarts, Halfbreeds, Mugwumps.

Progressive Era Politics

Spanned the period 1900-1920 and the presidencies of three "Progressive" Presidents: Theodore Roosevelt (Republican), William Howard Taft (Republican), and Woodrow Wilson (Democrat).
Believed that the laissez-faire system was obsolete, yet supported capitalism.
Believed in the idea of progress and that reformed institutions would replace corrupt power.
Applied the principles of science and efficiency to all economic, social, and political instituting.
Viewed government as a key player in creating an orderly, stable, and improved society.
Believed that government had the power to combat special interests and work for the good of the community, state, or nation.
Political parties were singled out as corrupt, undemocratic, outmoded, and inefficient.
Power of corrupt government could be diminished by increasing the power of the people and by putting more power in the hands of non-elective, nonpartisan, professional officials.
The progressives eventually co-opt many of the Populist demands such as referendum, initiative, direct election of Senators, etc. Some of these are incorporated in the "Progressive" Amendments to the U. S. Constitution: 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th Amendments.

Democrats (Post World War 2 Politics)

The Democrats maintain what by this time had become their "traditional" power base of organized labor, urban voters, and immigrants.
In the 1952 election, the Democrats run Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, a candidate favored by "liberals" and intellectuals.
As the post-World War 2 period progresses, the Democratic Party takes "big government" positions advocating larger roles for the federal government in regulating business and by the 1960s advocate extensive governmental involvement in social issues like education, urban renewal, and other social issues.
The Democratic Party very early associates itself with the growing civil rights movements and will champion the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Democrats (Nixon's New Federalism)

The Democratic Party by the late 1960s is deeply fragmented and seemingly incapable of dealing with the violence and turmoil, social and political, caused by the Vietnam War.
In 1968, the Democratic Party candidate is Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
In the post-Vietnam War period, Democrats advocate a range of "liberal" social issues including the extension of civil rights, support for "reproductive rights" (i.e. birth control and abortion rights), fair housing legislation, etc.

Democrats (Reagan and the "New Right")

Strongly support environmental legislation, limiting economic development, halting the production of nuclear weapons and power plants.
Pro-choice movement emerged during the 1980s to defend a woman's right to choose whether and when to bear a child.
Affirmative Action, the use of racial quotas to "balance" the workforce, to one degree or another, becomes an issue of political disagreement with Democrats favoring it and Republicans opposing it.

Democratic Issues Today

  • Abortion- Should not be made illegal; support Roe v. Wade (some Democrats disagree)
  • Taxes- Progressive (high income earners should be taxed at a higher rate). Generally not opposed to raising taxes to fund government.
  • Military Spending- Decreased spending
  • Gay Marriage- Support (some Democrats disagree)
  • Death Penalty- While support for the death penalty is strong among Democrats, opponents of the death penalty are a substantial fraction of the Democratic base.