A History of the Democratic-Republican (now known as Democratic) Party – Part 1 (1788-1959)

Overview

Based on the ancient Greek word demos, which means the people; or the public; or the commonwealth of all the people, the English word democratic by definition means government of the people.  However, from 1792-1860, the Democratic-Republican Party (now known as the Democratic Party) was the party of Southern slave owners before the Civil War.

Since 1945, the party has been controlled by wealthy corporate oligarchs, and has hardly been representative of the people. Calling this party “democratic” has proven to be a misnomer throughout almost all of American history. It may have featured some elements of democracy in the 1930s and 1960s, but even in those decades it was very limited, and short-circuited by several big-name assassinations in the 1960s, such as John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy, in addition to countless others – all designed to wipe out any semblance of democracy in the “Democratic” Party.  This writing will explore how the Democratic National Committee has historically handled primary elections.  In 2017, it clearly stated in court that it is a “private organization,” and despite its nomenclature as the “Democratic” Party, it is under no obligation whatsoever to comply with democratic principles in primary elections, and can hand-select whichever candidate it wants without regard to vote counts in primaries in any state.  For example, in 1948 they hand-picked Harry Truman, in 1968 they hand-picked Hubert Humphrey, in 2016 they hand-picked Hillary Clinton, and in 2020 they hand-picked Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

The Jeffersonian Republicans and the Original Republican Party [i]

Timeline

1788

After defeating the British, the 13 original U.S. colonies on the Atlantic seaboard put their Constitution into effect.

1792

The Democratic-Republican Party becomes the first political party in the United States. This party was founded by James Madison, one of the primary writers of the U.S. Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson, one of the primary writers of the Declaration of Independence and champion of the Bill of Rights.  Both Madison and Jefferson were large landowners and slave holders.

Jefferson and Madison founded the Democratic-Republican Party in opposition to the Federalist Party, which was led by John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and John Marshall, who fought for a strong federal government which would support policies that favored the wealthy.  As a matter of fact, both of these original political parties heavily favored the wealthy.The primary difference between the Democratic-Republican Party and the Federalists was Jefferson’s belief in the authority of local and state governments, and limited power for the federal government.

“Jefferson’s party stood for rural agricultural interests, as opposed to urban commercial interests represented by Hamilton and the Federalists,” wrote Dinesh D’Souza in Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic-Republican Party was initially just a “loosely aligned group that shared their opposition to the programs introduced in the 1790s,” wrote University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “Many of these programs, proposed by Alexander Hamilton, favored merchants, land speculators, and the rich.”

In 1932, there was a party re-alignment, when African Americans left the Republican “Party of Lincoln,” and it changed course to a tendency to believe more in states’ rights, and the Democratic Party more so in a strong federal government that would force states to give African Americans more of a right to vote and other civil rights automatically granted to European-Americans.

Federalists, including Hamilton, favored the creation of a national bank and the power to impose taxes. Farmers in the Western United States strongly opposed taxation because they worried about not being able to pay them, which could then lead to having their land being levied and bought up by “Eastern interests,” Sabato wrote. Jefferson and Hamilton also clashed over the creation of a national bank; Jefferson did not believe the Constitution permitted such a move, while Hamilton believed the document was open to interpretation on the matter.

Jefferson initially founded the party without the “Democratic-“ prefix; its members were initially known as Republicans. But the party eventually became known as the Democratic-Republican Party. Jefferson initially considering calling his party the “Anti-Federalists” but instead preferred to describe its opponents as “anti-Republicans.”

1824

Following the 1824 presidential election, the Democratic-Republican Party simplified its name to the Democratic Party, though it has evolved and devolved much over time.

1831

Henry Clay formed a new political party, calling it the Whig Party. His goal was to ensure Jeffersonian democracy and fight President Andrew Jackson, a Democrat.  Jackson was a Southern plantation owner who owned more than 150 slaves.  Southern Whigs were slave owners, while Northern Whigs were industrialists who wanted to abolish slavery.  [ii]  This “schizophrenic” split made it inevitable that the Whig Party would be the first political casualty of the Civil War.

