Democratic Party

The Historic Roots of the Modern Democratic Party in the United States

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Kelly, Martin. "Democratic Party." ThoughtCo, Sep. 16, 2017, thoughtco.com/democratic-party-104837. Kelly, Martin. (2017, September 16). Democratic Party. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/democratic-party-104837 Kelly, Martin. "Democratic Party." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/democratic-party-104837 (accessed October 24, 2017).
Andrew Jackson (1767 - 1845), American general and the 7th President of the United States of the United States of America.
The First Democrat Party President: Andrew Jackson (1767 - 1845). Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The modern Democratic Party can trace its roots in the United States to a political upheaval in the first quarter of the 19th century. The Democratic party evolved out of the original First Party system, which was also made up of two parties: the original national parties were the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party.

The First Party System was deferential, in that the constituents of both parties largely deferred to the decisions of the political elites that ran the parties.

The Jeffersonian Republicans envisioned a locally established intellectual elite who would hand down theories from on high; the Hamiltonian Federalists believed that the locally established intellectual elite theories might need to be ratified by the populace.

Death of the Federalists

The First Party System began dissolving in the mid-1810s, probably most specifically over the popular revolt over the Compensation Act of 1816. That act was intended to raise the salaries of Congressmen from a per diem of six dollars a day to an annual salary of $1,500 per year. There was widespread popular outrage, fanned by the press who almost universally rejected it. Of the members of the Fourteenth Congress, over 70% were not returned to the 15th Congress.

As a result, in 1816 the Federalist Party died out leaving a single political party, the Democratic-Republican party: but that only lasted for a brief time.

A split in the Democratic-Republican Party in the mid-1820s gave rise two factions: the National Republicans (or Anti-Jacksonians) and the Democrats. 

When Andrew Jackson lost to John Quincy Adams in 1824, Jackson's supporters created their own organization to get him elected. After Jackson's election in 1828, that organization became known as the Democratic Party.

 The National Republicans coalesced into the Whigs—but that's another story.

Major Beliefs of the Democratic Party

In our modern form of government, both Democrat and Republican parties share similar values, in that it is the political elites of those parties who are the main repositories of the public conscience. A core set of values that each subscribe to include a free market, equal opportunity, a strong economy, and peace maintained by an adequately strong defense: where they differ is on their stated emphasis. Democrats favor the active intervention of the government; Republicans do not.

The Democratic party has been measurably more socially liberal than the Republicans for decades, a division that was especially keen in the 1980s. Democrats have long appealed to the poor and working classes and Franklin Roosevelt's "common man", while Republicans have gained support from the middle class and higher, including suburbanites and the burgeoning number of retirees.

Each party today is a coalition of many and diverse groups, although group loyalties have varied over the years. While blue-collar voters were once attracted to the Democratic party, they have migrated to Republican strongholds.

Currently, the Democratic coalition includes teachers' unions, women's groups, blacks, Hispanics, the LGBT community, environmentalists and many others.

Interesting Facts

  • The symbol of the donkey for the Democratic Party is said to have stemmed from Andrew Jackson. His opposition called him a jackass. Instead of taking it as an insult, he chose to adopt this as a symbol. This, in turn, became the symbol of the Democratic Party.
  • The Democrats hold the record for controlling both houses of Congress for the most consecutive Congresses. They controlled both houses of Congress from 1955 to 1981.
  • Andrew Jackson was the first President from the Democratic Party; and, including him, there have been 14 Democrats in the White House.

Sources:

  • Aldrich JH. 1995. Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.