Evolution of the Democratic Party

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Democratic Party – Founded: C.1792

The Democratic Party was formed in 1792, when supporters of Thomas Jefferson began using the name Republicans, or Jeffersonian Republicans, to emphasize its anti-aristocratic policies. It adopted its present name during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson in the 1830s. In the 1840s and ’50s, the party was in conflict over extending slavery to the Western territories. Southern Democrats insisted on protecting slavery in all the territories while many Northern Democrats resisted. The party split over the slavery issue in 1860 at its Presidential convention in Charleston, South Carolina.

Northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas as their candidate, and Southern Democrats adopted a pro-slavery platform and nominated John C. Breckinridge in an election campaign that would be won by Abraham Lincoln and the newly formed Republican Party. After the Civil War, most white Southerners opposed Radical Reconstruction and the Republican Party’s support of black civil and political rights.

The Democratic Party identified itself as the “white man’s party” and demonized the Republican Party as being “Negro dominated,” even though whites were in control. Determined to re-capture the South, Southern Democrats “redeemed” state after state — sometimes peacefully, other times by fraud and violence. By 1877, when Reconstruction was officially over, the Democratic Party controlled every Southern state.

The South remained a one-party region until the Civil Rights movement began in the 1960s. Northern Democrats, most of whom had prejudicial attitudes towards blacks, offered no challenge to the discriminatory policies of the Southern Democrats.

Then and Now: After the Civil War, the Democratic Party in the South was the party of white supremacy. Now, African Americans form the party’s most loyal base of support. One of the consequences of the Democratic victories in the South was that many Southern Congressmen and Senators were almost automatically re-elected every election. Due to the importance of seniority in the U.S. Congress, Southerners were able to control most of the committees in both houses of Congress and kill any civil rights legislation. Even though Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a Democrat, and a relatively liberal president during the 1930s and ’40s, he rarely challenged the powerfully entrenched Southern bloc. When the House passed a federal anti-lynching bill several times in the 1930s, Southern senators filibustered it to death.

— Richard Wormser

From Quora:

The origins are with FDR: his New Deal coalition included, strangely enough, white Southerners and African-Americans. I’d argue that his success was in being able to move the Democratic Party beyond its base in the South, where the only way it could carry votes was by supporting racist policies.

The “official” beginning of the Democrats’ anti-racist platform was 1948. I love a quote by then-Minneapolis mayor and future Vice President Hubert Humphrey at the 1948 convention: “The time has come for America to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.” President Truman had a de-segregation plank added to his platform, and white Southerners, who were still basically all Democrats, walked out of the convention.

White Southerners fled the party en masse during the 1960s, under LBJ’s support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; prominent racists like South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond joined the Republican Party in those years, and the South began voting Republican for the first time since Reconstruction (when voting Republican was basically enforced by the military). By the 1970s it was pretty widely recognized that any racist plank would not sell to the majority of voters. Nixon’s campaign in 1968 played on Southern whites’ anger over the success of civil rights, but since you couldn’t get away with supporting segregation by that point, his “Southern strategy” disguised an essentially racist policy through terms like “law and order” and the old “states’ rights” excuse.

Nowadays neither party supports anything resembling racist policies, because even white Southerners know that it’s not acceptable to, well, be a racist.

The Democratic party fissured in 1948, between the “Dixiecrat”s who were in favor of segregation, and the rest, who weren’t. This battle continued for decades, flip answers (e.g. “LBJ decided to play the race card”) ignore a long, deep and bitter battle over the party’s identity. For example George Wallace (one of the leading segregationists) was a Democrat throughout the 1960s before leaving the party in 1968.

To answer your question narrowly, as to when the official party platform stopped supporting segregation.

In 1952 the platform has a section titled ‘Civil Right’s, which opposes “arbitrary restraints” on voting, and supports de-segregation of the armed forces, but stops there. The vice-presidential candidate (Sparkman) was chosen partially because he was a segregationist, as part of a compromise.

In 1956, all I can see is the rather mealy-mouthed “We reject all proposals for the use of force to interfere with the orderly determination of these matters by the courts”.

In 1960, the platform is clear, though limited to government segregation: ” the Democratic Administration will use its full executive powers to assure equal employment opportunities and to terminate racial segregation throughout Federal services and institutions, and on all Government contracts”

By 1964, the Civil Rights Act has been passed, and the platform is replete with support for it.


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© 2002 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

© 2002 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.