The Democratic Party of the United States is the oldest voter-based political party in the world.〔. "The Democratic Party of the United States, the oldest existing in the world...."〕〔 "The country possesses the world's oldest written constitution (1787); the Democratic Party has a good claim to being the world's oldest political party."〕 During the "Second Party System", from 1832 to the mid-1850s, under presidents Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, James K. Polk, and Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois (nominee of the violently-split Party Convention of the 1860 Presidential Election), the Democrats usually bested the opposition Whig Party by narrow margins. Both parties worked hard to build grassroots organizations and maximize the turnout of voters, which often reached 80 percent or 90 percent of the men eligible. Both parties used patronage extensively to finance their operations, which included emerging big city machines as well as national networks of newspapers. The Democratic party was a proponent for farmers across the country, urban workers, and new immigrants. It was especially attractive to Irish immigrants who increasingly controlled the party machinery in the cities. The party was much less attractive to businessmen, plantation owners, Evangelical Protestants, and social reformers. The party advocated westward expansion, Manifest Destiny, greater equality among all white men, and opposition to the national banks.
From 1860 to 1932, in the era of the Civil War to the Great Depression, the opposing Republican Party, organized in the mid-1850s from the ruins of the Whig Party and some other smaller splinter groups, was dominant in presidential politics. The Democrats elected only two presidents to four terms of office for 72 years: Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th President in 1884 and 1892), and 28th President Woodrow Wilson (in 1912 and 1916); the only other Democratic president to serve during this time was "War Democrat" Andrew Johnson, who as Vice President in the unusual Presidential Election of 1864 on a unified "Unionist Party" ticket, was elevated to the Presidency after 16th President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in April 1865. He was never elected as president. Over the same period, the Democrats proved more competitive with the Republicans in Congressional politics, enjoying House of Representatives majorities (as in the 65th Congress) in 15 of the 36 Congresses elected, although only in five of these did they form the majority in the United States Senate.
The Party was split between the "Bourbon Democrats", representing Eastern business interests, and the agrarian elements comprising poor farmers in the South and West. The agrarian element, marching behind the slogan of "free silver" (i.e. controlling monetary inflation), captured the Party in 1896, and nominated the "Great Commoner", William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska in 1896, 1900, and 1908; --- the only man nominated but elected unsuccessfully for three conventions, he lost each time. Both Bryan and Wilson were leaders of the "Progressive Movement", 1900–1920. Starting with 32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt (of New York) in 1932 of the "Great Depression", the Party dominated the "Fifth Party System", with its liberal/progressive policies and programs with the "New Deal" coalition to combat the emergency bank closings and the continuing financial depression since the famous "Wall Street Crash of 1929" and later going into the crises leading up to the Second World War of 1939/1941 to 1945. The Democrats and the Democratic Party, finally lost the White House and control of the executive branch of government only after Roosevelt's death in April 1945 near the end of the War, and after the continuing post-war administration of Roosevelt's third Vice President of the United States, Harry S Truman, former Senator from Missouri, (for 1945 to 1952, elections of 1944 and the "stunner" of 1948). A new Republican Party president was only elected later in the following decade of the early 1950s with the losses by two-time nominee, the Governor of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson (grandson of the former Vice President with the same name of the 1890s) to the very popular war hero and commanding general in World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower (in 1952 and 1956).
With two brief interruptions since the "Great Depression", and World War II eras, the Democrats with unusually large majorities for over four decades, controlled the lower house of the United States Congress in the House of Representatives from 1930 until 1994, and the U.S. Senate for most of that same period, electing the Speaker of the House and the Representatives' majority leaders/committee chairs along with the upper house of the Senate's majority leaders and committee chairmen. Important Democratic progressive/liberal leaders included Presidents: 33rd - Harry S Truman, (Missouri ), (1945–1953), and 36th - Lyndon B. Johnson, (Texas ), (1963–1969), as well as the earlier Kennedy brothers of 35th President John F. Kennedy, (Massachusetts ), (1961–1963), Senators Robert F. Kennedy, of New York, and Senator Edward M. ("Teddy") Kennedy, of Massachusetts who carried the flag for modern American political liberalism. Since the Presidential Election of 1976, Democrats have won five out of the last ten presidential elections, winning in the presidential elections of 1976 (with 39th President Jimmy Carter of Georgia, 1976-1981), 1992 and 1996 (with 42nd President Bill Clinton of Arkansas, 1993-2001), and 2008 and 2012 (with 44th President Barack Obama of Illinois, 2009-incumbent).
Social scientists Theodore Caplow et al. argue, "the Democratic party, nationally, moved from left-center toward the center in the 1940s and 1950s, then moved further toward the right-center in the 1970s and 1980s."〔 They add: "The Republican party, nationally, moved from right-center toward the center in 1940s and 1950s, then moved right again in the 1970s and 1980s.〕
The modern Democratic Party was formed in the 1830s from former factions of the Democratic-Republican Party, which had largely collapsed by 1824. It was built by Martin Van Buren who assembled a cadre of politicians in every state behind war hero Andrew Jackson of Tennessee .〔Robert V. Remini, ''Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party'' (1959)〕
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