1849

Illinois Whig leader and abolitionist Abraham Lincoln quit politics completely in frustration with his party’s inability to come together. With the Compromise of 1850, in which Whig leaders strengthened the Fugitive Slave Act on the one hand and admitted California as a free state on the other, the Whig Party was fractured beyond repair. [iii]  The Fugitive Slave Act was a federal law which required all police departments in Northern states to capture, and return runaway slaves back to their Southern slave masters, further cementing the institution of slavery.

1854

Abolitionists, including Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and John Fremont, formed the Republican Party, specifically to oppose slavery.  Lincoln was one of the key figures who helped to form the Republican Party, which had broken off from the Whig Party.  For obvious reasons, during the 1850s, almost all Africans living in the U.S. wanted to become Republicans, but couldn’t, because they weren’t recognized as citizens, and therefore were not allowed to vote.

The Whig Party was split between Northern abolitionists and Southern slave owners.  Interestingly, the Democratic Party had the exact same “split personality.”  So the stage was set for a major shakeup in political alignments, which the Civil War would certainly bring after all the dust would settle.  Only the progressive, anti-slavery Republican party and the Southern white supremacist Democratic Party would survive the war.

1860

In the 1860 United States presidential election, the new anti-slavery Republican Party ran Abraham Lincoln, while the Democratic Party, fiercely split between North and South, put up two candidates: a Northern Democrat, Stephen A. Douglas, and a Southern Democrat, John C. Breckinridge, who came in third place, while Douglas finished second, and Lincoln first with a plurality of nearly 40% of the popular vote, but the majority of the electoral votes.

1861

Just before Abraham Lincoln assumed the office of the presidency, very predictably, the Civil War broke out.  The Democratic Party remained the party of the Confederacy, which wanted to preserve the institution of slavery. While the word democratic still meant government of the people, the party did not consider African slaves to be people at all, therefore did not give them the right to vote based on their race.

Meanwhile, Lincoln’s Republican Party, set out on its quest to emancipate Africans from slavery in the U.S.  Incidentally, slavery also existed in many Northern states as well as Southern.

1865

After the Civil War ended, the Democratic Party’s philosophy remained staunchly white supremacist in nature, albeit very quietly for the next two decades.

1890s

A generation after the Civil War ended, the Democratic Party felt comfortable enough to re-institute its centuries-long philosophy of white supremacy, and introduced “Jim Crow” laws all over the South that effectively took away the right to vote for African-Americans which had been won after the Civil War.

1918

Former South Carolina Governor Benjamin Tillman, who also served as senator from South Carolina for 23 years, (1895-1918), stated quite directly:

“We re-organized the Democratic Party with one plank, and one plank only – namely, that this is a White man’s country, and the White men must govern it.”

A statue was eventually made in honor of this White supremacist, Ben Tillman, which the state of South Carolina erected at the State House in Columbia, S.C. on May 1, 1940.  More than 80 years later, thru August 2020, the statue was still standing, protected by police after national protests following the George Floyd protests in late May, 2020.  Tillman’s statue features the engraving of the words, Democratic Party, of which he was a member, on the plaque.

White supremacist Democratic President Woodrow Wilson (who served 1913-21) steadfastly refused to give women the right to vote, and subjected them to false imprisonment, torture in prison (see movie, Iron Jawed Angels  featuring Hillary Swank as Alice Paul, who had been summarily stricken from American history books) until President Wilson was finally forced to do so by these courageous, relentless American women who refused to give up the fight until they won the right to vote at the very end of Wilson’s term in 1921.  While sitting President, Wilson also screened the film Birth of a Nation, which further compounded White supremacy during his administration, and surged even more throughout the 1920s all around the U.S.

