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K–12 teaching and learning · from the UNC School of Education

The parties in North Carolina

North Carolina effectively disfranchised African Americans in 1900. Their support had been crucial to Republican candidates, and the Republican Party now became a minority in North Carolina, as it did in most of the South. In the mountains, there were a few pockets of Republican support — left over, in part, from westerners’ opposition to the Civil War — but in the rest of the state, Democrats held a strong majority.

There were still differences of opinion, of course, but they were mostly fought out within the Democratic Party. The Democratic primary election was now the election that mattered; whoever won it was almost assured of victory over his Republican opponent.

The “Solid South,” as the Democrats called their support from (white) southerners, did not always agree with national party leaders. Southern Democrats were a voice of conservatism, preventing the party from fully embracing Progressive Era reforms. Some Democrats within North Carolina pushed for reform — the state got its first state parks in this period, for example, and increased spending on education. Many southern Democrats also supported moral reforms such as Prohibition. But for the most part, the state’s Democratic leaders resisted the changes that northern Democrats, who often represented immigrant workers and ethnic groups in cities, pushed for.

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Related pages

  • Political parties in the United States, 1788–1840: Timeline and explanation of the development of political parties in the early national period. Includes a sidebar about parties in North Carolina.
  • Whigs and Democrats: After the War of 1812, the two-party system of Federalists and Democratic-Republicans collapsed, and an era of one-party rule was known as the Era of Good Feelings. But new conflicts arose over the presidency of Andrew Jackson, the Second Bank of the United States, and tariffs, and two new parties, the Whigs and the Democrats, emerged. In North Carolina, the Whigs gained power in the 1830s and began a period of reform.
  • Populists, fusionists, and white supremacists: North Carolina politics from Reconstruction to the Election of 1898: After Reconstruction, Conservatives (later Democrats) reversed many of the gains Republicans had made while in power. In the 1890s, the new People's (or Populist) Party joined with Republicans in a "fusion" campaign that briefly won control of the state government.

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timeline of political parties, 1896–1929

Political parties in the United States, 1896–1929. Click to zoom in. A PDF version (8.5"×14") is also available. (Photograph courtesy of LEARN NC. More about the photograph)

Political parties have shifted many times in 220 years of national politics. Even when parties have kept the same names for long periods, their issues, principles, supporters, and regional support all change over time.

This chart shows the evolution of political party systems in the U.S. from 11896 to 1929. Each “party system” is a roughly defined time period in which two major political parties, each with fairly consistent supporters and beliefs, dominated the political scene.

The colored lines represent organized parties that had a significant impact on national politics, electing members of Congress or receiving more than 1% of the vote for President. Where the lines merge and split, parties split or party affiliations changed dramatically in a short period of time. Presidential candidates are also listed for each party. The winner of each presidential election is designated with a bulls-eye.

Political parties in the United States, 1896–1929
Download a printable version of the timeline.
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Fourth party system (1896–1932)

The Republicans’ victory in the election of 1896 began an era of Republican dominance that lasted for 36 years. The only Democratic president during this period, Woodrow Wilson, was elected when the Republican Party split in 1912.

Voting blocs were essentially the same as in the third party system, with Republicans stronger than ever in the industrial North and winning support from people of all economic classes. Business interests dominated for most of this period, but the Progressive movement rose in response, demanding reforms of industry and society. Reform had some support from both parties; the questions of how to promote business while reining in its abuses dominated domestic politics. The U.S. also became increasingly involved in international affairs, in the Caribbean, the Pacific, and in Europe during World War I.

In the election of 1896, the Republicans spent unprecedented amounts of money and used new advertising techniques to reach voters. Their techniques of fundraising and advertising now became the norm for both parties.

Democratic

  • Effectively the only party in the “solid South,” with African-Americans prevented from voting.
  • Still supported by farmers, especially in the West, but support dwindling in the Northeast.
  • Southern influence meant support for economically conservative policies.
  • Supported by most immigrant groups in northern cities, who favored pro-labor policies.
  • Tended to oppose reforms such as Prohibition.

Republican

  • Included some Progressive reformers such as Theodore Roosevelt, but dominated by pro-business conservatives after World War I.
  • Strongly nationalist, supporting unity and expansion of national interests, but opposed entry into World War I. Isolationist after the war.
  • More likely to support moral reform, including Prohibition.
  • Dominated politics in the 1920s after the failures of Woodrow Wilson’s international policies.
  • Strongly supported by women after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.