Democratic-Republican Party (United States)

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The "Democratic-Republican Party" is the label given by historians to one of the first two American political parties. Contemporaries referred to it as simply the "Republican Party"; historians call it the "Democratic-Republican Party" or the "Jeffersonian Republicans" to distinguish it from the modern Republican Party. The name "Democratic-Republican" was actually used briefly in American politics to describe a contemporary political faction: in the time of Andrew Jackson, when the Republican Party was splintering into factions, "Democratic-Republican" was used to refer to Jackson's supporters within the Republican Party. These supporters would soon organize themselves into a new political party: the Democratic Party.



The Republican Party evolved from the political factions that opposed Alexander Hamilton's fiscal policies; these factions are known variously as the Anti-Administration "Party" or the Anti-Federalists. In the mid-1790s, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison organized these factions into a party and helped define its ideology in favor of yeomen farmers, strict construction of the Constitution, and a weaker federal government.

In 1796, the Republicans made their first bid for the Presidency with Jefferson as their Presidential candidate and Aaron Burr as the Vice Presidential candidate. Due to the vagaries of the pre-12th Amendment electoral process, even though Jefferson failed to become President, he did become Vice President. For the next four years, Jefferson was able to use his position as President of the Senate as a platform to protest the policies of the Adams administration.

The breakthrough occurred in 1800. In what is sometimes referred to as the "Revolution of 1800", the Republicans took control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress, beginning a quarter century of control of those institutions. The opposition Federalists, suffering from a lack of leadership after the death of Hamilton and the retirement of Adams, slowly declined over the next fifteen years until the Hartford Convention utterly destroyed them as a political force.

This left the Republican Party as the sole party in the United States government, ushering in a brief hiatus from the standard political debates known as the Era of Good Feeling. When President James Monroe retired from the Presidency, the fight to succeed him in the 1824 presidential election splintered the Republican Party into numerous factions. The strongest of these factions supported Andrew Jackson and would evolve into the Democratic Party. The other factions would form an opposition which evolved into the National Republicans, and then the Whigs.

Republican presidents

The following United States Presidents were members of the Democratic-Republican party:

  1. Thomas Jefferson (1801 - 1809)
  2. James Madison (1809 - 1817)
  3. James Monroe (1817-1825)
  4. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)

Modern claims to Democratic-Republican heritage

The stature of the Presidents who identified themselves with the Democratic-Republican Party during its heyday makes it an enviable institution for modern political parties to identify themselves with. As a result, both major political parties today identify themselves with the party.

As noted above, the Democratic Party is a direct descendant of the Democratic-Republican Party. The Republican Party also sees itself as a spiritual descendant of the Democratic-Republicans, though it has much looser ties from their broad base of former Whig voters and politicians. Neither the modern-day Democratic nor Republican party has identifiable ties to the Federalist Party, which was the most important rival of the original Democratic-Republican party.


Election year Result Nominees
President Vice President
1792 lost (none) George Clinton
1796 lost(a) Thomas Jefferson Aaron Burr
1800 won
1804 won George Clinton
1808 won James Madison
1812 won Elbridge Gerry
1816 won James Monroe Daniel Tompkins
1820 won
1824 (*)(b) Andrew Jackson,
John Quincy Adams,
William H. Crawford,
Henry Clay
John C. Calhoun

(a) Jefferson did not win the Presidency, and Burr did not win the Vice Presidency. However, under the pre-12th Amendment election rules, Jefferson won the Vice Presidency.
(b) There was no organized opposition to the Republican Party; however, the party splintered, and four major candidates ran as Republicans. Adams won the Presidency and Calhoun the Vice Presidency.

See also

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