America’s Democratic Party is one of the country’s two major political parties. The organization has a long history, but when compared to the Democratic Party of 1792, today’s party is very different. The Democratic Party was founded in the 1790’s by Thomas Jefferson, who was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson became the first Democratic President of the United States in 1800. Over next 70 years, as the organization grew, so did its support in the South.
After the end of the Civil War in 1865, African Americans favored the Republican Party and its anti-slavery views, while the Democratic majority was Southern Whites, who were not in favor of political rights for former slaves (Grantham, 1992). In 1868, Ulysses S. Grant, a Republican, was elected President with the help of African American Republicans, who were voting in a presidential election for the first time.
During Grant’s presidency, the Radical Republicans introduced the15th Amendment, which stated that a right to vote could not be denied because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (Carnes & Garraty, 2006, p. 434) Over the years, the Democratic Party has left behind many of its old principles and ideals, especially with today’s presence of African Americans in the party. The Democrats once maintained the support of White Southerners by backing Jim Crow laws and supporting racial Historical Analogy 2 egregation, but today, the majority of African Americans vote for the Democratic ticket (Aldrich, 1995). African Americans began to shift from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party in the 1940s, despite the Democrats opposition to 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” (Carnes & Garraty, 2006, p. 430). In the election of 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, added civil rights to his party platform. As a result, Roosevelt and the Democratic Party gained support from African American voters (Aldrich, 1995).
Today, the majority of African Americans are registered as Democrats. John Kerry carried 89% of the African American vote in the 2004 presidential election, and African Americans continue to gain more political position in the Democratic Party (Wenner, 2004). In 2008, the Democrats nominated Illinois Senator Barack Obama, as its presumptive presidential nominee, solidifying Obama’s place in history as the first African American to be a major political party’s presumptive nominee for President of the United States.
For almost a century after the end of the Civil War, the Democratic Party had a strong presence in the Southern region of America. From 1880 to 1960, the region was known as the “Solid South” because Democrats won by large margins in the area (Grantham, 1992). The Solid South began to come apart when President Harry S. Truman, a Democrat, began supporting the civil rights movement (Black & Black, 2003). Following Roosevelt’s path, civil rights was a part of Truman’s 1948 Democratic platform, used at the Democratic National Convention.
Historical Analogy 3 As a result of Truman’s endorsement of the civil rights movement, which included adopting a resolution to condemn the Ku Klux Klan, many conservative Southern Democrats walked out of the National Convention and left the Democratic Party (Aldrich, 1995). The Democratic support of the civil rights movement significantly reduced Southern support for the Democratic Party and allowed the Republican Party to step in and gain a little success in the South.
In the 1950s, the Southern Democrats, who opposed the Democratic Party’s support of the civil rights movement, formed the Dixiecrat Party, which was led by then-Governor of South Carolina, Strom Thurmond. When the Dixiecrat Party proved to be unsuccessful, Thurmond and many other former Southern Democrats switched to the Republican Party. “Thurmond, a tenacious champion of unreconstructed conservatism, abandoned the Democratic Party to become the first Republican senator from the Deep South in the twentieth century” (Black & Black, 2003, p. 1)
The Republican Party’s strength in the South grew during the election of 1964. Although Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat won the election, he did not carry the five states of the Solid South, which included Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama (Aldrich, 1995). The Deep South states provided an electoral victory to the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater. It was the first time since Reconstruction that a Republican carried the South in a presidential election (Carnes & Garraty, 2006). Johnson and the Democrats continued to lose support in the South by supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
After signing the landmark legislation, Johnson said to his aide, Bill Moyers, Historical Analogy 4 “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come” (Grantham, 1992, p. 12). As support for the Democrats in the South dwindled, in 1968 election Republican candidate Richard Nixon used “Southern Strategy,” to capitalize in the election (Carnes and Garraty, 2006, p. 810). Nixon used a method that attracted the former Southern Democrats, who were still conservative and supported segregation. With his strategy, Nixon defeated the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, in the election.
The era of the Solid South proved to be over, with the Democratic candidate only carrying one Southern state in 1968 election (Dewey, 1992). The Republican’s strategy to win voters in the South alienated African American voters from the Republican Party and pulled in more Southern Whites, who did not support integration, which was favored by the Democratic Party. Over time, Southern White voters continued to support the Republican Party. Today the Democratic Party is no longer the dominant party in the South. The South is now considered a stronghold of the Republican Party.
In 2000, presidential candidate Al Gore received no electoral votes from the South, and neither did John Kerry in the following election in 2004 (Wenner, 2004). As the Democratic Party‘s strength weakens in the South, the opposite is happening in the Northern region of America. The Democratic Party was weak in North from the 1880s to the 1960s, when the organization controlled the South, but it is now strongest in the Northeast (Black and Black, 2003). In the 2004 election, all nine Northeastern states, from Pennsylvania to Maine, voted for the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards (Wenner, 2004. Historical Analogy 5 From supporting slavery in the 1800s to supporting its first African American presidential candidate in 2008, the Democratic Party has evolved. Despite going through name changes, leaders and incarnations over the years, the Democratic Party has retained its same basic values. It prides itself on being the party for the working people, but as America’s view of who was entitled to be a referred to as the working people has changed, so did the views of Democratic Party.
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