1932

In the first election of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt (“FDR”) is elected President, with a mandate from the people to extricate them from the dire, widespread poverty of the Depression, which had begun in late 1929, while the U.S government, led by President Herbert Hoover, did virtually nothing about it to help the common American folk thru the last three years of his term – the end of 1932. This resulted in a permanent party re-alignment, when about 90% of African Americans switched from the Republican Party, and began to vote for the Democratic Party, after they had been gradually marginalized for more than six decades by the Republicans, who had long since begun to represent Northern banking and land speculators interests.  FDR would serve as President until his death in April 1945 as World War II was winding down. The Democratic Party has often been referred to as the “liberal” party ever since, while the Republican Party assumed the conservative designation, the opposite of what it had been since its creation in the 1850s up until 1932.

1944

As World War II was drawing to a close, Allied forces were now closing in on Germany from both east and west – and it became clear that victory was inevitable. In July 1944, a key event in the future of the world was taking shape — the Democratic Party Convention opened in Chicago. His health clearly failing, Roosevelt easily secured the nomination for an unprecedented fourth term. Henry Wallace, his vice president, was probably the second most popular politician in America – the people’s choice to be his running mate. But he had made many enemies over the years. [iv]

In May 1942, Wallace had given the acclaimed “common man” speech:

Some have spoken of the American century. I say that the century on which we are entering, the century which will come out of this war, can be and must be the century of the common man.  There must be neither military nor economic imperialism. The march of freedom of the past 150 years has been a great revolution of the people. There was the American Revolution… The French Revolution… The Latin American revolutions… The Russian Revolution. Each spoke for the common man. Some went to excess, but people broke their way to the light.

Stone: He called for a worldwide Peoples’ Revolution and an end to colonialism. His speech was received coldly across the Atlantic. Churchill charged his secret agents in the U.S. to spy on Wallace. Wallace detested the British Empire.

Wallace’s voice:

I said bluntly that I thought the notion of Anglo-Saxon superiority, inherent in Churchill’s approach, would be offensive to many. Churchill had had quite a bit of whiskey, said, ‘why be apologetic about Anglo-Saxon superiority, that we were superior, that we had the common heritage that had been worked out over the centuries in England and had been perfected by our Constitution.’ ” [v]

Stone: Wallace’s hatred of imperialism was universally known and widely acclaimed. In March 1943, Roosevelt had sent Wallace to Latin America on a goodwill tour — secretly charging him to recruit nations for the Allied cause. A huge throng of 65,000 greeted him in Costa Rica, 15% of the population. More than one million cheered as he moved down the streets of Santiago, Chile, admiring Wallace as he was speaking Spanish to them.

Henry Wallace & The People vs. the DNC

Stone: The vice president returned having convinced a dozen Latin American countries to declare war on Germany – more than anyone had imagined possible. Back home, in a Gallup poll, Wallace was the choice of 57% of Democratic voters to succeed Roosevelt. But opposition to him among the party elite was enormous.

Jesse Jones was allied to a powerful group of Democratic party bosses, led by party treasurer and oil millionaire Edwin Pauley.  A millionaire was a very rich man in those days.  United by their hatred of Wallace, they would often derogatorily refer to him as the “assistant president,” in order to demean Wallace – refusing to acknowledge his actual title – Vice President.

James Byrnes was a member of the Democratic Party, former military officer, and also a judge who served on the U.S. Supreme Court. Byrnes had been raised in the hot-house politics of sultry South Carolina, an environment where white superiority and segregation trumped all other issues.

Historian George E. Mowry described Byrnes “the most influential Southern member of Congress between John Calhoun (1840s) and Lyndon Johnson (1960s).” [vi]

Byrnes was determined to maintain public lynchings of African Americans in the South, whether they were guilty of a crime or not.  He was a driving force behind blocking a federal anti-lynching bill in 1938. After making his name smashing trade unions in the South, Byrnes became a powerful U.S. senator from the Democratic Party, as conservative as any Republican, sometimes even more so. If you wanted something done on Capitol Hill, you saw Jimmy Byrnes. By 1943, the mood in Washington had shifted. It was no longer the “New Deal,” and Roosevelt removed Wallace from the Bureau of Economic Warfare and put Byrnes in charge of the new Office of War Mobilization. But Wallace still had a powerful supporter – the American working man.

