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History of Democratic and Republican Parties


One of the most common themes in the American politics is change. The Americans have personified the idea due to their desire for economic and social growth. The constant desire for change among the American electorates during elections has led to evolution of American foreign policy, economic progress and advanced social matters. The bipartisan nature of the United States has led to various electoral shifts that define political realignments very critical during subsequent elections. Over the years, some vital elections have aided in the realignment of electorate from one party platform to the multiparty system, but with two, Democratic and Republican parties being the stable ones. Since the Civil War between the states, the nation has had changes in leadership between the two political parties. The third parties have also participated in the democratic growth of the United States. However, their roles have been limited due to less votes for their candidates. Some of the third parties have occasionally disappeared after one or two elections. The two major political parties underwent various developments in 1930 through to 1980s in the face of the new deal, party realignments, great depression, and Vietnam conflict voter participation among others.

Political Realignments

Political realignments, especially, the black voters began as early as 1920s. The realignment process was gradual. The black voters felt isolated since their participation in the Republican party was minimal; hence, were attracted to the Democratic Party mostly appreciated in the northern wing (Sherman, 1984). In 1932, more than two-thirds of black vote joined the incumbent President Herbert Hoover. The movement went ahead even with the President’s failure to recognize the need to help the blacks by implement economic policies during the Great Depression. Consequently, few blacks participated in the electoral process of choosing president. Their lack of trust in Republican loyalty was key to less voter turnout than their dislike of Franklin Roosevelt. President Roosevelt had suppressed the political rights of the black Americans in the South. The blacks did not trust Roosevelt because of his ambiguity on the issue of race during campaigns, the mistrust for the party label as well as Roosevelt’s choice, House Speaker John Garner (Texas) as the running mate. John Lynch (Republican Representative of Mississippi in the 1930s) is one of the people who had tried to put out the frustrations of black voters and their reasons for not choosing to vote for Democratic candidate. In the mid-1930s Lynch, argued that it would be difficult for the colored voters to vote in Democratic ticket. He continues to mention that if the blacks were to choose to vote the Democratic candidates, it would look like an endorsement of the wrongdoings that happened before and after the Civil War, which they were the victims. Some of the wrongs that the blacks underwent included deprivation of rights and injustice.

Illinois set the pace for the Democratic Party’s gain of strength. The first Congressional District of Illinois led to the beginning of black political realignment in the North. Before South Chicago was realigned into a solid Democratic region, the people had consecutively voted in Republican Oscar De Priest in 1928, 1930 and 1932. The Republican had enjoyed a strong support in Chicago with William Hale serving as their mayor for two terms. The first term began in 1915 through to 1923 and the second term 1927 to 1931. There was an influx of blacks in Chicago by 1930, making it the state with the largest population of blacks. The large population of southern blacks underwent a strong Republican party that enticed then with patronage jobs to receive the black vote. Given the higher population of black voters, the Republican decided to give them political participation opportunities not experienced anywhere in the United States during the Jim Crow period in the South. The enticement strategy worked because the black voters helped bids for politicians like Thompson, who received at least two-thirds of black voters in the wards they dominated. In appreciation, Mayor Thompson promoted the rise of black politicians including De priest becoming the first African American mayor in 1915. Such acts of courtesy made the black Americans to remain loyal to Republican Party locally and nationally (Gosnell, 1969).

The use of political participation as a strategy to get black Americans’ votes gained them political experience. The African-American members were involved in politics at the precinct and ward levels. In Chicago, some of the political bigwigs, Richard Daley and Edward Kelly had a role in the increase of black Members in Capitol Hill; it was a third of the members at the time. The national parties had not realized the value of the African-American votes. The political machines managed to awaken the black population and courted them for their interest (Gosnell, 1969). The beginning era saw a good relationship between the sponsors and the black politicians. Some of the African-Americans already Members of Congress were very loyal to the Republican Party. However, the loyalty lasted for quite some time before the black politicians started to question the party on certain racial issues. The party’s stand went against some issues important for the African American community. In the 1960s, the black Members of the Congress then changed tact from those of 1930s. Instead of relying on the already established political machines, they opted to create alternative political bases through civic engagement familial and community relations.

