Earlier this year, I shared a meme about what Republicans and Democrats supported during historic political moments. It went over the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the constitution and compared them to Obamacare in terms of who supported what. I quickly got some angry friends who said, “Hey! We all know that this is ridiculous because there was a political paradigm shift. The south used to be Democratic and now they’re Republican! The parties switched!”
While the part about the south is true, I’ve been asking myself this question for years: When exactly did the political parties shift and switch its ideology? I decided that it’s time to look into it and figure it out.
First, we need to know if anything in the meme took place before or after this paradigm shift. The 13th amendment to the constitution was fully adopted on December 18th, 1865. The 14th amendment to the constitution was adopted July 9th, 1868. The 15th amendment to the constitution was adopted March 30th, 1870.
Next, we need to know who was president during those times. When the 13th amendment was adopted, Abraham Lincoln (R) was president. When the 14th amendment was adopted, Andrew Johnson (D) was president. When the 15th amendment was adopted, Ulysses S. Grant (R) was president.
History of the Democratic Party
Before the Democratic Party was formed, there was the Democratic-Republican Party. Before that party was the Anti-Administration Party and the Anti-Federalist party. It’s important to understand this because they were founded by the anti-administration movement led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and the anti-federalism movement, which favored the Articles of Confederacy (essentially, Confederates).
The Democratic-Republican Party called themselves the “Republican Party.” However, the Republican Party that we have today is not related to them other than the fact that they were once a part of the Democratic-Republicans. I personally believe that it was a way to shorten their party’s name. Democratic-Republicans were classically liberal. This, believe it or not, does not mean that they were conservative.
The Democratic-Republicans split into two parties: The Democratic Party and the National Republican Party. This is the Democratic Party that we all know today. However, this National Republican Party is not the GOP that we have today. The main difference here was that the Democratic Party was a supporter of Andrew Jackson while the other party was Anti-Andrew Jackson. The Democratic Party hasn’t had much change since its creation. It started out liberal and it still is liberal for the most part.
Brief History of the Republican Party
So when the heck did we get the Republican Party we know today? We left off with the National Republican Party, which was a merger of the Anti-Jackson Democrats and the Federalists. Eventually, it got together with the Anti-Masonic Party and merged into the Whig Party. The Anti-Masonic Party is when we started seeing more conservative views coming in, but the ideology was mostly the same.
Then, we got the Republican Party that everybody knows today when the Whig Party merged with the Free Soil Party, a party that was anti-expansion of slavery and had advocated for a “true democracy.” The party has been always been more conservative than the Democratic Party, which has always been more liberal than the Republican Party.
Democrats Either Don’t Know or Are Ashamed of Their Political History
Much of the time, when Republicans praise Abraham Lincoln for the things he did or point out that Democrats were originally the ones with slaves, Democrats are quick to say, “Oh, everything was different back then. That means that Democrats back in the day were actually Republicans!” Not so fast! The Democratic Party likes to talk about Andrew Jackson the same way that Republicans talk about Abraham Lincoln. Why does this matter?
It matters because Andrew Jack was the seventh president of our nation when Abraham Lincoln was the 16th. This means that the Republican Party really was against slavery, just as it is today. The party was founded by anti-slavery activists. Many from the Democratic Party (especially Free Soilers) joined the newly formed Republican Party. So why is it that Democrats like to say that there was a paradigm shift in party ideology? It’s probably because of a shift that actually happened within the people, not the parties.
The South is Recently Republican (People Change, Not Parties)
One thing many people seem to think is that the south is fairly conservative, so the Democratic Party must have been conservative at one point. Well, not really. The Democratic Party’s ideology is mainly liberalism and progressivism. It’s been that way since it was formed in 1828. If the Democratic Party has been fairly similar since it’s founding, then there wasn’t really a paradigm shift within the political parties themselves.
The best explanation that I can think of is that people have changed their minds over time. This isn’t anything new. The south used to be predominately Democratic. Now, they’re mostly Republican. But this isn’t a change in the ideology of political parties. It’s a change in the minds of the people. Again, this isn’t anything new. Look at the west coast. Washington, California, and Oregon are all considered blue states. They used to vote Republican until the 80s.
If the political parties haven’t really changed all that much in terms of general ideology, then, of course, it only makes sense that the people have changed. So the answer to our question really is that the parties haven’t changed as much as the people have. Unless you can give an informative period of time, with sources, then the answer I’ve found is absolutely irrefutable.
Republicans Are Still Less Likely to do What Democrats Did
Want to know what will also have Democrats responding with, “Oh, the parties used to be very different back then” but then praise a Democrat from before that time period? Bring up Japanese internment camps during World War II (WWII). FDR and Harry S. Truman, both Democrats, were the two presidents that we had during WWII. It’s no secret that our country rounded up a lot of Japanese people, even those who plead no allegiance to Japan, and stuck them in camps to keep people safe. This was sometime after the Pearl Harbor attack.
What Japan did could be considered an act of terrorism. Then again, terrorism doesn’t usually involve the conquering of another nation as much as it involve’s crippling it. 9/11 was a horrible attack that instilled fear into the souls of many. I was in the 7th grade when that happened. I lived close to an airport. I remember asking myself, “Is this when I’m going to die?” every time an airplane flew over my house. A lot of muslims were persecuted and humiliated by the public. But the question is simple: Were there ever any internment camps for muslims? None that we ever heard of. If there had been any, the media would’ve been all over it. Who was president during that time? George W. Bush. A Republican.
While Republicans were partially responsible for what happened to the Japanese-Americans during WWII, it was ultimately the Democratic president, FDR, who created the internment camps. He could’ve said, “No. It’s not right to do that.” But he didn’t. He could’ve said, “It infringes on the freedom of Americans.” But he didn’t. He could’ve said, “This is no better than slavery was in the south.” But he didn’t. The point is just clear and simple: He never did that. If he did, he would’ve scrapped the idea. Were the parties so different during this time, too?
Denial vs Ignorance
Many Democrats say that they don’t really watch the news or talk about politics because they don’t really care. They tend to say things like, “I inform myself” or “I don’t really care to know about it.” This kind of self-inflicted ignorance is what I believe is keeping the Democratic Party alive today. The issue is that it’s not really ignorance if you’re inflicting it upon yourself. That’s called denial.
Why deny the past? If Republicans had some dark history like the Democrats do, I would’ve probably just said, “Yeah, it happened. But the people in the party have changed since then.” That’s not what’s happening at all, though. What’s happening is an a la carte disowning of the dark spots in the past. Slavery was most common in the south, like the Democratic Party. Disown. Internment camps filled with Japanese people during WWII. Disown.
There’s a la carte praise and denial when it comes to past presidents, too. JFK is the richest president we’ve ever had; Democrats belittle Republican candidates that are rich. Democrats talk trash about Donald Trump being the richest candidate in our nation’s history; They tend to ignore the fact that Hillary is pretty rich, too. It really doesn’t make sense.
In my experience, Republicans claim it all. George W. Bush went into Iraq: “Big mistake.” Richard Nixon lied to the people: “Yeah, it happened. But people like that are ousted now.” Ronald Reagan: “Yes, he did some bad things, too.” It doesn’t matter who it is or what they did. Republicans aren’t denying it or saying, “The political parties were very different back then.” Maybe this is because Republicans haven’t had the dark history of people tainting their party’s name with the KKK, internment camps, and slavery.