The Democratic-Republican Party, not to be confused with the modern Republican Party or Democratic Party, was an American political party founded around 1791 by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.


Thomas Jefferson

The Mind behind the Democratic-Republican Party

The party formed, first as a caucus in the House of Representatives and then in every state to contest elections and oppose the programs of Secretary for the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson needed to have a nationwide party to counteract the Federalists, a nationwide party recently formed by Hamilton. Foreign affairs took a leading role in 1795 as the Republicans opposed the Jay Treaty with Britain, which was then at war with France. Admiring the French revolution, it demanded good relations with France, until Napoleon came to power in 1799. The party denounced many of Hamilton's measures (especially the national bank) as unconstitutional. The party was strongest in the South and weakest in the Northeast; it favored states' rights and the primacy of the yeoman farmers and the planters over bankers, industrialists, merchants, and investors. The Jeffersonians were deeply committed to the principles of republicanism, which they feared were threatened by the supposed monarchical tendencies of the Federalists. The party came to power with the election of Jefferson in 1801. The Federalists—too elitist to appeal to most people—faded away, and the Republicans, despite internal divisions, dominated the First Party System until partisanship itself withered away after 1816.

The presidents selected by the party were Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809), James Madison (1809–1817), and James Monroe (1817–1825). After 1800, the party dominated Congress and most state governments outside New England. It selected presidential candidates through its caucus in Congress, but in the late 1820s, that system broke down. The party split between Andrew Jackson and the incumbent President John Quincy Adams. What began as Jackson's ideas of democracy ("Jacksonian democracy") lead to the founding of the Democratic Party. The other faction, led by John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, formed a new party known as the National Republicans; it evolved into the Whig Party, the northern wing of which eventually became the Civil War-era Republican Party.

Presidential elections of 1792 and 1796Edit

The elections of 1792 were the first ones to be contested on anything resembling a partisan basis. In most states the congressional elections were recognized, as Jefferson strategist John Beckley put it, as a "struggle between the Treasury department and the republican interest." In New York, the candidates for governor were John Jay, a Federalist, and incumbent George Clinton, who was allied with Jefferson and the Republicans.[4] Four states' electors voted for Clinton and one (Kentucky) for Jefferson for Vice President in opposition to incumbent John Adams as well as casting their votes for President Washington. (Before 1804 electors cast two votes together without differentiation as to which office was to be filled by which candidate.)

In the 1796 election, the party made its first bid for the presidency with Jefferson as its presidential candidate and Aaron Burr as its vice presidential candidate. Jefferson came in second in the electoral college and became vice president. He would become a consistent and strong opponent of the policies of the John Adams administration. Jefferson and Madison were deeply upset by the unconstitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798; they secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which called on state legislatures to nullify unconstitutional laws. The other states, however, did not follow suit and several rejected the notion that states could nullify federal law. The Republican critique of Federalism became wrapped in the slogan of “Principles of 1798,” which became the hallmark of the party. The most important of these principles were states' rights, opposition to a strong national government, distrust of the federal courts, and opposition to the navy and the national Bank. The party saw itself as a champion of republicanism and denounced the Federalists as supporters of monarchy and aristocracy.

The party itself originally coalesced around Jefferson, who diligently maintained extensive correspondence with like- minded republican leaders throughout the country. Washington frequently decried the growing sense of "party" emerging from the internal battles among Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams and others in his administration. As warfare in Europe increased, the two factions increasingly made foreign policy the central political issue of the day. The Republicans wanted to maintain the 1777 alliance with France, which had overthrown the monarchy and aristocracy and become a republic. Even though Britain was by far America's leading trading partner, Republicans feared that increased trade would undermine republicanism. The Republicans distrusted Hamilton's national bank and rejected his premise that a national debt was good for the country; Republicans said they were both forms of corruption. They strongly distrusted the elitism of Hamilton's circle, denouncing it as "aristocratic"; and they called for states' rights lest the Federalists centralize ever more power in the national governments.

The intense debate over the Jay Treaty in 1794–95, transformed those opposed to Hamilton's policies from a loose movement into a true political party. To fight the treaty the Jeffersonians "established coordination in activity between leaders at the capital, and leaders, actives and popular followings in the states, counties and towns." However, they were defeated when Washington mobilized public opinion in favor of the treaty.