Great Depression

The second problem that the African Americans felt disenfranchised in the party was President Hoover’s move to halt the efforts of reviving the Depression-Era economy that greatly affected the black community. The unstable economy during the financial crisis had hit the African Americans harder than other races. Many black Americans lost jobs due to the financial crisis since it increased the rate of unemployment in form of agrarian jobs that they blacks relied on. The instability of the cotton market in the mid-1920s that was vital for the African Americans had already affected their livelihoods. The blacks had also lost industrial jobs during the initial stages of the crisis. This meant that the black Americans were already affected by the economic depression before the ultimate market collapse in 1929. Few months after the ultimate crash of the economy, thirty-eight percent of the African Americans were unemployed. In comparison, only seventeen percent of the whites were unemployed. Critically analyzed against the total population of minority blacks and majority whites, the African Americans were affected more. A study ordered by Roosevelt administration gave skewed results indicating that African Americans formed part of twenty percent of all Americans in the welfare of the nation. The actual result was that only the blacks only formed 10 percent of population in the welfare of the county. The misrepresentation was evident in Chicago where the African Americans formed one fourth of the welfare yet they made up six percent of the population of the city.

Voter Participation

Apart from the effects of great depression, political opportunity that some of the black politicians enjoyed in the 1930s convinced some politicians to shift their allegiance. The politicians decided to change allegiance for general improvement of black community and personal achievement. William Dawson and Arthur Mitchell represented the younger generation of African Americans who were impatient with the rooted African American Republican leadership. Instead, the young leaders were ambitious and decided to take the chance for personal advancement in politics leading to the rise of the Democratic Party to the national platform. Mitchell demonstrated the vigor in their unstoppable move. During the 1928 presidential campaigns, Mitchell was paid to campaign for the incumbent Hoover. During the presentation, he encountered the campaign team belonging to De Priest during the Chicago engagement. It seems the conversation convinced him to join the Second Ward Regular Republican Organization. His moves were calculated as an interparty challenge to the incumbent. However, Mitchell realized he did not have a chance to grow in De Priest’s party. In 1932, he decided to switch camps again. Mitchell campaigned for Roosevelt who successfully unseated De Priest even though the latter received majority of African American votes. Consequently, Mitchell became the first black American elected leader to the Congress as Democrat. The Democratic Party received black support because of economic relief that the New Deal programs offered them. Mitchell appreciated the achievement of New Deal programs under Roosevelt and argued that the achievements played a role in his election (Kenneally, 1993).

Arthur Mitchell inspired many African leaders. William Dawson, formerly, De Priest’s protégé who had won a Republican Second Ward council member in Chicago decided to defect. Dawson had undergone some political frustrations. In 1938, Dawson defeated De Priest in GOP primary, but failed to beat Mitchell in the general elections. Later, he lost his city council seat after De Priest decided to frustrate his participation in the party affairs. Mitchell offered Dawson an opportunity, which the latter did not waste. Dawson switched parties, becoming Democratic committee member in the Second Ward. Dawson succeeded Mitchell after his retirement in 1942 from House. The Democratic leadership also used similar tactics as Republicans of offering patronage positions to recruit black leaders to join the party.

Additionally, the perception of black voters all over the country had changed that the Democratic Party was based on the interest of black community. Just like in the case of Dawson, the patronage positions for the black leaders and relief programs during the Depression Era lured the black community. Even though the New Deal programs never provided full economic support or relief to the black communities as it did to the whites, the observable factors convinced the black community that at least something was being done in their favor. The Roosevelt administration learned to gain support on small but symbolic efforts to the marginalized population. Another factor that played major role in party realignments was the change of generations. The new crop of black voters, displacing their parents and grandparents had intertwined their political loyalties and experiences along Democratic political bigwigs already dominating the Northern side in the ward level. The effect of realignments was felt in 1936 when Republican nominee Alf Landon only received 28 percent of black votes (Franklin & Higginbotham, 1956). The number of votes in favor of Landon was half of those that Hoover received four years earlier. Even in the Congress, party affiliations among black politicians subsequently became one-sided. The realignment realized a decrease in the number of black Republicans elected. For instance, between 1929 and 2007, only five black Republicans were elected including De Priest.

