Who Were the Democratic Presidents?

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wave to crowd at 2016 democratic presidential primary debate.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at 2016 Presidential Primary Debate. Getty Images

Since the Democratic Party was founded in 1828 as an outgrowth of the Anti-Federalist Party, a total of 15 Democrats have been elected President of the United States. But just who were these Democratic Presidents and what did they stand for?

 

01
of 15

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson, Seventh President of the United States
Andrew Jackson, Seventh President of the United States. Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Elected in 1828 and again in 1832, Revolutionary War general and seventh president Andrew Jackson served two terms lasting from 1829 to 1837. True to the philosophy of the new Democratic Party, Jackson advocated protecting “natural rights” against the attacks of a “corrupt aristocracy.” With distrust of sovereign rule still running hot, this platform appealed to the American people who swept him to a landslide victory in 1828 over incumbent President John Quincy Adams

02
of 15

Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren, Eighth President of the United States
Martin Van Buren, Eighth President of the United States. Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Elected in 1836, eight President Martin Van Buren served from 1837 to 1841. Van Buren won the presidency largely by promising to continue the popular policies of his predecessor and political ally Andrew Jackson. When the public blamed his domestic policies for the financial Panic of 1837, Van Buren failed to be elected to a second term in 1840. During the campaign, newspapers hostile to his presidency referred to him as “Martin Van Ruin.”  

03
of 15

James K. Polk

President James K. Polk. President during the Mexican American War and era of Manifest Destiny.
President James K. Polk. President during the Mexican American War and era of Manifest Destiny. Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Eleventh president James K. Polk served one term from 1845 to 1849. An advocate of Andrew Jackson’s “common man” democracy, Polk remains the only president to have served as Speaker of the House. Though considered a dark-horse in the 1844 election, Polk defeated Whig party candidate Henry Clay in a nasty campaign. Polk’s support for U.S. annexation of the Republic of Texas, considered a key to western expansion and Manifest Destiny, proved popular with voters.

04
of 15

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce, US President
Franklin Pierce, US President. Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Serving a single term, from 1853 to 1857, fourteenth president Franklin Pierce was a northern Democrat who considered the abolitionist movement the greatest threat to national unity. As president, Pierce’s aggressive enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act angered the growing number of anti-slavery voters. Today, many historians and scholars contend that the failure of his decidedly pro-slavery policies to halt secession and prevent the Civil War make Pierce one of America’s worst and least effective presidents.  

05
of 15

James Buchanan

James Buchanan - Fifteenth President of the United States
James Buchanan - Fifteenth President of the United States. Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Fifteenth president James Buchanan served from 1857 to 1861 and had previously served as Secretary of State and as a member of the House and Senate. Elected just before the Civil War, Buchanan inherited but mostly failed to address the issues of slavery and secession. After his election, he angered Republican abolitionists and Northern Democrats alike by supporting the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling and siding with Southern lawmakers in their attempts to admit Kansas to the Union as a slave state.​

06
of 15

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States
Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States. PhotoQuest / Getty Images

Considered one of the worst U.S. presidents, 17th president Andrew Johnson served from 1865 to 1869. Having been elected vice president to Republican Abraham Lincoln on the post-Civil War reconstruction period National Union ticket, Johnson assumed the presidency after Lincoln was assassinated. As president, Johnson’s refusal to ensure the protection of former slaves from potential federal prosecution resulted in his impeachment by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Though he was acquitted in the Senate by one vote, Johnson never ran for reelection.  

07
of 15

Grover Cleveland

The Cleveland family, left to right: Esther, Francis, mother Frances Folsom, Marion, Richard, and former President Grover Cleveland.
The Cleveland family, left to right: Esther, Francis, mother Frances Folsom, Marion, Richard, and former President Grover Cleveland. Bettmann / Getty Images

As the only president ever elected to two non-consecutive terms, 22nd and 24th president Grover Cleveland served from 1885 to 1889 and from 1893 to 1897. His pro-business policies and demand for fiscal conservatism won Cleveland the support of both Democrats and Republicans. However, his inability to reverse the depression of the Panic of 1893 decimated the Democratic Party and set the stage for a Republican landslide in the 1894 election. Cleveland would be the last Democrat to win the presidency until the 1912 election of Woodrow Wilson.

08
of 15

Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson and his wife Edith review papers in the Oval Office
President Woodrow Wilson and First Lady Edith Wilson. Stock Montage / Getty Images

Elected in 1912, after 23 years of Republican dominance, Democrat and 28th president Woodrow Wilson would serve two terms from 1913 to 1921. Along with leading the nation during World War I, Wilson drove the enactment of progressive social reform legislation the likes of which would not be seen again until Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of 1933. Issues facing the nation at the time of Wilson’s election included the question of women’s suffrage, which he opposed, calling it a matter for the states to decide.

