The Democratic Party evolved from Anti-Federalist factions that opposed the fiscal policies of Alexander Hamilton in the early 1790s. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison organized these factions into the Democratic-Republican Party. The party favored states' rights and strict adherence to the Constitution; it opposed a national bank and wealthy, moneyed interests. The Democratic-Republican Party ascended to power in the election of 1800. After the War of 1812, the party's chief rival, the Federalist Party disbanded. Democratic-Republicans split over the choice of a successor to President James Monroe, and the party faction that supported many of the old Jeffersonian principles, led by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, became the Democratic Party. Along with the Whig Party, the Democratic Party was the chief party in the United States until the Civil War. The Whigs were a commercial party, and usually less popular, if better financed. The Whigs divided over the slavery issue after the Mexican–American War and faded away. In the 1850s, under the stress of the Fugitive Slave Law and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, anti-slavery Democrats left the party. Joining with former members of existing or dwindling parties, the Republican Party emerged.
The Democrats split over the choice of a successor to President James Buchanan along Northern and Southern lines, while the Republican Party gained ascendancy in the election of 1860. As the American Civil War broke out, Northern Democrats were divided into War Democrats and Peace Democrats. The Confederate States of America, seeing parties as evils, did not have any. Most War Democrats rallied to Republican President Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans' National Union Party in 1864, which put Andrew Johnson on the ticket as a Democrat from the South. Johnson replaced Lincoln in 1865 but stayed independent of both parties . The Democrats benefited from white Southerners' resentment of Reconstruction after the war and consequent hostility to the Republican Party. After Redeemers ended Reconstruction in the 1870s, and the extremely violent disenfranchisement of African Americans took place in the 1890s, the South, voting Democratic, became known as the "Solid South." Though Republicans won all but two presidential elections, the Democrats remained competitive. The party was dominated by pro-business Bourbon Democrats led by Samuel J. Tilden and Grover Cleveland, who represented mercantile, banking, and railroad interests; opposed imperialism and overseas expansion; fought for the gold standard; opposed bimetallism; and crusaded against corruption, high taxes, and tariffs. Cleveland was elected to non-consecutive presidential terms in 1884 and 1892.
Agrarian Democrats demanding Free Silver overthrew the Bourbon Democrats in 1896 and nominated William Jennings Bryan for the presidency (a nomination repeated by Democrats in 1900 and 1908). Bryan waged a vigorous campaign attacking Eastern moneyed interests, but he lost to Republican William McKinley. The Democrats took control of the House in 1910 and elected Woodrow Wilson as president in 1912 and 1916. Wilson effectively led Congress to put to rest the issues of tariffs, money, and antitrust that had dominated politics for 40 years with new progressive laws. The Great Depression in 1929 that occurred under Republican President Herbert Hoover and the Republican Congress set the stage for a more liberal government; the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives nearly uninterrupted from 1931 until 1995 and won most presidential elections until 1968. Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected to the presidency in 1932, came forth with government programs called the New Deal. New Deal liberalism meant the promotion of social welfare, labor unions, civil rights, and regulation of business. The opponents, who stressed long-term growth, support for business, and low taxes, started calling themselves "conservatives."
Issues facing parties and the United States after World War II included the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement. Republicans attracted conservatives and white Southerners from the Democratic coalition with their resistance to New Deal and Great Society liberalism and the Republicans' use of the Southern strategy. African Americans, who traditionally supported the Republican Party, began supporting Democrats following the ascent of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, the New Deal, and the Civil Rights movement. The Democratic Party's main base of support shifted to the Northeast, marking a dramatic reversal of history. Bill Clinton was elected to the presidency in 1992, governing as a New Democrat. The Democratic Party lost control of Congress in the election of 1994 to the Republican Party. Re-elected in 1996, Clinton was the first Democratic President since Franklin Roosevelt to be elected to two terms. Following twelve years of Republican rule, the Democratic Party regained majority control of both the House and the Senate in the 2006 elections. Some of the party's key issues in the early 21st century in their last national platform have included the methods of how to combat terrorism, homeland security, expanding access to health care, labor rights, environmentalism, and the preservation of liberal government programs. In the 2010 elections, the Democratic Party lost control of the House, but kept a small majority in the Senate (reduced from the 111th Congress). It also lost its majority in state legislatures and state governorships.
The Democratic Party traces its origins to the inspiration of Democratic-Republican Party, founded by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other influential opponents of the Federalists in 1792. That party also inspired the Whigs and modern Republicans. Organizationally, the modern Democratic Party truly arose in the 1830s, with the election of Andrew Jackson. Since the division of the Republican Party in the election of 1912, it has gradually positioned itself to the left of the Republican Party on economic and social issues. Until the period following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Democratic Party was primarily a coalition of two parties divided by region. Southern Democrats were typically given high conservative ratings by the American Conservative Union while northern Democrats were typically given very low ratings. Southern Democrats were a core bloc of the bipartisan conservative coalition which lasted through the Reagan-era. The economically activist philosophy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which has strongly influenced American liberalism, has shaped much of the party's economic agenda since 1932, and served to tie the two regional factions of the party together until the late 1960s. In fact, Roosevelt's New Deal coalition usually controlled the national government until the 1970s.
In 2004, it was the largest political party, with 72 million voters (42.6% of 169 million registered) claiming affiliation. By comparison, the Republican Party had 55 million members at that time. During the first quarter of 2009, 52% of Americans identified more closely with the Democratic party while 39% did so more closely with the Republican Party. A Pew Research Center survey of registered voters released August 2010 stated that 47% identified as Democrats or leaned towards the party, in comparison to 43% of Republicans.