Before 1860, Republicans advocated for:
a strong central government
an economy based on gold and silver (bimetallism)
a transcontinental railroad
regulating big business
expansion to the West
Democrats wanted a small central government, a gold standard economy, etc.
During this time, America gained a great many Western states:
• Texas 1845
• Oregon 1859
• Nevada 1864
• Colorado 1876
• Washington 1889
• Montana 1889
• Wyoming 1890
• Idaho 1890
• Utah 1896
• Oklahoma 1907
• Arizona 1912
• New Mexico 1912
The changes in Democratic and Republican political philiosophies began in 1863, when Republican President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, with the Emancipation Proclamation, which was a rather progressive political action to take.
From 1873 - 1896 The Long Depression occurred, which included The Panic of 1893:
The economy was weak, the stock market crashed, a great many banks and businesses failed, railroads failed and unemployment was high.
A Democratic politician that came to prominence during this time was William Jennings Bryan (1860 - 1925).
Bryan had ideas that were considered progressive and he believed in the "little guy", the common folk and he was even called the "Great Commoner". Even to this day, he was the youngest major party Presidential nominee and youngest person ever to get any electoral votes.
If you've seen the movie "Inherit the Wind", he was fictionalized by the character Matthew Brady and portrayed to be much more conservative than he actually was. In real life, Bryan was very conservative religiously, but politically progressive.
At the 1896 Democratic Convention, he came out in favor of the coinage of silver and gold (bimetallism or "free silver policy") which was a liberal belief.
In a very famous ("The Cross of Gold") speech, he became unbelievably popular and won the Democratic Presidential nomination.
He principally based his 1896 campaign on the "free silver" issue, which President Grover Cleveland and other staunch Democrats considered antithetical to Democratic policies. Despite Cleveland's objections, this marked the turning point for the changing of the Democratic political philosophy.
William Jennings Bryan ran as the Democratic nominee for President twice in 1896 and 1900 versus William McKinley and for the last time in 1908 versus William Howard Taft.
In his later campaigns, besides the "free silver" issue, he advocated for a strong central government, regulation of stocks, government ownership of railroads and public works projects.
Ever since Lincoln, all succeeding Presidents were rather weak until the Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt who served from 1901 to 1909.
He was probably the last liberal Republican President, was rather forward-thinking and he seriously wanted to change things.
Even to this day, he was our youngest President¹ and he was the first American citizen to win a Nobel Prize. (1905 - the Nobel Peace Prize)
He was the key figure in advocating and building the Panama Canal.
As for what he did during his Presidency he:
---advocated and passed Worker's Compensation Laws.
---advocated and signed the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.
---created National Parks and animal sanctuaries.
He advocated what he called the "Square Deal" which included the government's controlling:
---the conservation of natural resources
--large corporations from making outrageous profits while exploiting employees
So, when Theodore Roosevelt was President, the Republican party was rather liberal. Roosevelt chose to support William Howard Taft's Presidency (1909 - 1913) because he thought Taft's politics would be the same as his but they weren't.
Taft, unlike Roosevelt, was not very much of a politician and did not treat the Presidency as powerfully as Roosevelt did.
Taft did not try to control large coporations. (When government leaves big business alone, this is called a laissez-faire policy.)
Taft's behavior was causing a split between himself and Roosevelt but the reason for the permanent split between these two was Taft's firing the head of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, who was a very good friend of Roosevelt's. This caused such a rift that Roosevelt did not support Taft for re-election and even formed his own political "Bull-Moose" party, which succeeded in Taft's losing his re-election to Woodrow Wilson.
Woodrow Wilson was President (1913 - 1921) and was probably the first liberal Democratic President. During, this time, America was being influenced by the Progressive Movement which fit right in with Wilson's liberal political philosophy.
As president, Wilson advocated and passed legislation which created:
• lower tariffs
• the federal income tax
• the Federal Reserve System and
• the Federal Trade Commission
Also laws were passed which prohibited child labor and reduced railroad workers' hours.
• Amendment (XVI) (Income Tax) was ratified in 1913 and
two other amendments were passed during Wilson's Presidency:
• Alcohol was prohibited (Amendment XVIII) and
• Women gained the right to vote (Amendment XIX)
After Wilson's Presidency, it was the Republican Party that dominated the Presidency in the 1920's beginning with Warren G.Harding (1921 1923), Calvin Coolidge (1923 - 1929) and then ending with Herbert Hoover (1929 - 1933).
With these 3 conservative Presidents pursuing a laissez-faire policy toward the banks, the stock market and big business, the economy proceeded along quite well. However, with no regulations imposed on banks, loans were granted much too leniently. People could also buy stocks "on margin" (credit) paying as little as 10% of their actual worth.
The unregulated economy eventually faltered, the stock market crashed, bringing on a period of economic hardship called "The Great Depression."
In 1933 another liberal Democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President. Unlike the Republicans, Franklin Roosevelt became an active President and used the government to improve the economy. His policy of economic reforms were referred to as "The New Deal".
Franklin Roosevelt's use of a strong Presidency utilizing big government to solve problems shows that the Democrats were now the liberal party.
Basically, this article was written to show the changes in the political philosophies of the Democratic and Republican Parties from 1860 to 1933 and not to state the merits or deficits of either party.
¹ Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was 42.88 years old when he succeeded to the Presidency on September 14, 1901, upon the death of William McKinley. Theodore Roosevelt was not elected President for his first term.
At the beginning of his second Presidential term, March 4, 1905, Theodore Roosevelt was 46.34 years old.
John Kennedy was 43.65 years old when he was inaugurated as President.