Founding of the Party 1812 - 1820
There is not doubt that the democratic party was inspired by one man, Andrew Jackson, yet he can not claim to be its single founder. The democratic party wasn't founded, it evolved. Following America's victory during the first Anglo-American war of 1811 - 1813 there was great public support for further war against Britain, and the annexation of Canada into the USA. Federalists disagreed entirely but the issue divided the Democratic-Republican party. President Madison was a supporter of continuing the war. However, he didn't have the support of his cabinet. After months of deliberation Madison declared war in late 1814 and the second Anglo-American war began. The issue appeared to go away, for now.
However in 1817, following the end of the war and subsequent annexation of Canada, the issue reappeared in congress. A group of members demanded further war against Britain in revenge for its attacks on US ports during the war. With his party divided, new president James Monroe declared in 1818 that he wouldn't seeks a second term, and would spend the remainder of his presidency organising his party and his country. Ironically this statement made him more popular than ever and had he stood for a second term it is likely that he would have won.
Following its landslide defeat in the 1816 presidential election the federalist party was in tatters. What remained of the party was led by John Quincy Adams. Adams, the son of the USA's second president, although originally a federalist had joined the dem-reps in 1808 yet left the party following the declaration of the second Anglo-American war. He had been but forward for the federalist nomination in 1816 but was unsuccessful. However he was able to hold onto some support and soon embodied the heart and soul of federalist policies.
This dividing of parties became known as the panic of 1818. Many people suspected that, with Monroe refusing to serve another term, and John Q. Adams entering the national stage that the democratic-republican party was finished. However, this was not the case.
General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee was a popular war hero who had distinguished himself in both Anglo-American wars. He called for a "Change of guard in Washington" and and took advantage of the great swath of nationalism that took hold of the US following its acquisition of new territory. Jackson had served in the house of representatives before the wars and in 1819 he was elected to the senate. Jackson called for a new political grouping, a new party that would bring order to America, yet preserve its freedom. Jackson's followers called themselves democrats, the name stuck.
Jacksonian Era 1820 - 1853
Jackson was nominated by the democrats as their candidate for president. Throughout 1820 federalists and democratic-republicans left their respective parties to join the democrats. Rallying behind Jackson proved a good tactic and he won the election against Adams by a landslide.
Jackson was inaugurated in March 1821 and kept his promises. The constitution was adhered to yet states rights were acknowledged, the US was stable and at peace. Jackson began seeking reforms, designed to shift power from congress to the executive. Thanks to Jacksons massive support these were passed with little opposition. Jackson's popularity became known as the era of good feelings (1821 - 1833), and in 1824 he was reelected, unopposed. The only issue that seemed to divide the new party was slavery. Although Jackson was a slave owner he did not publicly support slavery. The issue faded away in the mid 1820's however, allowing the democratic party to become more united.
In 1828 Jackson, reluctantly, decided to run for an unprecedented third term in office. He stated his reasons as being 1. To defeat Clay (his opponent in the upcoming election), 2. To push through further reforms, and 3. To keep the party united. The third point was the most important. Although by this time there were many leading democrats, they were all either pro northern or pro southern. Jackson was reelected, although it was a closer race than in 1820 and 1824. Jackson spent the majority of his final term looking after his legacy, pushing through reforms and finding a successor. He decided upon his vice president, Martin van Buren.
Van Buren was a New Yorker, who had been amongst the first to support Jackson in 1818. He personally disliked slavery however felt bound by the constitution to accept slavery and even to defend it. Van Burens presidency remained more or less the same as Jackson's, maintaining Jacksonian policies. However van Buren declined renomination in 1836. The convention chose Secretary of War Lewis Cass of Michigan.
Cass' presidency was to be more eventful. In 1838 Mexico declared war on the US in response to American troops being sent along the mexican border to protect settlers. Cass' role in the war was to be somewhat overshadowed by that of the commanding generals, Taylor and Scott (both future presidents). Due to this, Taylor challenged Cass for the 1840 democratic nomination, and won.Taylor's policies were more aggressive than Cass. He oversaw new slavery compromises in 1841 and 1844, and he continued the war with mexico, that resulted in the annexation of Texas in 1843. Taylor declined renomination, but advised the party to choose general Scott as "a strong figure, who can preserve our country". The nomination was a tough contest between James K. Polk and James Buchanan, with Polk finally winning. By now the democratic party had been in office for 25 years, and had won 6 successive elections.