Stone: Today, few remember that the Second World War saw more strikes by organized labor than at any other time in U.S. history.  In 1944 alone, one million workers were on strike at one time or another. The war had rejuvenated American capitalism.  Corporate profits rose from $6.4 billion in 1940 to $10.8 billion in 1944. Put simply, World War II was good business. But in the face of rising corporate profits, workers’ wages were frozen. As a result, a wave of strikes rocked the nation. It was Americans versus Americans.

Detroit was the key city in Roosevelt’s “arsenal of democracy.” Many African-American families migrated north in search of work in the armaments factories. Racial tensions soon escalated. One European-American worker jeered… “I’d rather see Hitler and Hirohito win, than work beside a nigger on the assembly line.”

Stone: In June, 1944, violence exploded, exacerbated by the city’s nearly all-white police force. Federal troops arrived to restore order – with live ammunition. 34 were killed in the riots– 25 of them African Americans. Wallace went to Detroit to survey the damage. He was appalled at the racism that existed from within the Democratic Party, altho almost all Blacks voted for this same party.

By 1944 powerful labor leaders Sidney Hillman and Scotsman Phil Murray, expressing complete confidence in Wallace, had taken a dislike to the new anti-working men like Byrnes taking power in Washington. But the anti-Wallace forces told the president that a Wallace re-nomination as vice president would split the party.  FDR would not answer their ultimatum. He stalled for time. Eleanor Roosevelt reminded him that Wallace had been there with him since the beginning, a fellow visionary. But the president’s attitude towards Wallace remained a puzzle. He sent Wallace to evaluate the war’s forgotten front– in China.  U.S. capitalist ally Jiang Jieshi had been fighting Japan since the early 1930s, and with his wife, the powerful, American-educated Madame Jiang, had strong ties to U.S. conservatives.  Chinese conservatives (capitalists) would eventually be exiled to Taiwan in 1949 – after being defeated by Mao’s communists – where they would take up residence for at least the next 80 years of truce.  Wallace, however, saw the growing power of Mao Tse-Tung’s Communist army and was unsure of Jiang’s future. Wallace’s final report was considered too controversial and suppressed, even tho it would prove to be correct five years later, when Mao and the Communists emerged victorious.  On his return, Wallace was summoned immediately to meet the president. The ticket would be the subject of discussion. It was the moment Wallace had been dreading.

Wallace: His affection for me seemed to be completely undimmed, because I can remember him pulling me down so his mouth was next to my ear and saying, “Henry, I hope it will be the same old team.”

This was FDR clearly indicating to his VP Wallace, that even he, as a four-time elected President, was not really in control of his own Democratic Party.

When the 1944 Democratic Party convention opened, Wallace was waiting for that support. But increasingly ill, the president, staying in San Diego, only sent a note. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “if I were a delegate to this convention, I would vote for Henry A. Wallace.”

Stone: Despite these words, it was a cruel blow. The president was not willing to fight for his vice president.  Of course FDR knew he was in his dying days.  But Wallace remained the favorite.  Labor told the president that the strike-breaking South Carolinian Jimmy Byrnes was not acceptable, so he was out. Desperate, the party bosses, led by Edwin Pauley, Robert Hannegan, Ed Flynn, Ed Kelley and others, needed an 11th-hour substitute. And they settled on Missouri Senator Harry Truman, a man of limited qualifications, but one with few enemies. After graduating high school, he’d been involved in three failed businesses. He’d served honorably in World War I. His most ambitious business venture, a haberdashery, went belly up in 1922. In 1933 he wrote… Truman’s voice: Tomorrow I’ll be 49, but for all the good I have done, the 40 might as well be left off.  Truman himself was admitting that his accomplishments were only comparable to a nine-year-old boy!

In 1934, Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast, after having been turned down by his first four choices, picked the 50-year-old Truman to run for the U.S. Senate.  When asked why, Pendergast replied, “I wanted to demonstrate that a well-oiled machine could send an “office boy” to the Senate.”