The Failures of the New Deal

President Roosevelt remained hesitant and reserved on the issues of black civil rights. He was worried that some of his economic policies could have faced compromise by southern congress members if he raised racial issues. Therefore, Roosevelt dedicated his first term to solving economic challenges brought about during the Depression period. The president’s goal to make the economy work meant that he required the ultimate support from the racially conservative Democrats from the South as well. Therefore, his first term was overtaken by economic reconstruction, hence assuming all the other concerns. The South had more power in the Congress, the same Congress that had significant role in defining Roosevelt’s legacy.

Unfortunately, other structural and institutional reforms concealed the unimpressive role of the president towards the black civil right activists. With the absence of Roosevelt in the involvement in the New Deal reforms, progressive leaders who believe in the New Deal stepped up to advance the cause for the blacks. The attempts led to redefinition of the perception that the blacks had towards the Democratic Party (Dekhakhena, 2010). However, even the with the loss of touch on the racial issues by the President Roosevelt, his wife First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stepped up. She nudged her husband to be responsive to the racial issues and in turn made connections with African American leaders including women’s rights activists such as Mary Bethune. The other advocate for the black Americans was Harold Ickes, who served as President Roosevelt’s Secretary of Interior Department. He decided to ban segregation in his department. The move was emulated by other executive agencies. He had previously served as the president of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)’s branch of Chicago.

Nonetheless, another shot at for the success of the reform on anti-lynching legislation failed to succeed affecting the reforms negatively. However, the unique fact about the failure to implement the legislation was that during this time there African American members in the congress. One of the black leaders Arthur Mitchell contributed in the shutting down of the legislation by failing to endorse it, even after it received support by the NAACP. Instead, Mitchell introduced his own anti-lynching legislation to the Congress in 1935. However, critics argued that the legislation had many legal ambiguities and that it was diluted giving lenient sentences. However, the Southerner decided to weaken Mitchell’s bill further and adopted it. Mitchell sided with the NAACP only after his bill was presented in the 75th Congress.

Vietnamese Conflict

Between 1964 through to 1968, there were outbursts of social movements. The boom of U.S war in Indochina was evident affect the stories of the Northern Vietnamese attacks on ships of Americans. The attacks contributed to the intensity of protests by college students. Other communities including Latinos, Asians and Native Americans copied the African Americans and started to protest. The protests were aimed at challenging the effects of capitalism. Capitalism was in the sense of traditional trade union organizations pressed on the rights of the Democratic Party. The movements did not get mutual relationship from either party. For instance, the women’s movement fight on Equal Rights Amendment, the Democratic opposed while finding allies from the Republicans. Lyndon Johnson frustrated the African Americans over the dishonesty and delays on solving their issues. He instead funded the Vietnam War. Apart from the war, Republicans did not show interest in solving the problems of the black Americans that was a problem.


Political realignment has defined the politics of the United States over years. From the history of the two major political parties, Republican and Democratic Parties, it is proven that unexpected political realignments, partisan and geopolitical shift occur every election period. From 1930 through to 1980, political realignments have occurred based on voter participation, New Deal, Great Depression and Vietnam conflicts with the United States. One common denominator in the shifts is the black voter. President Roosevelt’s promises to the nation to solve the economic problems and social circumstance that the New Deal presented contributed to the political realignments.


Dekhakhena, A. (2010). Blacks in the New Deal. The Shift from an Electoral Tradition and its


Franklin, J. H., & Higginbotham, E. B. (1956). From slavery to freedom (p. 247). New York:


Gosnell, H. F. (1969). Negro politicians. University of Chicago Press.

Kenneally, J. J. (1993). Black Republicans During the New Deal: the Role of Joseph W. Martin,

Jr. The Review of Politics, 55(1), 117-140.

Sherman, R. B. (1984). Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the Age of FDR. By

Nancy J. Weiss.(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983. xx+ 333 pp. Illustrations, tables, appendix, notes, note on sources, and index. Cloth, 32.50;paper, 12.50.).



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