The Democratic Party emerged under Thomas Jefferson in the 1790s in opposition to the Federalist Party. It initially drew most of its support from Southern planters and Northern farmers. Its good organization and popular appeal kept it in power for most of the time between 1825 and 1860. This included John Quincy Adams (1825-1829), Andrew Jackson (1829-37), Martin Van Buren (1837-41), James Polk (1845-49) and Franklin Pierce (1853-47). and James Buchanan (1857-61).
The Republican Party was established at Ripon, Wisconsin in 1854 by a group of former members of the Whig Party and the Free-Soil Party. Its original founders were opposed to slavery and called for the repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska and the Fugitive Slave Law. Early members thought it was important to place the national interest above sectional interest and the rights of individual States.
Over the next few years the Republican Party emerged as the main opposition party to the Democratic Party in the North. However, it had little support in the South. The party's first presidential candidate was John C. Fremont in 1856 who won 1,335,264 votes but was defeated by the Democrat, James Buchanan.
In the 1860s, Thomas Nast, of Harper's Weekly, developed the idea of the political cartoon. Nast originated the idea of using animals to represent political parties. In his cartoons the Democratic Party was a donkey and the Republican Party, an elephant.
During the presidency of James Buchanan, the Democrats split over the issue of slavery. At its convention at Charleston in April, 1860, Stephen A. Douglas was the choice of most northern Democrats but was opposed by those in the Deep South. When Douglas won the nomination, Southern delegates decided to hold another convention in Baltimore and in June selected John Beckenridge of Kentucky as their candidate. The situation was further complicated by the formation of the Constitutional Union Party and the nomination of John Bell of Tennessee as its presidential candidate.
Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election with with 1,866,462 votes (18 free states) and beat Stephen A. Douglas (1,375,157 - 1 slave state), John Beckenridge (847,953 - 13 slave states) and John Bell (589,581 - 3 slave states).
After the American Civil War the Republican Party dominated the political system. Its support of protective tariffs gained it the support of powerful industrialists and the Northern urban areas. It was also popular with Northern and Midwestern farmers and most of the immigrant groups, except for the Irish, who tended to support the Democrats. Republican presidents during this period included Ulysses Grant (1869-1877), Rutherhood Hayes (1877-1881), James Garfield (1881) and Chester Arthur (1881-1885).
Grover Cleveland managed two victories for the Democrats (1885-89 and 1893-97) and so did Woodrow Wilson (1913-23). However the Republican Party continued to be the major party during this period with victories for Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893), William McKinley (1897-1901), Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), William Taft (1909-1913), Warren Harding (1921-1923), Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) and Herbert Hoover (1929-33).
The Democratic Party re-emerged during the Great Depression when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in 1932. Roosevelt became the only President to be re-elected three times and served for twelve years (1933-45). During this period the Democrats gained the support of small farmers, trade unions, liberals, blacks and other minorities. After Roosevelt's death the Democrats remained in power under Harry S. Truman (1945-53).
The Republicans selected the war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower as its candidate in 1952. During the election the Republican Party took a strong anti-communist stance and advocated lower taxes for the rich. It also opposed civil rights legislation being proposed by the liberal Democratic candidate, Adlai Stevenson. Eisenhower won by 33,936,252 votes to 27,314,922.
The Republican Party candidate, Richard Nixon won in 1968 but was forced to resign in 1974 over the Watergate Scandal and was replaced by his vice-president, Gerald Ford (1974-1977). In 1976 Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter (1977-1981).