Rise of the Progressives

Not for the first time, the Democrat party appears to be splintering along factional lines. It has a long history of this actually.

In 1860, anti-slavery Northern Democrats and pro-slavery Southern Democrats split at their convention and each nominated a candidate for President with the Southerners favoring John Breckenridge and the Northerns backing Stephen Douglas both running on a “split ticket.” The now-dissolved Whig and Know-Nothing parties formed the Constitutional Union Party and nominated John Bell of Tennessee. Meanwhile, over at the newly formed Republican Party Abraham Lincoln won the nomination in a brokered convention on the 3rd ballot. Lincoln went on to win the election with a plurality of the popular vote (40 percent) but a majority of the Electoral College. Of course, the result of this election was the Civil War begun by Southern Democrats who attempted to secede from the Union in protest of Lincoln’s victory.

It happened again in the 1880s, when the Jacksonian, small government Democratic party was pulled apart by its Progressive Wing, led by William Jennings Bryan, who believed in a greatly expanded role for the Federal government for social justice and resistance to the emerging political influence of large corporations. Bryan was nominated three times by the Democrats, losing twice to McKinley and once to Taft. Progressive Democrats did not win a presidential race until Woodrow Wilson in 1912.