Polk's administration saw another war with Mexico (1845 - 47) and the annexation of the western continental united States. Although a southern slave owner, he objected to the introduction of slavery in the new territories acquired. Polk refused renomination but, like his predecessors he did advise on George M. Dallas.
The party disagreed with Polk's choice, instead general Winfield Scott was selected as the nominee. Scott, a strong Jacksonian who wad served under him in 1815, was the first US President not to hold slaves. Scott, like van Buren believed slavery to be bad, but was forced to be neutral on the issue. However Scott, the great commander, was unable to keep the party united and his authoritarian leadership style was also unsettling. Scott attempted to be renominated in 1852 but lost the nomination to Pierce.
Failed Compromises 1853 - 1860Franklin Pierce won the 1852 election on the promise of introducing the so called Pierce - Douglas Compromise. The compromise declared that New Mexico and Arizona territory's should become slave states, that California should be a free state, and that all the remaining western territories should remain territories under direct federal control. The compromise was popular with many southerners and was reluctantly accepted by most northerners. However some democrats accused the compromise of holding back the US, and that the new territory, along with former Canada, should be created into states.
Even Stephen Douglas, coauthor of the compromise, thought the deal should be temporary, and that it wouldn't end the slavery debate. However Pierce thought otherwise, he thought that the compromise should be adopted as official policy for the democratic party, and that the majority of the new land acquired could not, and should not be settled in.
By 1854 Pierce's main opposition came from within his own party, particularly from former ally Douglas. Douglas wrote a new proposal, the so called 1855 Petition, signed by over 400,000 people. The petition called for the establishment of 5 - 10 new states in the former Mexican territories and that slavery should be forbidden in all states north of the Missouri river, in return Cuba would become a slave state.
The petition was rejected by Pierce and by the south, as it favored the northern states, yet it was very popular in the north. Because of his lack of confidence in the north, Pierce was refused renomination by his party. The party chose compromise candidate James Buchanan.Buchanan, a northerner with southern sympathies, had been a leading figure in the party since its formation, and had served as secretary of state (1845 - 1849) and had held cabinet positions since 1841. Buchanan, unlike Pierce, repeatedly tried to unite his party, and the country over the slavery question. Buchanan even considered declaring war on Mexico just to unite the country behind the stars and stripes, however this extreme alternative was not adopted. He was forced to battle with Douglas for control of the party during the 1856 campaign even after he had won the nomination. The big question asked at the convention was who should be vice president. Many northerners favored Douglas, who was experienced and a compromiser. However, the party chose John C. Breckinridge, a pro slavery southerner. Although the democrats were to go on and win the 9th election in a row it was by the smallest margin yet, with John C. Fremont's republicans replacing the whigs as the opposition party.
Buchanan's government was a failure. Any compromise's brought forth by Douglas were ignored by Breckinridge, and any of Breckinridge's demands that favored the south were blocked by Douglas. By late 1857 the country was on the brink of civil war. State militia's were being called up across the nation and in November all 18 slave states declared that they would secede unless action was taken to protect their interests.
Action was taken. On November 25th Buchanan used his presidential supreme powers to force through the protection of interests act, this declared that all slave states currently existing would have federal assurances that no laws preventing slavery could be passed through congress, however no more slave states were to be created. The act was avidly accepted in the south and by most northerners. Douglas did support the act, however he did point out the similarities between it and his 1855 Petition.
The slavery question died down for now, but Buchanan slowly lost moral leadership of the party to Douglas.
A Party at War 1860 - 1865
The election of 1860 is, as many historians agree, one of the most significant in US history, this statement applies to two elections, the presidential, and the democratic nomination.
President Buchanan had stated in the 1856 campaign that he would only serve one term. The fight to be his successor was between Vice President Breckinridge and Stephen Douglas. Both had support, Breckinridge in the south and Douglas in the north. But as the party convened in July 1860 it seemed Douglas would pull through. He won the nomination after 7 ballots, after many attempts to find a unity candidate (Former Presidents Lewis Cass and Winfield Scott were put forward in as candidates).
Finding New Roots 1865 - 1889
Bryan vs Cleveland 1889 - 1900
From the moment President Cleveland entered the White House he faced opposition. His support for the Gold Standard and campaign funding from large New York businesses made him unpopular in the poorer areas of the US. Even though he had been elected with a large majority. Cleveland desparetly tried to avoid conflict within his party, and within his cabinet.
