If you draw a horizontal line across a sheet of paper and put a mark in the center then the right side proceeding to the end of the line tends to be conservative getting more reactionary as you move farther toward the right end and the left side tends to be liberal, getting more radical as it moves to the left end. Today the left side represents the Democratic Party and the right side is the Republican Party.
This model of right and left was initially created by the way the Chamber of Deputies placed themselves in the hall during the period of the French Revolution in late 18th Century. The difference then was that the legislative body was divided into three groups, the right were the reactionaries who wanted to bring back the king and his form of government; the left were the radicals who wanted to get rid of the king and brought about the “Reign of Terror.” They wanted a representative government, essentially led by a dictator. The majority of the Chamber was called the Mountain. It was the center which contained the majority of delegates. They were the moderates. France would eventually become a Representative Democracy.
Today in the United States legislature there is no center. We have a right, the Republicans and a left side, the Democrats. And between the two major groups, in the center, there is an empty space, which, in turn, makes it difficult for any type of compromise to be reached or even for any real communication to occur. As far as the far right is concerned compromise is giving in to their position.
In 1797, when the Constitution was written, there were no thoughts of political parties. By 1789, when it took effect, Alexander Hamilton, the First Secretary of the Treasury, had organized the Federalist Party, which basically supported the tidewater mercantilist groups rather than inland yeoman farmers. Thomas Jefferson, who supported the latter group at the very tail end of the 18th Century organized the Republican Party as a solution to the Federalists and ran as its first candidate for the presidency in the year 1800. The Federalists, as an insult, rechristened it as the Democratic-Republican Party. This first name has stuck through the years and is still used today. The Presidential campaign in the year 1800 was a very raucous one with Jefferson being denounced, among other things, as an atheist.
Jefferson won the election and the Federalists were never again able to win a Presidential Election. They ceased to exist as a political party after the War of 1812. In that war with England they had refused to support the government against Great Britain.
President Thomas Jefferson, following his philosophy of leading a country of small yeoman farmers, in 1803 bought the Louisiana Territory from France for $11,250,000, adding 828,000 square miles to the new United States and doubling its size. He calculated that he had added enough land to allow it to freely grow with small farms for at least one hundred years.
The Federalist position had been favoring a strong central government, close ties with Great Britain, a centralized banking system and close links between the government and men of wealth.
What followed after the War of 1812 was the Era of Good Feelings which ended in 1824 when John Quincy Adams was appointed to the Presidency by the House of Representatives after an election in which none of the four regional candidates achieved enough of a majority to win the election.
In 1828 the Democratic-Republican Party split into Jacksonian Democrats and the Whig Party. The Jacksonian Democratic Party became the modern Democratic Party. They supported the primacy of the President over the other branches of government. The Whig Party advocated the primacy of Congress over the executive branch. In the 1850s the Whig Party declined. Its leaders had died out and it split over the issue of slavery. The Democratic Party also split into two section, Northern and Southern, anti-slave and pro-slave.
In the Election of 1860 the remnants of the Whig Party and remnants of other third parties like the Abolitionists and other dissatisfied groups coalesced into the new Republican Party while the Democrats split into two separate political parties, one Northern and Western and one Southern. The Northern Democrats ran Stephen A. Douglas while the Southern Democrats put forth John C. Breckenridge.
Douglas and Breckenridge had over 50% of the vote together but neither one had as much as Lincoln. Lincoln won the election with under 50% of the popular vote. No one Southern State had his name on their ballot. It was as though two totally separate elections had occurred. In point of fact one can easily say that the Civil War actually began with this election.
At the end of the Civil War Radical Republicans dominated both Houses of Congress. The President of the United States was a former Southern Democrat, Andrew Johnson. He had been a senator from Tennessee who remained in Washington and refused to join in the Secession from the Union. Johnson ran with Lincoln during his second term as the Vice-presidential candidate under the slogan of the National Unity Ticket.
Lincoln was assassinated early during his second term and Andrew Johnson became president from 1864 to 1867. The Radical Republicans had a super majority in both Houses of Congress; consequently they were able to do whatever they wanted. Johnson was unsuccessfully impeached toward the end of his term. In 1868, the Republican, former General Ulysses S. Grant, became the 18th President of the United States.
