History of the Democratic-Republican Party

The Jeffersonian Republicans and the Original Republican Party

Declaration of Independent
John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress. John Trumbull

The Democratic-Republican Party is the earliest political party in the United States, dating to 1792. The Democratic-Republican Party was founded by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and champion of the Bill of Rights. It eventually ceased to exist by that name following the 1824 presidential election and became known as the Democratic Party, though it shares little in common with the modern political organization with the same name.

Founding of the Democratic-Republican Party

Jefferson and Madison founded the party in opposition to the Federalist Party, which was led by John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and John Marshall, who fought for a strong federal government and supporting policies that favored the wealthy. The primary difference between the Democratic-Republican Party and the Federalists was Jefferson's belief in the authority of local and state governments. 

"Jefferson's party stood for rural agricultural interests urban commercial interests represented by Hamilton and the Federalists," wrote Dinesh D'Souza in Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic-Republican Party was initially just a "loosely aligned group that shared their opposition to the programs introduced in the 1790s," wrote University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. "Many of these programs, proposed by Alexander Hamilton, favored merchants, speculators, and the rich."

Federalists including Hamilton favored the creation of a national bank and the power to impose taxes. Farmers in the western United States strongly opposed taxation because they worried about not being able to pay and having their land being bought up by "eastern interests," Sabato wrote. Jefferson and Hamilton also clashed over the creation of a national bank; Jefferson did not believe the Constitution permitted such a move, while Hamilton believed the document was open to interpretation on the matter.

Jefferson initially founded the party without the prefix; its members were initially known as Republicans. But the party eventually became known as the Democratic-Republican Party. Jefferson initially considering calling his party the "anti-Federalists" but instead preferred to described its opponents as "anti-Republicans," according to the late New York Times political columnist William Safire.

Prominent Members of the Democratic-Republican Party    

Four members of the Democratic-Republican Party were elected president. They are:

Other prominent members of the Democratic-Republican Party were Speaker of the House and famed orator Henry ClayAaron Burr, a U.S. senator; George Clinton, a vice president, William H. Crawford, a senator and Treasury secretary under Madison.

End of the Democratic-Republican Party

In the early 1800s, during the administration of Democratic-Republican President James Monroe, there was so little political conflict that it became essentially a one-party commonly referred to as the Era of Good Feeling.

 In the presidential election of 1824, however, that changed as several factions opened up in the Democratic-Republican Party.

Four candidates ran for the White House on the Democratic-Republican ticket that year: Adams, Clay, Crawford and Jackson. The party was in clear disarray. No one secured enough electoral votes to win the presidency to the race was determine by the U.S. House of Representatives, which chose Adams in an outcome that was called "the corrupt bargain."

Wrote Library of Congress historian John J. McDonough:

"Clay received the smallest number of votes cast and was eliminated from the race. Since none of the other candidates had received a majority of the electoral college votes, the outcome was decided by the House of Representatives. Clay used his influence to help deliver the vote of Kentucky's congressional delegation to Adams, in spite of a resolution by the Kentucky state legislature that instructed the delegation to vote for Jackson.

"When Clay was subsequently appointed to the first place in Adams's cabinet - secretary of state - the Jackson camp raised the cry of 'corrupt bargain,' a charge that was to follow Clay thereafter and thwart his future presidential ambitions."

In 1828, Jackson ran against Adams and won - as a member of the Democratic Party. And that was the end of the Democratic-Republicans.