Who Were the Democratic Presidents of the United States?

Joe Biden speaking behind a microphone
Joe Biden addresses the nation in early 2021.

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Since the Democratic Party was founded in 1828 as an outgrowth of the Anti-Federalist Party, a total of 16 Democrats have been elected president of the United States.

America’s first seven presidents were neither Democrats nor Republicans. First president George Washington, who detested the very idea of partisan politics, belonged to no party. John Adams, our second president was a Federalist, America’s first political party. Third, through sixth presidents, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams were all members of the Democratic-Republican Party, which later splintered to become the modern Democratic Party and the Whig Party

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Andrew Jackson (7th President)

Andrew Jackson
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Elected in 1828 and again in 1832, War of 1812 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

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Martin Van Buren (8th President)

Martin Van Buren, Eighth President of the United States
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Elected in 1836, eighth 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.” 

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James K. Polk (11th President)

President James K. Polk. President during the Mexican American War and era of Manifest Destiny.
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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.

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Franklin Pierce (14th President)

Franklin Pierce 14th US President
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Serving a single term, from 1853 to 1857, 14th 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.  

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James Buchanan (15th President)

James Buchanan - Fifteenth President of the United States
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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 enslavement 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 pro-slavery state.​

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Andrew Johnson (17th President)

Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States
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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 formerly enslaved people 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.  

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Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th President)

Grover Cleveland 22nd U.S. President engraving 1894
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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 mid-term congressional election.

Cleveland would be the last Democrat to win the presidency until the 1912 election of Woodrow Wilson.

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Woodrow Wilson (28th President)

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)

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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.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd President)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Elected to an unprecedented and now constitutionally impossible four terms, 32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt, popularly known as FDR, served from 1933 until his death in 1945.

Widely considered one of the greatest presidents, Roosevelt led the United States 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

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Harry S. Truman (33rd President)

United States President Harry S. Truman
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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 Dewey in the 1948 election. As president, Truman faced the Korean War, the emerging 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.

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John F. Kennedy (35th President)

John F. Kennedy
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Popularly 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.​

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Lyndon B. Johnson (36th President)

President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act
LBJ 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. 

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Jimmy Carter (39th President)

Jimmy Carter - 39th President of the United States
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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. 

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Bill Clinton (42nd President)

Bill Clinton

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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 intern 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 Bosnia and Kosovo and signed the Iraq Liberation Act in opposition to Saddam Hussein. 

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Barack Obama (44th President)

Barack Obama Speaks In Berlin
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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. This included 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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Joe Biden (46th President)

Joe Biden speaks behind a microphone

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The former vice president to Barack Obama, Joe Biden was elected to the presidency to serve a term beginning in 2021. Before serving as Obama's vice president, Biden was a senator representing Delaware in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 2009; at the time of his first election, he was the sixth-youngest senator in history, winning his first election at only 29 years old.

Biden's career in the Senate included controversial causes such as the Comprehensive Crime Control Act and opposition to race-integration busing. However, he also led the way for major victories such as the Violence Against Women Act. As vice president, he gained a reputation for raising questions that no one else would and look at issues from different angles.

Upon beginning his presidential term, Biden's prorities included addressing the COVID-19 pandemic (both medically and economically), setting sweeping goals to address climate change, reforming immigration, and reversing corporate tax cuts.

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Longley, Robert. "Who Were the Democratic Presidents of the United States?" ThoughtCo, Mar. 21, 2022, thoughtco.com/which-presidents-were-democrats-4160236. Longley, Robert. (2022, March 21). Who Were the Democratic Presidents of the United States? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/which-presidents-were-democrats-4160236 Longley, Robert. "Who Were the Democratic Presidents of the United States?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/which-presidents-were-democrats-4160236 (accessed March 30, 2023).