In the election of 1876 the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes ran against the Democrat, Samuel J. Tilden. The Republicans desperately wanted to retain the presidency. Tilden had the greater number of popular votes. Several states ended up electing two sets of electors, both Democratic and Republican. The crisis was not resolved until the night before the new President was to take office. A back-door deal was made by which the Republicans got the presidency and the Southern States had the Northern armies of occupation removed and became independent states again, ending all the remnants of the Civil War. The United States reemerged as a two party nation. At this time the Blacks systematically lost their rights as freedmen, although they kept that title.
The Republican Party adopted many of the economic policies of the Whigs: national banks, railroad expansion, and high tariffs. They were the businessman’s political party. Their anti-slave policy and the Civil War had brought the Black population, the freedmen, into their party and kept them dominant in Congress until this time. The Southern States returned to the Democratic Party which maintained its traditional values. The Republicans also attracted shop owners, skilled craftsmen, clerks, and professionals who were attracted to the party’s modernization policies. These political coalitions lasted almost to the end of the 19th Century.
The Civil War expedited economic change in America. From its end through the 1920s there was a rush of new immigration into the United States, mainly from Eastern Europe and Ireland. The Industrial Revolution in all forms of rapid economic growth took hold of the country at this time generating a rapid settlement of the entire continental United States. The late 19th Century was the period of the Gilded Age, rapid industrial growth, the confluence of money into the hands of a few brought about the rise of the “robber barons,” monopoly and oligopoly; phenomenal affluence for a small number and sweat-shops and twelve to fifteen hour shifts for large groups of children, women, and men in factories. The country went from a rural nation to an urban one during this period.
Small towns became cities virtually overnight with almost no understanding or regulations about supplying clean water to large populations and housing or sewerage or food regulation laws. The government performed no social services. Political machines developed by both political parties in the urban areas. Epidemics became common, particularly in warmer weather. Death tolls, particularly in slum areas were inordinately high, especially among infants and young children.
Among this environment, within the urban areas, individual states, and the Federal Government the Progressive Movement developed and grew. It would continue until the United States got involved in the Great War (World War I). Both major political parties would at different times lead this movement, which, to a large extent, would be fed by magazine articles and books demonstrating the horrific conditions that existed in the factories, slums, and cities.
All the presidents from Lincoln’s death until Teddy Roosevelt’s accession were decent men but weak presidents. They and Cabinet members were continually hounded by jobseekers and political machine operators looking to collect on campaign promises.
The major issues of this period were the protective tariff, currency reform, and civil service reform. President James A. Garfield was shot by a dissatisfied job seeker. Even with this civil service reform came slowly over the course of the late 19th Century.
Tariff and currency reform lasted throughout this period and led to the Progressive Movement. Business interests supported protective tariffs and tight or hard money (gold). They lobbied and spent freely to achieve these goals, which the Republicans tended to support. The Democrats largely backed a loose money policy, using both gold and silver.
From 1876 through 1900, Congress was known for being rowdy and inefficient and the Presidents as more or less capable of doing their jobs but not much more. The two major political parties tended to be similar in their outlook with the exception that the Republicans favored business and the Democrats vied slightly toward farmers. And the government was considered highly corrupt.
With one exception, and that was Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate, who was twice elected to a four year term in 1884 and in 1892, all the other presidents had been Republicans. All of them, from both political parties had served in the Civil War.
In addition, among the farmers, at this time, the Granger Movement gradually developed and it in turn become part of the Populist Movement, which pushed for Agrarian Reform in the United States. The Populist Movement and urban conditions and corruption throughout the country gave birth to the Progressive Reform Movement which existed on the both the state levels and on the national level.
The early Progressive Movement rose on a grass root level. It was supported by the farmers who wanted a loose money policy. This would allow them to pay back their debts with less expensive currency. The businessmen and bankers preferred a tight money policy. They wanted the debts paid back with more expensive money than they had initially spent or loaned out. Into this mix came magazine and book writers, the muckrakers, who tended to expose the corruption that existed on all levels of society. Also at this time the giant industrial cities came into existence with no initial rules or regulations on how they had to be governed or function, in areas like hygiene, sanitation, and city government and social services to the newly arrived immigrants.