The rough members of the Democratic Party rallied around former Republican, James B. Weaver, and vowed to challenge Cleveland in the 1892 election, which they did. The democratic split over the coinage system was bitter and is credited as being the cause of Cleveland's 1892 defeat.
The supporters of Weaver had taken the name of the populist party and had been able to gain nearly 20% of the vote. Following his defeat, Cleveland was bitter towards the populists.
Following the election a new leader of the pro silver, liberal, populist democrats emerged. William Jennings Bryan was to become a major player in the democratic party for the next 30 years. The division in the party continued, and by 1894 the populist party was battling with the democratic party for the place of second largest party in the USA.
In 1896 it was time for another presidential election, the wound's in the party had become very deep and it seemed unlikely that the democrats would, or could win. However their prospects were improved when in March 1896 the populist party split over several campaign issues. The southern and western members of the party that represented farmers and agricultural workers hijacked the party ticket (due to the convention being held early in march) and refused nomination to Bryan (who easily had the most support).
Instead the party chose civil war veterans, from Illinois John M. Palmer for President, and from Kentucky Simon B. Buckner for Veep. The choice of candidates reflected the state of the party, Palmer was 79 and Buckner 73, 152 years in total made them the oldest presidential candidates before or since.
The two candidates nevertheless launched a suprisingly active campaign that summer and autumn, visiting most states and trying to convince people that the party really was organised. But in November the party was defeated again, not as bad a landslide as it could have been but McKinley won by a comfortable majority.
The Dewey Compromise 1900
In 1900 the party was in deadlock again. Bourbons and radicals were still at each others throats and it looked like McKinley was going to be the first president reelected since Andrew Jackson.
The candidates for the democratic nomination were many, over 15 announced they would seek it. But there were only two front runners, Bryan, and Admiral George Dewey. Dewey was a navy man who had previously admitted to never voting in a presidential election until 1896, when he voted democratic. Many people viewed this as proof that Dewey was not presidential material. However his ignorance became his strength. With ties to niether wing of the party Dewey became the perfect compromise choice.
After weeks of pre convention negotiation it was decided amongst the democratic big wigs that Dewey would be the presidential nominee, with Bourbon David B. Hill as his running mate. However the populist faction was to have large concessions. Bryan would become secretary of state, and the cabinet would be divided equally between Bourbons and Bryanites.
The compromise was a success and Dewey was elected in a close victory that November. However as soon as he entered office the trouble started. Dewey, an experienced naval man had strong views about US foreign policy, Bryan, the long term pacifist was a difficult colleague.
Bourbon Victory 1904 - 1909
Republican Era 1909 - 1933
Roosevelt, Democratic Saviour 1933 - 1941
The Party of the South 1941 - 1960
Enter Kennedy 1960 - 1966
Johnson Failure 1966 - 1968
Conservative Renaissance 1968 - 1997
Johnson's unpopularity lead to a large number of canididates coming forward to challenge him for the nomination. Among them were Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and Governor George Wallace of Alabama. The candidates soon formed cliques around them. The Southern moderates and party establishment rallied around Johnson, the surviving die-hard "Kennedy Kampainers" of '60 and '64 and radical liberals rallied around Kennedy, the liberal intellectuals and students around McCarthy and ultra conservative segregationists formed around Wallace.
The campaign for the democratic nomination was one of the dirtiest, grittiest and bitterest in the history of the party. Johnson knew he was unpopular because of the war and his hardline politics, and this was confirmed when he was narrowly beaten into third place in the Missouri primary by Kennedy and McCarthy. Johnson withdrew from the campaign immediately, but publicly supported Vice President Henry M. Jackson's candidacy.
Jackson, Wallace, McCarthy and Kennedy slugged it out in a near 4 way split from January until the convention in August. Wallace carried all of the South, Kennedy the East Coast, Jackson the West coast and mid west and McCarthy the North. The delegates situation by the time of the convening of the democratic convention was as follows:
Robert F. Kennedy - 1,591
Henry M. Jackson - 1,319
Eugene McCarthy - 1,309
George Wallace - 1,281
However before the first ballot was cast a voice vote was held on whether an expansion of civil rights should appear on the party platform. Wallace flatly refused the move, and when it was passed he withdrew from the contest with all but 60 of his delegates (all of which went on to support Jackson) to refound the States Rights party.
With the removal of Wallace from the race, the last true vestiges of the pre Kennedy southerrn dominated politics were over. After 5 ballots McCarthy withdrew from the contest, with Kennedy finally winning the majority he needed on the 8th ballot.