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Which politician or organization was the first to formally use the name "Democratic Party" for the party of Andrew Jackson? When and where did this happen?

Background: Thomas Jefferson's political party was called the Republican Party by its supporters and the Democratic Party by its detractors. The name "Democratic-Republican" in this early period is an anachronism coined by waffling historians:

The followers of Thomas Jefferson almost always referred to themselves as Republicans. However, the Federalists nearly always called them Democrats. The Republicans were also called Anti-Federalists, Whigs, and Jacobins. . . One term that was not used by either party during this time was the infamous label Democratic-Republican. Neither the followers of Thomas Jefferson nor the Federalists used this term. It was invented by historians because they could not decide which term should be used to describe the party of Thomas Jefferson.

By 1827, the Republicans were the only party that mattered at the national level. When it came time to nominate a presidential candidate in 1828, Republican state parties failed to agree on a single candidate, and so the Republican state parties split into competing caucuses.

The state caucuses that nominated Adams called themselves "National Republicans" or "Administration Republicans" to indicate that the national administration represented continuity with the Republican Party. For example, in Rhode Island the rival caucuses called themselves "Friends of the National Administration" and "Friends of Jackson." In most northern states, pro-Jackson caucuses called themselves some variant of "Jacksonian Party" or "Jacksonian Republicans." In southern states where there was no significant Adams wing of the Republican Party, Jacksonians just called themselves "Republicans."

By 1832 I think the national party was calling itself the Democratic Party, as were most pro-Jackson state parties (at least in the North and Mid-Atlantic states), but I don’t know when and where this renaming occurred. I want to know who formally named the party and when for two reasons:

  • The new name indicates not just acceptance, but perhaps also a desire, that the Adams/Jackson split in the party would become permanent. The renaming implied that the old Republican Party was dead, even though strictly speaking that was not yet a fait accompli.
  • It was a significant decision to use a name that had, in living memory, been a term of abuse. Whoever chose to use "Democratic" was embracing the party's increasingly populist direction.

Caution: I won't accept as evidence a historian casually referring to the founding of the Democratic Party by Martin Van Buren in 1828. Even good historians can be loose with party terminology in this period, and most just mean that in 1828 Van Buren created the national organization that would soon be known as the Democratic Party. The answer may very well be Van Buren, but I’d like to see that claim sourced. I would be thrilled if someone found an account of a convention or caucus where Jackson men debated the merits of possible names for their party.

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    Splendid, well written question with plenty of research and clarity. I only wish I were educated enough to answer it. – Mark C. Wallace Feb 2 '15 at 19:46
  • Here, by the way, is evidence that disagrees with your second paragraph and the following quote: an 1840 broadside (loc.gov/pictures/resource/pga.03694) showing the "Democratic Republican" candidates. – user438 Feb 2 '15 at 19:53
  • Sorry, I should have been clearer. "Democratic-Republican" is shorthand that some historians use for the Republican Party of the 1810s and 1820s, but that was not the official name for the party. The source that I linked to there is a historian who has crawled through state electoral returns for most elections until 1824, so I trust him on these issues of "micro" history. I just wanted to establish that the "Democratic Party" was not a simple shortening of the official name of the party of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. – two sheds Feb 2 '15 at 20:42
  • In the very early period, isn't it an anachronism to talk about defined, named parties? I thought that early on, there was an ideal of not having parties. – Ben Crowell Feb 3 '15 at 22:53
  • @BenCrowell: There were "parties-in-the-government" from the 3rd Congress. That means representatives from the two parties caucused together to plan legislative strategy and to nominate presidential candidates. They were loosely affiliated with state parties/factions through the partisan press and committees of correspondence. So there were parties, but they did not penetrate society deeply. You don't get true "parties-in-the-electorate" until the 1830s, culminating in the "log cabin and hard cider" election of 1840, when partisan identities thoroughly penetrated the electorate. – two sheds Feb 4 '15 at 2:10
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It seems to me that the Democratic Party was not named per se. Instead, it gradually settled upon its present name more or less between 1824 and 1844. As is well known, the original Republican Party largely collapsed into personality-centric factions after 1824. The resulting fledgling parties, however, continued to profess membership in the old Republican Party.

Accordingly, the Jacksonian faction (and future Democratic Party) formally considered itself the Republican Party. This official line remained the dominant narrative into the 1830s. For example, their first national convention in Baltimore, 1832, was titled, "A Convention of Republican Delegates From the Several States in the Union". There was no mention of a Democratic Party yet.

At the same time, names were more fluid on a regional level, where some incorporated the originally-derisive Democratic as a prefix. This wasn't a new development: local organisations of the party seemed to have been doing that since as early as 1798. The resulting name, the Democratic-Republican Party, was rare during the early 1800s but gained ground after 1824. Notably, it became the chief self-identification of Jacksonian supporters in Pennsylvania during 1824.

The delegates appointed by the democratic republicans of this state, met at Harrisburg on the 4th inst. All the counties were represented but four, and the amount of delegates present was one hundred and twenty-five ... a resolution then prevailed for the support of Andrew Jackson.