All this gradually ended with the accession of Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency after the assassination of William McKinley by an anarchist in 1901. Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, would be the first of the Progressive Presidents. He would be followed by William Howard Taft, another Republican. The third Progressive President would be Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. This period would end with the First World War
During this period corruption was exposed in numerous aspects of the nation and a certain amount of regulation was promulgated throughout the various levels of the society: local, state, and national. The Senate up to 1913 had been appointed by the different state legislatures and had become, usually by bribery, largely an extension of large corporations like Standard Oil’s attorneys. It thereafter, through the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, was directly elected by the people within the individual states. Oregon introduced in 1902 the initiative and the referendum process, which, in turn, was copied by numerous other states. The recall election was also introduced whereby an elected official could be unelected from his office. In addition Women Suffrage (the vote) came about at this period. The tide of reforms ended with the World War.
At the end of the war Woodrow Wilson went to Europe to develop the Treaty of Versailles. He brought the treaty to Washington where it was rejected by the Republicans in the Senate. There was a struggle to pass the Treaty, and, during that time, President Wilson suffered a heart attack from which he never totally recovered.
The Treaty could have been modified to satisfy the Republicans but Wilson refused to compromise. The United States never signed it. Instead they eventually signed a separate treaty with Germany. The major item in the Treaty was the establishment of a League of Nations, which the United States never joined.
At the end of his term the invalid, Woodrow Wilson, was replaced by the Republican, Warren Harding, who died in office after a number of corruption scandals emerged. He was replaced by his Vice President, Calvin Coolidge, who later ran on his own and won. He, in turn, was replaced by Herbert Hoover. These three Republican presidents fully believed Adam Smith’s theory that the market-place would make all the proper economic decisions for how the country should be run.
The motivating force according to Adam Smith was the “invisible hand,” the profit motive. This brought the country in 1929 to the Great Depression. Neither Hoover nor his staff knew how to really deal with this situation. The United States and numerous other industrial nations went through periods of unbelievable misery with the governments trying to function in periods of massive unemployment and chaos.
In 1933, four years later, the new President, the Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, working on almost an experimental basis saved capitalism and the country by adopting socialistic principles. He called his policy “The New Deal,” a term taken from poker. The Federal Government assumed responsibility for those who could not care for the mselves. They created jobs and projects like Hoover Dam, which was originally called Boulder Dam, throughout the United States and he brought about social security. It was a time of rapid experimentation, anything that worked and solved problems was utilized.
But even with all this many of the aspects of the Great Depression remained. The country was better off but many still suffered. What ended the last remnants of the Great Depression was World War II. The spending required to fight and win the war and the army the U. S. raised ended the last remnants of the massive economic turndown. In point of fact, the country entered the war in December of 1941 with the majority of the population being in the lower class and ended the war in 1945 with the majority of the population belonging to the middle class. The economy had changed considerably.
During the Second World War both political parties concentrated on fighting the war. Roosevelt died during the last year of the fighting and was replaced by his Vice President, the Democrat: Harry S. Truman.
Truman in 1945, after the war ended, sponsored, what he called, the Fair Deal, as a continuation of the prewar New Deal. The Republicans derided Truman and his program as a poor man’s version Roosevelt’s politics. In 1948 they ran Thomas E. Dewey against him. They also passed the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, which limited presidential tenure to two terms in office. While the Amendment did not affect Truman; it would come into being with the next president; still it gave him a strong hint. Franklin D. Roosevelt had died in office during his fourth term in office.
In 1948 the Republicans were positive that they would win the election. At that time, before television, victory celebrations were held on radio. On the night of the election there was a victory celebration for Dewey. The Chicago Tribune headline the next morning was “Dewey Wins.” But when the votes were counted Harry S. Truman had won and was still President of the United States. All the polls had predicted Dewey as the winner; they all ate crow that year.
