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A Democrat Looks at His Party by Dean Acheson — an Accurate View in 1955 and Still Valid Today.

October 28, 2018


I snagged the following from Brad Delong’s blog ( ) It is an article by Dean Acheson, FDR,s Secretary of State, about the nature of the Democratic Party. I have not included the section on Southern Democrats that I along with DeLong do not agree with and it irrelevant since that particular brand of Democrat has now become the solid base of the Republican Party. However, Acheson’s argument that more conservative )center-left if you will)  party members are necessary for the party to understand the needs and feelings of the entire electorate and succeed in winning elections where voters. have sectoral or local concerns.


A Historical Document: Dean Acheson’s Lawyer’s Brief for the Mid-Twentieth Century Democratic Party: From Dean Acheson (1955): A Democrat Looks at His Party:

p. 23 ff: From the very beginning the Democratic Party has been broadly based… the party of the many… the urban worker; the backwoods merchant and banker; the small farmer… the large landowners of the South, who saw themselves as being milked by the commercial and financial magnates gathered under Hamilton’s banner; the newly arrived immigrants… the party of the underdog…. The many have an important and most relevant characteristic. They have many interests, many points of view, many purposes to accomplish, and a party which represents them will have their many interests, many points of view, and many purposes also. It is this multiplicity of interests which, I submit, is the principal clue in understanding the vitality and endurance of the Democratic Party…

The base of all three opponents [Federalist, Whig, and Republican] has been the interest of the economically powerful, of those who manage affairs…. The economic base and the principal interest of the Republican Party is business…. This business base of the Republican Party is stressed not in any spirit of criticism. The importance of business is an outstanding fact of American life. Its achievements have been phenomenal. It is altogether appropriate that one of the major parties should represent its interests and its points of view. It is stressed because here lies the significant difference between the parties, the single-interest party against the many-interest party, rather than in a supposed division of attitudes… conservative… against… liberal….


At the end of the [nineteenth] century there was a lesser, but serious missed opportunity for Democratic leadership in President Cleveland’s failure to grasp the significance of the Populist and labor unrest… and in his cautious and unimaginative approach to economic depression. The unrest… did not spring from a radical movement directed against the established order… or the constitutional system. It grew out of conditions increasingly distressing… on the farms and in the factories. Its purposes were the historic purposes of the Democratic party… to keep opportunity open, the opportunity not merely to rise from barefoot boy to President but for people to find in their accustomed environments useful, respected, and satisfying lives…. The conditions and popular response had many points of similarity to those of the 1930s.

Grover Cleveland… followed the right as he saw it… through a conservative and conventional cast of mind. The agitation seemed to him… a threat to law and order…. Coxey’s Army was met with a barrage of injunctions and… the Capitol police…. The Pullman strike was smashed by federal troops who kept the mails moving, the union leaders imprisoned, and the union crushed. And the financial panic was dealt with through the highly orthodox and [highly] compensated assistance of Mr. Morgan.

The underlying causes… were neither understood nor dealt with… an opportunity was missed…. If, to take one of them, the problems arising out of the concentration of industrial ownership had been tackled when they were still malleable and subject to effective treatment, we might have been spared some aches and pains that are still with us.

But with all this, Grover Cleveland holds an honored place…. When the Congress showed signs… of declaring war on Spain, Cleveland put an end to the business for the duration of his administration by saying… that, if the Congress did declare war, he would refuse to direct it as commander in chief….


[T]he Democratic Party is not an ideological party…. It represents too many interests to be neatly labeled or to be imprisoned…. It has to be pragramatic…. In the Democratic Party run two strong strands–conservatism and pragmatic experimentation…. [T]he difference between our parties has not been and is not between a party of property and one of proletarians, but between a party which centers on the dominant interests of the business community and a party of many interests, including property interests…. They believe in private property and want more and not less of it. This makes for conservatism.

American labor is now known throughout the world for its conservatism…. the whole stress on seniority grows out of this. Pension rights are property interests of impressive value…. [W]hen a particular kind of property descends in the hierarchy of importance, its owners more and more turn for the protection of their interests to the party of many interests. The owners of land–the farmers–are the most crucial…. Small businessmen, also, are apt to find concern for their problems and welfare lost in the party of business on a larger scale….

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