09
of 15

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt. Getty Images

Elected to an unprecedented and now constitutionally impossible four terms, 32nd president Franklin D. Roosevelt, best known as FDR, served from 1933 until his death in 1945. Widely considered one of the greatest presidents, Roosevelt led the U.S, through no less desperate crises than the Great Depression during his first two terms and World War II during his last two. Today, Roosevelt’s depression-ending New Deal package of social reform programs is considered the prototype for American liberalism

10
of 15

Harry S. Truman

President Harry Truman holding up a newspaper with headline proclaiming, ‘Dewey Defeats Truman.’
President Harry S. Truman and Famous Newspaper Error. Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Perhaps best known for his decision to end World War II by dropping atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 33rd president Harry S. Truman took office upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt and served from 1945 to 1953. Despite famous headlines erroneously announcing his defeat, Truman defeated Republican Thomas Dewy in the 1948 election. As president, Truman faced the Korean War, the immerging threat of communism, and the start of the Cold War. Truman’s domestic policy marked him as a moderate Democrat whose liberal legislative agenda resembled Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

11
of 15

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy at Their Wedding
John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy at Their Wedding. Keystone/Getty Images

Best known as JFK, John F. Kennedy served as 35th president from 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. Serving at the height of the Cold War, JFK spent much of his time in office dealing with relations with the Soviet Union, highlighted by the tense atomic diplomacy of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Calling it the “New Frontier,” Kennedy’s domestic program promised greater funding for education, medical care for the elderly, economic aid to rural areas, and an end to racial discrimination. In addition, JFK officially launched America into the “Space Race” with the Soviets, culminating with the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969.​

12
of 15

Lyndon B. Johnson

President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act
President Lyndon B. Johnson Signs the Voting Rights Act. Bettmann / Getty Images

Assuming the office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 36th president Lyndon B. Johnson served from 1963 to 1969. While much of his time in office was spent defending his often controversial role in the escalation of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, Johnson succeeded in passing legislation first conceived in President Kennedy’s “New Frontier” plan. Johnson’s “Great Society” program, consisted of social reform legislation protecting civil rights, prohibiting racial discrimination, and expanding programs like Medicare, Medicaid, aid to education, and the arts. Johnson is also remembered for his “War on Poverty” program, which created jobs and helped millions of Americans overcome poverty. 

13
of 15

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter - 39th President of the United States
Jimmy Carter - 39th President of the United States. Bettmann / Getty Images

The son of a successful Georgia peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter served as 39th president from 1977 to 1981. As his first official act, Carter granted presidential pardons to all Vietnam War-era military draft evaders. He also oversaw the creation of two new cabinet-level federal departments, the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. Having specialized in nuclear power while in the Navy, Carter ordered the creation of America’s first national energy policy and pursued the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. In foreign policy, Carter escalated the Cold War by ending détente. Near the end of his single term, Carter was faced by the 1979–1981 Iran hostage crisis and the international boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. 

14
of 15

Bill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton
Former President Bill Clinton. Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images News

Former Arkansas governor Bill Clinton served two terms as the 42nd president from 1993 to 2001. Considered a centrist, Clinton attempted to create policies that balanced conservative and liberal philosophies. Along with welfare reform legislation, he drove the creation of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. In 1998, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice relating to his admitted affair with White House aide Monica Lewinsky. Acquitted by the Senate in 1999, Clinton went on to complete his second term during which the government recorded its first budget surplus, since 1969. In foreign policy, Clinton ordered U.S. military intervention in wars in Bosnia and Kosovo wars and signed the Iraq Liberation Act in opposition to Saddam Hussein. 

15
of 15

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend an inaugural ball on Jan. 20, 2009, in Washington, D.C. Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images News

The first African American elected to the office, Barack Obama served two terms as 44th president from 2009 to 2017. While best remembered for “Obamacare,” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obama signed many landmark bills into law. Including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, intended to bring the nation out of the Great Recession of 2009. In foreign policy, Obama ended U.S, military involvement in the Iraq War, but increased U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. In addition, he orchestrated a reduction of nuclear weapons with the United States–Russia New START treaty. In his second term, Obama issued executive orders requiring fair and equal treatment of LGBT Americans and lobbied the Supreme Court to strike down state laws banning same-sex marriage

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Longley, Robert. "Who Were the Democratic Presidents?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 6, 2018, thoughtco.com/which-presidents-were-democrats-4160236. Longley, Robert. (2018, April 6). Who Were the Democratic Presidents? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/which-presidents-were-democrats-4160236 Longley, Robert. "Who Were the Democratic Presidents?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/which-presidents-were-democrats-4160236 (accessed April 25, 2018).