"Revolution" of 1800 Edit

The party's electors secured a majority in the 1800 election, but an equal number of electors cast votes for Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The tie sent the election to the House, and Federalists there blocked any choice. Finally Hamilton, believing that Burr would be a poor choice for president, intervened, letting Jefferson win (a move that would result in the collapse of the Federalist Party and Hamilton's death, four years later, at the hands of Burr in a pistol duel). Starting in 1800 in what Jefferson called the “Revolution of 1800”, the party took control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, beginning a quarter century of control of those institutions. A faction called “Old Republicans” opposed the nationalism that grew popular after 1815; they were stunned when party leaders started a Second Bank of the United States in 1816.

The first Republican meet took place at a boarding house on May 11, 1800 in Philadelphia, PA. The January 26, 1799 letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to Elbridge Gerry became the party's platform. In the Senate chamber on February 25, 1804 a "Convention of Republican members of both houses of Congress" met. Senator Stephen Bradley presided, a Committee on Presidential Electors was formed and it was resolved that Thomas Jefferson be nominated for the Office of President of the United States and George Clinton be nominated for the Office of Vice-President of the United States.

The party held a convention by the same name on January 23, 1808, again in the Senate chamber at 6:00 pm on a Saturday. Senator Stephen Bradley, who was the President Pro Tempore of the Senate again President of this convention with Representative Richard Johnson as the Secretary. A Committee on Correspondence was formed and James Madison was nominated for the Office of President of the United States and with George Clinton nominated for a second term in the Office of Vice-President of the United States.

Legislative issues were handled by the Committee of the Whole elected Speaker of the House of Representatives and floor leaders, who at that time were the Chairman for the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives and Chairman for the Committee on Finance of the Senate.

The state legislatures often instructed Members of Congress how to vote on specific issues. More exactly, they "instructed" the Senators (who were elected by the legislatures), and "requested" the Representatives (who were elected by the people.) On rare occasions a Senator resigned rather than follow instructions.

The opposition Federalist Party, suffering from a lack of leadership after the death of Hamilton and the retirement of John Adams, quickly declined; it revived briefly in opposition to the War of 1812, but the extremism of its Hartford Convention of 1815 utterly destroyed it as a political force.

Monroe and Adams, 1816–1828Edit

In rapidly expanding western states, the Federalists had few supporters. Every state had a distinct political geography that shaped party membership. In Pennsylvania, the Republicans were weakest around Philadelphia and strongest in Scots-Irish settlements in the west. Members came from all social classes, but came predominantly from the poor, subsistence farmers, mechanics and tradesmen.[14] After the War of 1812, partisanship subsided across the young republic—people called it the Era of Good Feelings. James Monroe narrowly won the party's nomination for President in Congress over William Crawford in 1816 and defeated Federalist Rufus King in the general election.

In the early years of the party, the key central organization grew out of caucuses of Congressional leaders in Washington. However, the key battles to choose electors occurred in the states, not in the caucus. In many cases, legislatures still chose electors; in others, the election of electors was heavily influenced by local parties that were heavily controlled by relatively small groups of officials. Without a significant Federalist opposition, the need for party unity was greatly diminished and the party's organization faded away.

James Monroe ran under the party's banner in the 1820 election and built support by consensus. Monroe faced no serious rival and was nearly unanimously elected by the electoral college. The party's historic domination by the Virginian delegation faded as New York and Pennsylvania became more important. In the 1824 election, most of the party in Congress boycotted the caucus; only a small rump group backed William Crawford. The Crawford faction included most "Old Republicans", who remained committed to states' rights and the Principles of 1798, and distrustful of the nationalizing program promoted by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun.

Thomas Jefferson wrote on the state of party politics in the early 1820s:“An opinion prevails that there is no longer any distinction, that the republicans & Federalists are completely amalgamated but it is not so. The amalgamation is of name only, not of principle. All indeed call themselves by the name of Republicans, because that of Federalists was extinguished in the battle of New Orleans. But the truth is that finding that monarchy is a desperate wish in this country, they rally to the point which they think next best, a consolidated government. Their aim is now therefore to break down the rights reserved by the constitution to the states as a bulwark against that consolidation, the fear of which produced the whole of the opposition to the constitution at its birth. Hence new Republicans in Congress, preaching the doctrines of the old Federalists, and the new nick-names of Ultras and Radicals. But I trust they will fail under the new, as the old name, and that the friends of the real constitution and union will prevail against consolidation, as they have done against monarchism. I scarcely know myself which is most to be deprecated, a consolidation, or dissolution of the states. The horrors of both are beyond the reach of human foresight.”

