The Origins of The Democratic Party

In colonial politics, agrarian interests, later to become a principal source of support for the Democratic party, tended to organize and electioneer in opposition to the policies of royal, mercantile, banking, manufacturing, and shipping interests. Many of the colonies had so-called Country parties opposing the Court parties in the 18th century. During the period of the American Revolution and the Confederation, partisan collaborations took place mainly in urban electioneering societies such as the Boston Caucus Club, in and among colonial and state legislatures through committees of correspondence, and in the factionalism of the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS. In the latter body, those who pressed most strongly for complete separation from Britain were viewed as radicals. Under the Confederation, many of the same people resisted centralizing the political institutions of the new nation; they became ANTI-FEDERALISTS who opposed ratification of the new U.S. Constitution in 1788-1789.
Party alignments of national consequence began to form before the end of the first administration of George WASHINGTON in 1793. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander HAMILTON was the master politician of the FEDERALIST PARTY. Secretary of State Thomas JEFFERSON, in cooperation with his fellow Virginian, Representative James MADISON, led what came to be the first loyal opposition in national affairs--the Democratic-Republican party, also known as the Jeffersonians. Jefferson spoke on behalf of the interests of farmers, veterans, and urban immigrants and was in favor of minimum government, maximum liberty, alliance with France, and easy credit for debtors. In 1792 he and Madison allied with New York's Governor George Clinton (see CLINTON family), creating the first political coalition between Northern and Southern politicians--a coalition that would later serve as a pillar of the Democratic party. TAMMANY HALL in New York City, under the leadership of Aaron BURR, threw in its resources to become part of the coalition. Tammany would later become the nation's most important urban political machine, recruiting workers and immigrants into the Democratic party.
From about 1792 to 1800 the Democratic-Republican party was the beneficiary of the rise of numerous patriotic societies throughout the states, mainly in urban centers. At first interested in the public issues of the day, these societies soon campaigned for Democratic-Republican candidates.
Party organization also advanced in Congress. By the 4th Congress (1795-97), Democratic-Republicans held enough seats to challenge the dominant Federalists, and they held their first congressional CAUCUS on Apr. 2, 1796, in a futile effort to defeat JAY'S TREATY with Britain. Nonetheless, the caucus became a principal instrument of Jeffersonian power during the next 2 decades. It nominated Jefferson, Madison, and JamesMONROE--the "Virginia Dynasty"--for the presidency, nominations that were tantamount to election. Moreover, thecaucus enabled those presidents to promote their policies in the Congress, which then was the most influential branch of the national government.
After the election (1800) and reelection (1804) of Jefferson to the presidency, Federalist strength tended to decline everywhere except in New England. The great majority of practicing politicians, particularly those in the new states of the West, referred to themselves as Jeffersonians. New issues associated with the economic development of the West and the growing number of urban workers in the East demanded attention. The administrations (1817-25) of James Monroe were designated the Era of Good Feelings, meaning that there were no real party divisions; in fact, the period was one of one-party politics dominated by the Jeffersonians.
This situation ended with a split among the Democratic- Republicans in 1824. In the election of that year the popular vote for presidential electors gave Andrew JACKSON, a hero of the War of 1812, a plurality rather than the necessary majority in the electoral college. Under the Constitution, the final choice fell to the House of Representatives, where Speaker Henry CLAY withdrew his own candidacy in favor of John Quincy ADAMS. The outraged and frustrated Jacksonians vowed to correct the betrayal of the popular will at the very next election and began to organize immediately to this end. They were joined by New York's Senator Martin VAN BUREN, leader of the Albany Regency, a party machine whose influence extended well beyond that state. Jackson defeated Adams in the 1828 election.

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