The History of the Democratic Party

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  1. Kevin_Kennedy
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    Kevin_Kennedy Defend Liberty

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    Today’s Democratic Party has a proud history if not a proud present. The Democratic Party can trace its origins directly to the beginnings of our nation and Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party.

    The Democratic-Republican Party was formed as the first opposition party to Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party. Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party opposed the Federalist’s big government and militaristic agenda. Thomas Jefferson himself ascended to the Presidency in 1801 marking the beginning of the end to the Federalist Party and its national ambitions.

    Andrew Jackson was elected President and took office in 1829. He was the first President elected as simply a Democrat rather than a Democratic-Republican, but the principles remained essentially the same. Jackson opposed a central bank but was not a supporter of the Jeffersonian principle of states’ rights, leading to clashes with his Vice President John C. Calhoun. Despite Jackson’s opposition the states’ rights tradition remained a prominent principle of the Democratic Party, as shown by Calhoun.

    The first Whig President, William Henry Harrison, took office in 1841, which ended the 40-year streak of Democratic Presidents. Between 1841 and 1861 the office of the President was almost evenly divided between Democrats and Whigs.

    In the election of 1860 the Democratic Party was split into two separate parties. The Northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas for the Presidency, and the Southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckinridge. It was this split that allowed the new Republican Party nominee, Abraham Lincoln, to win the election. What followed was the secession of several southern states from the Union to form the Confederate States of America, and the American Civil War.

    Northern Democrats were further split during this conflict into War Democrats and Peace Democrats. The War Democrats supported the war and many became Republicans. The Peace Democrats, also known as Copperheads, were mainly lead by Ohio Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham and called for an end to Lincoln’s war against the Confederacy and for renewed diplomacy with them. Many Copperheads attempted to aid the Confederacy in any way they could, and Vallandigham was deported to the Confederacy for making a speech against the President.

    After the Civil War the Republicans maintained a monopoly on the White House, but the Democrats remained a viable party. There wasn’t another Democratic President until 1889 when Grover Cleveland became President. Grover Cleveland was the only President elected to two non-consecutive terms, and the last of the classical liberal or Jeffersonian Democrats.

    For the election of 1896 the Democratic Party was once again split asunder. William Jennings Bryan was nominated as the Democratic Party’s Presidential candidate after giving his famous “Cross of Gold” speech where he stated, “Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

    This was a severe repudiation of President Grover Cleveland and his strict adherence to the gold standard. Bryan was a free silver Democrat who believed that an end to the gold standard and an inflationary monetary policy were necessary for a healthier economy. However, not all Democrats agreed.

    Gold Democrats, Democrats in support of the gold standard, decided to break away from the Democratic Party and put up their own nominee for President. The National Democratic Party nominated John M. Palmer, a former Union general, for President, and Simon B. Buckner, a former Confederate general and former Governor of Kentucky, for Vice President. President Grover Cleveland supported the NDP and John Palmer over his own party’s nominee saying, “I am delighted with the outcome of the Indianapolis Convention and as a Democrat I feel very grateful to those who have relieved the bad political atmosphere with such a delicious infusion of fresh air.”

    The National Democratic Party didn’t win any states in the election but they certainly split the vote between Palmer and Bryan making it easier for the Republican nominee and gold standard supporter, William McKinley, to win the election. Some in the NDP believed that McKinley, due to his support of the gold standard, was a better choice than William Jennings Bryan.

    The NDP was essentially the last major party to fully adopt the Jeffersonian principles.

    The first Democratic President of the 20th-century, Woodrow Wilson, proved that the Democratic Party had been taken over by Progressives rather than true liberals, and it has essentially remained unchanged to the 21st-century. Wilson gave us World War 1 and the Federal Reserve, ultimately fulfilling William Jennings Bryan’s assault on the gold standard and adherence to inflationary policies.

    If the Democratic Party wants to return to its true liberal roots it needs to reject Progressives such as Wilson, FDR, and Barack Obama, and embrace Grover Cleveland and the platform of the National Democratic Party.
     

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