In the aftermath of the disputed 1824 election, the separate factions took on many characteristics of parties in their own right. Adams' supporters, in league with Clay, favored modernization, banks, industrial development, and federal spending for roads and other internal improvements, which the Old Republicans and the Jackson men usually opposed. Writing in his personal journal on December 13, 1826, President Adams noted the difficulty he faced in attempting to be nonpartisan in appointing men to office:"And it is upon the occasion of appointments to office that all the wormwood and the gall of the old party hatred ooze out. Not a vacancy to any office occurs but there is a distinguished federalist started and pushed home as a candidate to fill it—always well qualified, sometimes in an eminent degree, and yet so obnoxious to the Republican party, that he cannot be appointed without exciting a vehement clamor against him and the Administration. It becomes thus impossible to fill any appointment without offending one half of the community—the federalists, if their associate is overlooked; the Republicans, if he is preferred.”

Presidential electors were now all chosen by direct election, except in South Carolina, where the state legislatures chose them. White manhood suffrage was the norm throughout the West and in most of the East as well. The voters thus were much more powerful, and to win their votes required complex party organization. Under the leadership of Martin Van Buren, a firm believer in political organization, the Jacksonians built strong state and local organizations throughout the country. The Old Republicans, or "Radicals," mostly supported Jackson and joined with supporters of incumbent Vice President Calhoun in an alliance. President Adams was defeated by Andrew Jackson in the election of 1828.

Party name & Claims to the party's heritageEdit

Political parties were new in the United States, and people were not accustomed to having formal names for them. There was no single, official name for the party. Party members generally called themselves "Republicans" and voted for what they called the "Republican Party," "republican ticket," or the "republican interest". Jefferson and Madison often used the terms "republican" and "Republican party" in their letters. The 1804 Convention of Republican members of Congress that renominated Jefferson described itself as a "regular republican caucus." The term "republican" was in widespread usage from the 1770s to describe the political values of the nation, especially the emphasis on civic duty and the opposition to corruption, elitism, aristocracy and monarchy, and it is probably for these reasons that the word is used in the U.S. Constitution.

The term "Democratic Republican" was created by political scientists mainly to avoid confusion with the modern Republican Party, founded on March 20, 1854 after the Whig Party broke up.This name was used by contemporaries only occasionally.

The Democratic Party is often called "the party of Jefferson," while the modern Republican Party is often called "the party of Lincoln." The Republican party evolved in the National Republican Party during the 1824 elections. When the election was thrown to the House of Representatives, Henry Clay backed John Quincy Adams to deny the presidency to Andrew Jackson, a longtime political rival. The first Democratic national convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland on May 21–23, 1832. Andrew Jackson was nominated and went on to win the presidency. The Adams/Clay alliance became the basis of the National Republican Party, a rival to the Jackson's Democracy. This party favored a higher tariff in order to protect U.S. manufacturers, as well as public works, especially roads. Many former members of the defunct Federalist Party, including Daniel Webster, joined the party. After Clay's defeat by Jackson in the 1832 presidential election, the National Republicans were absorbed into the Whig Party, a diverse group of Jackson opponents. Taking a leaf from the Jacksonians, the Whigs tended to nominate non-ideological war heroes as their presidential candidates. The modern Republican Party was founded in 1854 to oppose the expansion of slavery it chose its name to echo the Jefferson's party. Abraham Lincoln and other members sought to combine Jefferson's ideals of liberty and equality with Clay's program of using an active government to modernize the economy.

Positions on the IssuesEdit

  • The Democratic-Republican Party were champions of state's rights and opposed to a strong national government.
  • Democratic-Republicans were opposed to judicial activism on the part of Supreme Court and to the creation of a national bank and navy.
  • Democratic-Republicans were anti-industry and anti-urbanization and pro-agriculture, seeing increased trade and the creation of large cities as corrupting the nation's youthful republicanism and allowing it to succumb to aristocratic and monarchical forces.
  • Democratic-Republican were against imperialist Britain and for revolutionary France.
  • Democratic-Republicans favored a strict construction of the constitution.
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