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One of the two major political parties in the U.S., historically the party of labour, minorities, and progressive reformers. In the 1790s a group of Thomas Jefferson's supporters called themselves Democratic Republicans or Jeffersonian Republicans to demonstrate their belief in the principle of popular government and their opposition to monarchism. The party adopted its present name in the 1830s, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Democrats won nearly every presidential election in the years 1836–60, but the issue of slavery split the party. The Southern Democrats called for the protection of slavery in the new territories, whereas the Northern Democrats, led by Stephen A. Douglas, advocated allowing each territory to decide by popular sovereignty whether to accept slavery within its borders. As a result, in 1860 the new antislavery Republican Party won its first national victory under Abraham Lincoln. From 1861 to 1913 the only Democratic president was Grover Cleveland; in these years the party was basically conservative and agrarian-oriented, and its members were opposed to protective tariffs. It returned to power under Woodrow Wilson, instituting greater federal regulation of banking and industry, but the Republicans' frank embrace of big business drew voters amid the prosperity of the 1920s. Democrats became dominant again in 1932, electing Franklin D. Roosevelt. A coalition of urban workers, small farmers, liberals, and others sustained Democrats in office until 1953, and the party regained the presidency with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. In the 1970s and '80s the Democrats held the presidency only during the single term of Jimmy Carter (1976–81) but retained majority control of the House of Representatives. They regained the presidency in 1992 with the election of Bill Clinton but lost control of both the House and the Senate in 1994. In the presidential election of 2000, Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, was defeated by Republican George W. Bush. In 2004 the party's presidential nominee, John Kerry, was defeated by Bush, and the Democrats lost seats in both houses of Congress. Aided by growing opposition to the Iraq War, Democrats regained control of both the House and the Senate following the 2006 midterm elections. In the 2008 presidential election Democratic nominee Barack Obama defeated Republican John McCain, and the Democrats increased their majorities in both the House and the Senate. The modern Democratic Party generally supports a strong federal government with powers to regulate business and industry in the public interest; federally financed social services and benefits for the poor, the unemployed, the aged, and other groups; and the protection of civil rights.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Democratic Party, visit Britannica.com.
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