The Evolution of the Political Parties
In the Beginning, there were two factions who worked together to write the United States Constitution. They toiled and compromised, creating the document that would be the foundational law of this nation’s government. These groups were known as the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists.
The Federalists wanted a strong central government, while the anti-Federalists were suspicious of a strong central authority. The states had just concluded a successful overthrow of the British Crown, and were not keen on the idea of establishing another tyrant closer to home. The Federalists eventually got most of what they wanted, while some anti-Federalists, who didn’t get what they wanted, such as a Bill of Rights or a States’ Bill of Rights, refused to sign and left the convention.
George Washington was unanimously elected President. Washington was of no political party (but was considered a Federalist), but his Vice President, John Adams, was an ardent Federalist and believer in the power of a central government.
The Federalist Party was formed by Alexander Hamilton of the $20 bill and Aaron Burr fame. The Federalists believed in strong, central government, a national bank, good relations with Britain, nationalism and a fiscally sound government. Hamilton developed the concept of “implied powers”, that is, the concept that says that while the Constitution doesn’t say specifically that the government can perform certain actions, there are powers that are implied, as in the General Welfare clause: Congress shall have power … to pay the Debts and provide for the … general welfare of the United States; and the Necessary and Proper clause: The Congress shall have Power – To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers.
The Federalists also favored trade over agrarianism, and set policies to trade heavily with Britain. They also believed that men were not equal, that the voice of the people was not the voice of God, and that sinister outside influences were out to destroy the American system from within.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the Father of the Constitution did not agree with Hamilton’s assessment, and formed the Democratic-Republican Party to oppose the programs of Hamilton. The Democrat Party was born.
Jefferson was an avid opponent of Hamilton, but Madison was a Federalist from the genesis of the Constitution. The actions of Adams and Hamilton, however, turned him away from Federalism to the side of Jefferson and the anti-Federalists.
The newly minted party stood for States’ Rights, Republicanism (the form of government that we enjoy today) and Jeffersonian Democracy. The party was known by several names, the Republican Party being the most common in the 1800’s.
Jeffersonian Democracy meant that the party was distrustful of merchants, aristocratic elitism of the Federalists, and in equality of political opportunity. Jefferson also believed that financiers, bankers and industrialists make cities the ‘cesspools of corruption’, and should be avoided.
After the “Revolution of 1800” as Jefferson called it, that swept him into the Presidency and broke the back of the Federalist Party, the D/R Party enjoyed much success, controlling Congress and the Presidency until March 4, 1829. John Quincy Adams, son of Federalist President John Adams, was the last Democratic-Republican President. Because of the Corrupt Bargain struck with Henry Clay, the party split, becoming the Democrat Party and, for a short time, the National Republican Party, the ancestor of the Whig Party.
The Whigs were unable to capture the Presidency until 1840, and held it for much of the next 20 years, but they began to disintegrate with the Compromise of 1850. Essentially, California became a state, the territories of Utah and New Mexico would be allowed to decide for themselves if they would be free or slave territories or states, and the slave trade was banned in Washington DC.
As the Whig party collapsed, the Republican Party rose to prominence. The party was formed on the idea of abolition.
If one looks to the Democrat Party’s website, they claim that they have fought for civil rights for over 200 years:
And let’s not forget Jimmy Carter.
The Democrats were the conservatives of the day, while the Republicans were the liberals. There are more than a few Republicans who scoff at the notion that Lincoln was a liberal, though he was. The idea of abolition, though gaining steam, was considered a radical idea at the time. However, Lincoln never came out directly in opposition of slavery when the election was on the line. He specifically said he would not outlaw it where it already existed, but he would not allow it to expand.
This was one of the catalysts of the Democrat secession from the Union.
After the Civil War ended, and Lincoln was murdered, the Republican dominated Congress came down hard on the south, punishing them. They would not readmit Southern States until they ratified the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. They even went as far as impeaching Andrew Johnson, a Democrat president, because they felt he was being too soft on the south. Johnson was from Tennessee. He was acquitted by one vote.
The Democrats of the south formed the Ku Klux Klan. They created the Jim Crow laws. They created the first gun control laws in the United States, attempting to disarm the newly freed blacks and prevent them from forming their own militias. They created the Black Codes after the Civil War ended. They created the Poll Taxes to prevent blacks from voting. They also implemented literacy tests to disenfranchise blacks. They opposed the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 (vetoed twice by Andrew Johnson, once in 1865, and again in 1866, but overridden by Congress in 1866), 1871, 1875 (later overturned by the Supreme Court), and 1964.
FDR created the Japanese internment camps under the Enemy Alien Act of 1798.
It is also true that Harry Truman started the desegregation of the military after the Second World War, based on the actions of the Tuskegee Airmen and the Black Panthers of the 761st tank battalion. [I’m trying to be fair here, so I have to give them credit for the good that the Democrats did]
Even though LBJ was a Democrat president pushing for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Democrats in both chambers, especially Southern Democrats led by Strom Thurmond (a Democrat at the time) attempted to filibuster the legislation. On the strength of the Republican vote, the legislation was passed and signed into law by Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964. LBJ was also able to get the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through, again on the strength of Republican support (House votes: Democrat Ayes: 78%, Republican Ayes: 82%; Senate Democrat Ayes: 73%, Republican Ayes: 94%).
Up to the time of the Civil Rights movement, blacks had voted overwhelmingly Republican, the Party of Lincoln, the party that had saved them from slavery. Despite the filibuster attempts by southern Democrats and the historical lack of support for civil rights legislation, blacks began to shift to the Democrat party.
Then the Republican party did that which has hurt them ever since.
They pursued the Southern Strategy starting in the late 1960’s in an attempt to bring the south to their side. In a nutshell, the party started recruiting Democrats to the Republican party based on racism against blacks. Thus Strom Thurmond became a Republican, and the south a Republican stronghold. [I should note that I am not suggesting that all southerners are racist rednecks. Many of them are good people. My wife is southern, and a registered Democrat. She just happens to think that the Democrats here in Oregon are nuts. But, just like many people in the south are not racist, there are many who are, just as in the northern cities like Philadelphia]
The Republican party has been trying to overcome this idea ever since.
It was at that point, just over 100 years after the end of the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves that the two parties switched roles.
The Party of Lincoln had become the Party of the KKK and aristocracy, and the Democrats the Champions of Civil Rights. This is not to suggest that Democrats are Paragons of Virtue while the Republicans are devoid of any virtue. I’m referring to perceptions.
As difficult as that may be for some Republicans to swallow, it’s the truth. That is the stigma they are trying to overcome.
However, the Democrat claim that they have fought for civil rights for over 200 years is extremely dubious and dishonest. It’s more like 40 or so years, or the last century at the most.
It’s ironic though, that the party started by an anti-Federalist, a man who distrusted government, and big government above all, has evolved into the party of Federalists.