For the next four years there were a lot of frustrated Republicans in both Houses of Congress; but Congress still worked. The fear after the war was that with the massive return of the military to civilian life the country would go into a deep recession with massive unemployment as it did directly after World War I. But with intense rationing, the continual sale of war bonds, and unlimited employment during the war there was lots of money available. All the automobile factories had been producing only for the war effort for the last four years; they now converted to civilian production, everyone wanted a new car. A new industry, television came into being. Other positive things happened. There was no recession. The returning veterans found jobs, started their own small business, returned to school: finishing high school and colleges. The country smoothly went back to peacetime. In fact, veterans received a government allowance if they went back to school.
Unfortunately, even with the new Organization, The United Nations, to which all the allied nations now belonged, peace did not come. On June 25, 1950 until July 27, 1953 the United States and other United Nation countries were involved in the Korean War, which ended at the 38th Parallel, where it had begun. This was the line splitting Korea into two parts: Communist in the North and non-communist in the South. It would seem that almost every succeeding president from Truman on would have their own specific war.
Truman was followed in the presidency in 1953 by Dwight David Eisenhower, the general who had led the war in Europe. Eisenhower, initially had never voted in a presidential election. He did not know which political party he belonged to. Finally he decided he was a Republican and ran as their presidential candidate.
Eisenhower ended the Korean War by threatening to use atomic weapons. It ended in a draw, which still continues to this day.
As a replacement for Truman the Democrats came up with Adlia Stevenson, the governor of Illinois. Stevenson ran against Eisenhower twice and lost both times. Eisenhower considered himself a middle-of-the-road Republican, that is, a moderate or liberal Republican. The two parties functioned well together during his eight years in office.
In 1960 Richard M. Nixon, Eisenhower’s Vice President, ran against the Democrat, John F. Kennedy, who was a member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts. Kennedy won that election by less than one per cent of the vote. The two parties were able to function together and more or less pass all the necessary legislation. /there were problems with his civil rights reform attempts. In Viet Nam There was action, but not a major crisis. It was during Kennedy’s presidency that the Bay of Pigs debacle occurred and later the Cuban Missile Crisis came about. The Soviet Union had installed atomic missiles in Cuba. Kennedy, short of war, got Russia to remove them. His frustration came about in being limited in passing civil rights legislation.
Kennedy, while getting ready to run for a second term in 1963, was in a motorcade in downtown Dallas, Texas, when he was shot by an assassin. His Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson became the next President of the United States. President Johnson was reelected in 1964. He ran against the arch-conservative Barry Goldwater and overwhelmingly defeated him. Johnson attempted to force the war in Viet Nam toward an American victory by massively increasing U.S. forces there. He was not successful. In the United States he declared War on Poverty. Again he was not successful. As an essentially defeated man Johnson announced that he would not run for the presidency in 1968.
Where Johnson was eminently successful was in pushing through Congress both his and John F. Kennedy’s plan for civil rights reform in the nation. Segregation was essentially legally ended throughout the South and in other parts of the country. The statement that “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence was expanded to include Blacks and Women. It was a major achievement.
In the 1968 Election the Republican Richard M. Nixon ran against the Democratic Vice President, Hubert Humphrey. A third party candidate, former Alabama Governor, George Wallace, ran representing the American Independent Party, which supported separation of the races in public education. Nixon won with 43.4% of the vote; Humphrey got 42.7%, and Wallace received 13.5%.
The election year was tumultuous, being marked by the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. The Democratic Convention had open warfare between Viet Nam protestors and the Chicago police. Nixon won the popular vote by .07 percentage points and the Electoral College vote by 301 to 191 for Humphrey.
Besides economic problems Nixon faced a massive protest throughout his presidency over the Viet Nam War. He presumably had a secret plan to end the war. This came down to a return of American prisoners of war and withdrawing with honor. That was making a defeat in war not look like a defeat.
Negotiations were begun. The initial problem was the shape of the Negotiating Table. There were people from North Viet Nam, from South Viet Nam, and from the United States, and there was also the National Liberation Front, who were from South Viet Nam but favored the North. The issue was resolved by using a round table with two smaller ones nearby.
Nixon’s strategy was to bring increasing pressure on Communist North Viet Nam by increasing the war so they would be willing to compromise. He expanded the war to Cambodia and bombing along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Supplies were being brought into North Viet Nam into the South over this route. There was both warfare and peace negotiations that would be going on during Nixon’s term as President.
