After more than two centuries of sometimes stormy, always intriguing history, the Democratic Party of the United States survives as the oldest political organization in the world. In Party of the People, veteran political chronicler Jules Witcover traces the Democratic Party’s evolution, from its roots in the agrarian, individualistic concepts of Thomas Jefferson to its emergence as today’s progressive party of social change and economic justice. Witcover describes the Democrats' dramatic struggle to deÞne themselves and shares with us half a century of personal observation of the party through its most turbulent times.
First called, oddly enough, the Republican Party but later known as the Democratic-Republican Party and eventually the Democratic Party, this creature of Jefferson and James Madison evolved from an early ideological and personal struggle with the commerce-minded Alexander Hamilton. Seasoned by the populism of Andrew Jackson, the party was nearly undone by the “peculiar institution” of slavery in the South, which led to the birth of the rival Republican Party and to the Civil War. Half a century later, America emerged from World War I under Democrat Woodrow Wilson as a reluctant international player, and from World War II under Franklin Roosevelt as a liberal bastion and global superpower.
In the civil rights revolution, the party shed much of its racist past, but subsequent white middle-class resentments and the divisive Vietnam War opened the door to a rival conservatism that effectively demon-ized Democratic liberalism. Defensively, the party under Bill Clinton sought safer centrist ground and seemed on the brink of establishing a “third way," until the disastrous 2000 electoral college defeat of Al Gore left the Democrats shaken and splintered. As the new century emerges, they are debating whether to return to their liberal roots, setting themselves clearly apart from the Republicans, or press on with the centrist pursuit of a broader, less liberal constituency.
In Party of the People (a perfect companion to Grand Old Party by Lewis L. Gould, a history of the Republicans published simultaneously by Random House), Jules Witcover offers a rich and comprehensive popular history of the ideas, struggles, and key Þgures that have deÞned the Democratic Party over the past two hundred years and are now
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Published November 4, 2003
by Random House.
History, Political & Social Sciences.