The Dominant Party
As the Federalist party waned, politics came to consist mainly of feuds within the Democratic Republican organization, such as the opposition of the Quids to Madison's election (1808) and the peace ticket led by De Witt Clinton (1812). By 1820 the party dominated the nation so completely that Monroe was reelected without opposition. But the foundations for political regrouping were being laid.
In 1824 the electoral vote was split between Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford, and Henry Clay; when the election went into the House of Representatives, Clay threw his support to Adams, who won. Jackson was elected in 1828 and in 1832 (when his followers held the first national convention of the Democratic party). In the debates of his administrations, especially over his dissolution of the Bank of the United States and the nullification controversy, opposition ultimately coalesced in the Whig party.
Until 1860 the Democrats won all the presidential elections except those of 1840 and 1848, electing Martin Van Buren, James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan. During this period political debate centered more and more on the bitter question of slavery that was dividing North and South. With the demise of the Whig party in the election of 1852 and the emergence of the sectional, antislavery Republican party in 1854 (succeeding the Free-Soil party), the Democrats remained the sole national party.
The vital question of the decade between 1850 and 1860 concerned slavery in the territories, and on this issue the Democratic party divided sharply. One group, mainly Northern, led by Stephen A. Douglas, championed the doctrine of popular sovereignty, which held that the inhabitants of the territory should decide whether it would be slave or free. Other Northern Democrats (mostly the old Barnburners) swung over to the new antislavery parties. Southern Democrats, led by Robert Toombs and Jefferson Davis among others, and buttressed by the Supreme Court's decision in the Dred Scott Case, held that slavery must be protected in the territories. At the Democratic Convention of 1860 the party split, Northern Democrats nominating Douglas, and the Southern Democrats choosing John C. Breckinridge, thus facilitating the victory of Abraham Lincoln.
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