Democratic-Republican Party / Jeffersonian-Republican

The Democratic party of Jackson was not strictly identical with the Democratic-Republican party of Jefferson - and some writers date back the origin of the present Democratic party only to 1828-1829. Its origin lay in the principles of local self-govemment and repugnance to social and political aristocracy, established as cardinal tenets of American colonial democracy, which by the War of Independence, which was essentially a democratic movement, became the basis of the political institutions of the nation.

The evils of lax government, both central and state, under the Confederation caused, however, a marked anti-democratic reaction, and this united with the temperamental conservatism of the framers of the constitution of 1787 in the shaping of that conservative instrument. The influences and interests for and against its adoption took form in the groupings of Federalists and Anti-Federalists, and these, after the creation of the new government, became respectively, in underlying principles, and, to a large extent, in personnel, the Federalist party and the Democratic-Republican party.

The latter, organized by Thomas Jefferson in opposition to the Federalists dominated by Alexander Hamilton, was a real party by 1792. The great service of attaching to the constitution a democratic bill of rights belongs to the Anti-Federalists or Democratic-Republican party, although this was then amorphous. The prefix “Democratic" was not used by Jefferson; it became established, however, and official. The Democratic-Republican party gained full control of the government, save the judiciary, in 1801, and controlled it continuously thereafter until 1814. No political "platforms" were then known, but the writings of Jefferson, who dominated his party throughout this period, took the place of such. His inaugural address of 1801 is a famous statement of democractic principles, which were later taken for granted only because, through the party organized by him to secure their success, they became universally accepted as the ideal of American institutions.

In all the colonies, noted John Adams, “a court and a country party had always contended”; Jefferson’s followers believed sincerely that the Federalists were a new court party, and monarchist. Hence they called themselves “Republicans” as against monarchists, — standing also, incidentally, for states’ rights against the centralization that monarchy (or any approach to it) implied; and “Democrats” as against aristocrats, — standing for the “common rights of Englishmen,” the “rights of man,” the levelling of social ranks and the widening of political privileges.

In the early years of its history — and during the period of the French Revolution and afterwards - the Republicans sympathized with the French as against the British, the Federalists with the British as against the French. Devotion to abstract principles of democracy and liberty, and in practical politics a strict construction of the constitution, in order to prevent an aggrandizement of national power at the expense of the states (which were nearer popular control) or the citizens, had been permanent characteristics of the Democratic party as contrasted with its principal opponents; but neither these nor any other distinctions had been continuously or consistently true throughout its long course. Under the rubric of “strict construction" frll the greatest struggles in the party's history: those over the United States Bank, over tarifls-for protection or for “revenue" only, over "internal improvements," over issues of administrative economy in provifing for the “general welfare," &c. The course of the party haf requently been inconsistent, and its doctrines haf shown, absolutely considered, progressive latitudinarianism.

The Republican party that emerged in the 1790s is also referred to as the Jeffersonian-Republican party or the Democratic-Republican party, and should not be confused with the modern (GOP) Republican party established in the 1850s. One ongoing constitutional issue was about the nature of Federalism and the division of power between the national government and the states. George Hay, Spencer Roane, and other Jeffersonians argued for states’ powers and rights in relationship to the central government. By contrast, John Marshall and his Federalist party associates argued the cause of nationalism and far-reaching supremacy of the federal government over the states.

The Jeffersonian Republicans and Federalists also argued about the nature of popular or free government. Marshall feared a tyranny of the majority and urged the rule of a higher constitutional law to limit the democratic power of the people’s representatives in Congress and the state legislatures. By contrast, Jefferson had a more optimistic view of majority rule and dismissed as elitist nonsense the Federalists’ fears of democratic despotism against unpopular individuals or minorities.

The French Revolution had resulted in war between Great Britain and France, each of which vied for the support of the United States. President Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793. Like most U.S. statesmen of the time, he believed it vital to the independence of the Nation to stay out of European wars and avoid entangling alliances. But neither the Hamiltonians, or Federalists, nor the Jeffersonians, or Democratic-Republicans, were really neutral. The Hamiltonians strongly favored Great Britain because of the former colonial attachment, respect for English institutions, and the belief that Britain was the United States' best customer and protector of her commerce. Most Jeffersonians identified with France. They remembered that the French had aided the United States in the struggle for independence, and they respected the liberal principles of the Revolution.

Federalist John Adams, who succeeded Washington, was himself caught between elements of his own party and the Jeffersonians. His term, marked by bitter political feuding and an undeclared war with France, ended in the defeat of the Federalist Party and a sweeping victory for the Jeffersonians in the election of 1800. In 1800 vigorous grassroots campaigning enabled Jefferson to win the Presidency and inaugurate 24 consecutive years of political ascendency of the Democratic-Republicans. The Federalists, repudiated after 12 years of power, would never elect another President. Although they had not been optimistic about the potentialities of democracy, they had left a substantial political legacy. They had launched the Government and put it on a solid fiscal and legal base.

After 1801 the commercial and manufacturing nationalistic elements of the Federalist party, being now dependent on Jefferson for protection, gradually went over to the Republicans, especially after the War of 1812. They were “Nationalistic", not in the sense of a general nationalistic spirit, such as that of Jackson, but the centralizing tendency of a broad construction of constitutional powers in behalf of commerce and manufactures. Moreover, administration of government naturally developed in Republican ranks a group of broad-constructionists. These groups fused, and became an independent party. They called themselves National Republicans, while the Jacksonian Republicans soon came to be known simply as Democrats.

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Page last modified: 08-09-2017 18:20:22 ZULU