Active Citizen Participation In Government

The founding of America was often a contentious experience, as was the founding of the Democratic Party. As the founders of this new government struggled to create a strong foundation, debate, argument and war was troubling the new nation as it tried to sever ties with England.

The U.S. Constitution

The United States Constitution was drafted in 1787. From the beginning of our nation’s history, however, people disagreed about and debated almost every facet of American government.

The Constitution laid out a system of governance in which power was shared between the president, Congress and the judicial branch, including the Supreme Court. However, various political figures debated how broadly or narrowly the Constitution could be interpreted, especially when it came to the idea of states’ rights.

In the fall of 1788, following the ratification of the Constitution, debate raged between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists:

  • The anti-Federalists, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, lamented the lack of guarantee of individual rights, such as freedom of speech. They were also unhappy that the new federal government could enact laws that could supercede state law.
  • Federalists, on the other hand, believed that the Constitution deferred the guarantee of individual rights to the state constitutions.

From Anti-Federalist to Democratic-Republican

In 1798, the anti-Federalists became officially known as the Democratic-Republican Party. The party’s key issues included:

  • opposition to a national bank
  • opposition to elites and aristocrats
  • strict construction of the Constitution (meaning that they believed the Constitution should be translated literally without accounting for societal changes)
  • support of states’ rights.

In 1800, Jefferson became the first Democratic president of the U.S. He would serve two terms as U.S. president.

Thomas Jefferson is often considered the founder of the Democratic Party. Although he didn’t approve of a multiple-party system, Jefferson was fundamentally a strict Constitutionalist in favor of limited government.

In 1808, James Madison became president of the U.S. During his presidency, Madison helped to strengthen the U.S. armed forces and led the U.S. to victory over the British in the War of 1812.

Following Madison, James Monroe became president in 1816 and ushered American into what has been called the “The Era of Good Feeling.” This term was used to describe the general national mood of the US from 1815 to 1825. During this time, the Democratic-Republican politicians led the nation and faced very little opposition.

From Democratic-Republican to Democrat

After the War of 1812 and the fall of the Federalist Party, the Democratic-Republican Party became divided over key issues. In 1824, the Democratic-Republican Party spilt into multiple factions. One faction, the Jacksonian Democrats, was led by war hero Andrew Jackson.

Under Jackson’s leadership, the Jacksonian Democrats established the Democratic Party platform and the national convention. Andrew Jackson was elected to the presidency in both 1828 and 1832. It was during the 1832 election that the Democratic Party held its first national convention.

By 1844, the national convention shortened the party’s name from the Democratic-Republicans to the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party Today

Since officially becoming the Democratic Party, the Democrats have worked to attain a number of goals in U.S. government, focusing on equality, individual rights and more.

While in the past the Democrats could be described as the liberal party, this has shifted in recent years as Democrats have become more central. However, the party still advocates civil liberties, equal rights and free enterprise. They also believe in the government helping to alleviate poverty and helping those who are less fortunate, even if it requires higher taxes.