- Niles' Register, March 13 1824

A similar development saw the National Republican name became particularly associated with the Anti-Jacksonian faction in 1830. There was clearly a need for easier identification of the splintered Republican faction/parties. The Democratic vs National Republican divide offered exactly that. When the campaign of 1832 arrived, therefore, the Democratic-Republican label surged in popularity.

It is a very small leap to go from Democratic Republican Party to simply Democratic Party, and the latter term also grew in popularity. This mirrors earlier developments at Pennsylvania, where the 1828 state convention was simply named the "Democratic Convention", for example. It is also around this time references to "the great Democratic Party of the Union" began to crop up.

Jackson, like those made by president Jefferson, were the legitimate results of the previous system of appointments, and were necessary not only to the safety and success of a democratic administration, but due as an act of justice to the great democratic party of the union.

- Niles' Register, June 20 1835

He found men there to persuade him, that a caucus of eleven members of Congress was a more suitable body to bring out a candidate for the Presidency, than a National Convention of Delegates - the representatives of the great Democratic party of the Union.

- Extra Globe (September, 1835)

Note that party officially continued to style itself Republicans through the decade. For example, the 1835 national convention in Baltimore informed its Vice Presidential choice that:

A convention of republican delegates from various parts of the union, for the purpose of selecting suitable candidates for the office of president and vice president, assembled in Baltimore on the 20th instant, and agreed to present to their country, your name for the of vice president of the United States.

- Niles' Register, July 11 1835

Official attitudes caught up with popular usage by the time of the 1840 convention. That event appears to be the first to be titled the Democratic National Convention. The party did continue to make sporadic references to being Republican, apparently treating it as a synonym. However, by this stage Democratic Party had clearly became the favoured name, a situation reinforced in the 1844 convention.


Other Views

According to the Library of Congress, the name of Democratic Party was officially adopted during their National Convention in Baltimore, May 1832.

The Democratic convention of 1832, held on May 21 - 22 in Baltimore, is notable as the convention where the Democratic Party formally adopted its present name. The party had previously been known as "Republican Delegates from the Several States."

- Library of Congress. "Democratic National Political Conventions 1832-2008." Library of Congress.

In contrast, several other writers listing the dates as 1840.

The Democratic convention was held in Baltimore in May 1840. It was at this convention that the party's name was offficially changed from Democratic-Republican Party to Democratic Party.

- Wagner, Heather Lehr, and Becky Durost Fish. The History of the Democratic Party. Infobase Publishing, 2009.

The 1840 Democratic-Republican national convention was also the one in which the party name was simplified. Henceforth, it was called the Democratic party.

- Goldman, Ralph Morris. The National Party Chairmen and Committees: Factionalism at the Top. ME Sharpe, 1990.

Still others list the the official adoption of the Democratic Party name in 1844. However as far as I can tell there are no readily apparent evidence (e.g. cited resolution/proceedings) the back up these assertions.

  • Yeah, I have no idea why there is so much disagreement on what seems like should be a simple, historical fact. But based on the title of the book, I am actually inclined to accept Goldman's date. Or as is seeming likely, Democratic Republican and Democratic were used concurrently through the 1830s. – two sheds Feb 2 '15 at 20:28
  • @twosheds: The use of Democratic as a pejorative stems from its strong association with the French Revolution (and even the Terror), much as the term People's Democratic Republic today is strongly associated with Russian Revolution and Communism. As the French Revolution faded into history, this association grew weaker. It is in fact usual for splinter groups to proudly adopt the pejoratives assigned to them, as witness the (originally pejorative) designations Whig and Tory. – Pieter Geerkens Feb 2 '15 at 22:46
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    Now that's an answer! Well done and +1. – user438 Feb 3 '15 at 16:56
  • 1
    Alright, I'm convinced. The transition from Republican to Democrat was much more gradual and finished much later than I had originally thought. Incidentally, "Democratic-Republican Society" was a very rare name in the 18th century, though historians now use that term. See the first footnote at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic-Republican_Societies. – two sheds Feb 3 '15 at 18:58
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Definitely by 1844, since their platform for that year speaks of "the Democratic party of this Union." (By comparison, the platform for 1840 makes no such reference, which may imply that in that year it wasn't yet the official name.)

Actually, looking further, here are the proceedings from their national convention of 1840, labeled the "National Democratic Convention." The Whigs were also calling theirs the "Democratic Whig National Convention," though. (Which at any rate shows that by that year, "democratic" was no longer thought of as a slur.)

And now I find that the 1832 convention is also labeled "the Democratic convention."

  • Really interesting, I'd never seen "Democratic Whigs" before – two sheds Feb 2 '15 at 20:04
  • Looking at your links, it looks like the Jacksonians first appended "Democratic" to "Republican" to differentiate themselves from the "National Republicans" in 1832. Then they used "Democratic" or "Democratic Republican" concurrently for around a decade before officially shortening their name to "the Democratic Party" in 1840. – two sheds Feb 2 '15 at 20:31

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