In 1972 Nixon ran for a second term as the Republican candidate. The Democratic candidate was the highly liberal senator from South Dakota, George McGovern. The Republicans were so sure he could not win that they contributed money secretly to his campaign wanting to make sure he was the Democratic candidate.
McGovern ran on an Anti-War Campaign against the incumbent, Richard Nixon. McGovern was perceived by many voters as a left-wing extremist. Nixon won in a landslide, gaining 60.7% of the popular vote. He received 18 million more votes than McGovern, carrying 49 states.
Unfortunately, during the election, because of some paranoid tendencies of Nixon, a group of his employees called the plumbers burgled Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. several times in order to find out what the Democrats were doing and planning. The final time they did this they were caught and arrested.
The question became: What did Nixon know? And when did he know it? It took two years for this to unravel. And then the answer was that he knew about the burglary from the very beginning. Nixon resigned from the presidency two years after being elected for a second term. He resigned the day before a Bill of Impeachment was to be voted upon in the House of Representatives.
Interestingly his vice president, Spiro Agnew, had resigned earlier. The government had an 80 page inditement against him for extortion, going back to when he was governor of Maryland. Because of the Watergate controversy the Justice Department allowed him to plead, no contest, and resign from the vice-presidency.
The irony was that Nixon chose a new Vice-President, Senator Gerald Ford, who assumed the Presidency in 1974. President Ford later issued a Proclamation on September 8, 1974 pardoning Richard Nixon from any crimes he may have committed.
President Gerald Ford ended the Viet Nam War. This was the first war that the United States lost. Today Viet Nam trades with the United States and is a relatively inexpensive tourist attraction. It cost a lot less to visit Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) than to go to a city in Hawaii.
In 1978 Republican President Gerald Ford ran against the Democratic contender, James Earl (Jimmy) Carter. Jimmy Carter won by a margin of 57 Electoral votes. He had a Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress during both congressional terms. On his second day in office President Carter pardoned all evaders of the Viet Nam War. He created the Departments of Energy and Education. He brought about the Camp David Accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
The country suffered from Stagflation at this time, a combination of both high inflation and high unemployment. Carter could not bring himself to allow the Draconian program that would solve this problem. The next President, Ronald Reagan would do this and bring about a large homeless problem throughout the United States which still exists today.
President Carter signed the Panama Canal Treaties, giving the canal to Panama. It was during his term in office that the Iranian Revolution occurred and the American Embassy personnel were held as captives by the new government of Iran. They were returned to the U.S. shortly after the next president took office. Carter was defeated in the 1980 Election by Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan was elected to the presidency on January 20, 1981 and served two terms through January 20, 1989. He was a Republican and a conservative, bringing about changes that the conservatives had wanted for years. He was also the oldest man elected to the presidency.
Forgetting the post-Civil-War Period when the Radical Republicans, wanting to punish the South and controlled Congress from 1865 to 1878 when Rutherford Hayes stole the presidency from the Democrat, Samuel Tilden. At that time the Republicans had a super majority in both Houses of Congress and could and did pass any law they put forth without the President’s signature.
Outside of this relatively short period in the nation’s history the two major political parties essentially got along and, more or less, cooperated with one another in passing the necessary laws for the nation. The point has been made in an earlier blog that Democratic President Jimmy Carter was more conservative that Gerald Ford’s Republican Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller. On the political line mentioned at the beginning of this blog Rockefeller would be placed left of center and Carter would go right of center.
This was true of many Congressmen. There have historically been many conservative Democrats and moderate or liberal Republicans. There was no separate void between them in terms of political positions. There was always a slight difference in basic philosophy but there was always open communication and the possibility of compromise.
This has been a fact of United States history. There was generally cooperation between both political parties. The Conference Committee, which met after a bill was passed in slightly different versions in the two Houses of Congress, has been able to continually come up with a compromise bill for both Houses of Congress to successfully vote upon.
This system has existed until Barack Obama became President of the United States. What has occurred from that time on has essentially been the development of the Tea Party, an extreme right arm of the Republican Party that is largely uneducated in the function of government and modern economics. In the House of Representatives they are the Freedom Coalition. In point of fact their aim seems to be to do away with the Federal Government