History Prof. Michael Birkner commented on the changes in political parties between the 1860s and the present day in a January 27 Concord Monitor article.
From the Concord Monitor:
So how did the 1860s Republicans become the 2010s Democrats?
My initial thoughts centered on the racial politics of the mid-20th century, but I knew I was out of my depth in trying to give a full answer. So I did what I always do in such situations: I emailed my friend Michael Birkner.
Michael is an American historian at Gettysburg College and a former editorial writer for the Monitor. Here, slightly edited, is what he had to say about the party flip-flop:
This was not a one-step process.
In baldest terms, from the Civil War through the Progressive Era, the Republican Party was the party of government. The Democratic Party was the party of as little government as possible. It retained elements of its Jacksonian roots well into the 1950s.
Recall Democratic President Grover Cleveland’s famous dictum when he turned down a request from southern farmers whose crops were destroyed in a drought during the 1880s. They asked for seed money to replant, and this was his response: No. Specifically, he said in vetoing a farm aid bill, “Though the people support the government, the government does not support the people.”