The Democratic Party was so powerful, it could pick whoever it wanted to become president, as Truman was really nothing more than a figurehead of the behind-the-scenes party bosses.

Shunned by most senators, who dismissed him as the “senator from Pendergast,” and failing to gain Roosevelt’s endorsement in his re-election bid, Truman worked hard to achieve respectability in his second senate term.  But a Gallup poll on the opening day of the Democratic Convention showed 65% supporting Wallace as vice president– Jimmy Byrnes had 3% of the vote, and Truman came in eighth with 2%. As Wallace arrived at the convention, labor leaders Hillman and Murray had delivered.  Wallace supporters were there by the thousands. Murray, in a thick Scottish accent, shouted to his men, “Wallace! That’s it! Just keep pounding!”  The future must bring equal wages for equal work regardless of sex or race. Wallace’s speech was interrupted constantly by applause. A chant of “We want Wallace” filled the hall. We want Wallace! We want Wallace! We want Wallace! [vii]

Robert Hannegan, Kingmaker

Robert Hannegan was a St. Louis, Missouri politician who served as Commissioner of Internal Revenue from October 1943 to January 1944. He also served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1944 to 1947. After his political career, in 1947, Hannegan and partner Fred Saigh purchased an elite team of Major League Baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals. [viii] Much like in the movie The Wizard of Oz, Hannegan was the “man behind the curtains” pulling the levers as to who would succeed FDR as president after he died, when most Americans have historically thought that the Democratic Party was actually democratic in its nominating process.

In the same way Wallace, clearly the People’s choice, was summarily punched off the ticket by DNC elites in 1948 – reduced to irrelevancy as a “hanging chad” on a Florida ballot.  Bernie Sanders, the clear-cut People’s choice, would similarly be knocked out in both the 2016 and 2020 Democratic Party primaries, a coup against the people’s will primarily orchestrated by one Hillary Clinton, with help from Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and their Wall Street billionaire donors.

Stone: Someone hijacked the loudspeakers and played Wallace’s campaign song with its chorus:

 ♪ ♪ “Iowa, Iowa, that’s where the tall corn grows!” ♪ ♪

Furious, elitist DNC operative Ed Pauley threatened to cut the sound to the amplifiers. A victorious vote was almost a foregone conclusion – a Wallace victory was certain. Florida Senator Claude Pepper realized that if he got Wallace’s name in nomination this night, Wallace would quickly sweep the convention. Pepper busted his way through the crowd to get to the microphone. But the bosses were now demanding that Session Chair Samuel Jackson quickly adjourn, before Wallace got to the microphone to acknowledge his throng of vociferous supporters.  Desperate to stop Wallace’s momentum, the party bosses quickly decided that the chaos all of a sudden became a “fire hazard,” they screamed, so Jackson called the vote for adjournment. A few said “aye,” but the overwhelming majority – boomed “nay.” – (gavel pounds) and yet, Jackson had the gall to announce that the vote to adjourn had passed. It was outrageous. Confusion filled the hall. Pepper had reached the first step of the stage, only five feet– probably nine seconds– from the microphone, before the bosses forced adjournment against the will of the delegates. If he could have nominated Wallace in those moments, there is no doubt Henry Wallace would have been overwhelmingly returned as vice president, and in turn would have gone on to replace the dying President Roosevelt. “What I understood,” Pepper wrote, “was that for better or worse, history was turned topsy-turvy that night in Chicago.” Samuel Jackson apologized to Pepper the next day, and Pepper wrote in his autobiography that Jackson said, “I had strict instructions from Hannegan not to let the convention nominate the vice-president last night.” Hillman and Murray rallied the same troops to return the next day and see it through to victory, but overnight, Edwin Pauley and the anti-Wallace forces united behind the establishment hack Harry Truman.  Overnight, deals were cut. positions offered– ambassadorships, postmaster positions. Cash payoffs. DNC party bosses called every state chairman, lying to them by and telling them that Roosevelt wanted the Missouri Senator as his running mate.  Bob Hannegan managed to put up 16 “favorite son” nominees to draw votes away from Wallace, and then channeled those votes to Truman. Even so, the next day when voting began, things started to swing Wallace’s way again. Iowa, the greatest agricultural state in the union, gives to this convention and to the Democratic Party its illustrious, distinguished son Henry A. Wallace for this nomination of the vice presidency of the United States.

(crowd at Democratic National Committee cheering, chanting) We want Wallace! We want Wallace! We want Wallace!

When the first ballot ended, it was Wallace 429, to Truman’s 319.  So the DNC then did second ballot, and now the deals and payoffs the bosses had made kicked into action. Jackson announced that the second ballot would begin at once – therefore, no new convention tickets would be honored. Mayor Kelley’s police barred thousands more of Wallace’s supporters from the hall. But those inside began chanting as before– attempting to drown out the proceedings.  Wallace started the second ballot firmly in the lead, but gradually he lost ground to Truman as the nominees put up by Hannegan signed over their votes to Truman, one by one.  Once, Truman prevailed, the DNC slammed down the gavel – as soon as the vote came out the way they wanted it to – it was over.

The DNC had its power connections with the mayor of Chicago in 1944, and they collaborated to squash any attempt at progressives/socialists to get to the power of the White House.

Hannegan later “joked” he wanted his tombstone inscribed with the words “Here lies the man who stopped Henry Wallace from becoming President of the United States.” [ix] He then proceeded to hand-pick Harry Truman to be the Democratic Party’s nominee to be the next U.S. President instead of Henry Wallace, the overwhelming favorite among the American working class. Republican Thomas Dewey of New York lost in the November 1948 election to the virtually unknown “office boy” Truman, who had been catapulted into the presidency by the establishment political machine know as the DNC.

On April 15, 1945, Truman and Wallace, who had remained in the Presidential cabinet in a reduced role as Secretary of Commerce, met FDR’s funeral train at Washington D.C.’s Union Station. There was another man with them– Jimmy Byrnes, Truman’s old mentor from his Senate days who had befriended the Missourian at a time when most senators avoided him as a Pendergast political hack. Impressed with the fact that Byrnes had accompanied Roosevelt to Yalta, although he found out later that he’d left the conference early and was not in on the important discussions, Truman came to rely on the white supremacist South Carolinian Byrnes above all others for advice. Byrnes gave Truman his first real briefing about the atomic bomb, which he described as an “explosive great enough to destroy the whole world that might well put us in a position to dictate our own terms at the end of the war” – which would turn out to be prophetic over the next 75+ years.

In the end, conservative Democrats Jimmy Byrnes and Bob Hannegan emerged victorious by quashing any democracy that may have existed within the Democratic Party, placing Harry Truman as a stand-in to prevent the presidency of socialist Henry Wallace, despite the fact that he had been by far the most popular choice among working class Americans who were members of the Democratic Party.


[i] By Tom Murse, April 20, 2018. Retrieved 2020–Feb-18 from: https://www.thoughtco.com/democratic-republican-party-4135452

[ii] Ben Shapiro. February 2, 2012. The Republican Party Becomes the Whig Party. Retrieved 2020-Aug-31 from: https://www.cnsnews.com/blog/ben-shapiro/republican-party-becomes-whig-party

[iii] Shapiro

[iv] Oliver Stone, The Untold Story History of the United States (video series), Episode 4, The Cold War.

[v] Oliver Stone, The Untold Story History of the United States (video series), Episode 4, The Cold War.

[vi] David Robertson, Sly and Able: A Political Biography of James F. Byrnes (1994) p. 126. Retrieved 2020-July-17 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_F._Byrnes#cite_note-2

[vii] Stone

[viii] Retrieved 2020-July-18 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_E._Hannegan

[ix] What If 2? Edited by Robert Crowley. ‘The Presidency of Henry Wallace’, by James Chace, page 394

Published by Lee Foulkes

Journalist, Teacher, U.S. & World History, Government, Economics, (24 years).