Why Did the Democratic and Republican Parties Switch Platforms?

Sep 2018
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During the 1860s, Republicans, who dominated northern states, orchestrated an ambitious expansion of federal power, helping to fund the transcontinental railroad, the state university system and the settlement of the West by homesteaders, and instating a national currency and protective tariff. Democrats, who dominated the South, opposed these measures. After the Civil War, Republicans passed laws that granted protections for African Americans and advanced social justice; again, Democrats largely opposed these expansions of power.

So, sometime between the 1860s and 1936, the (Democratic) party of small government became the party of big government, and the (Republican) party of big government became rhetorically committed to curbing federal power. How did this switch happen?


Republicans didn't immediately adopt the opposite position of favoring limited government. "Instead, for a couple of decades, both parties are promising an augmented federal government devoted in various ways to the cause of social justice," Rauchway wrote in a 2010 blog post for the Chronicles of Higher Education. Only gradually did Republican rhetoric drift to the counterarguments. The party's small-government platform cemented in the 1930s with its heated opposition to the New Deal.
Why Did the Democratic and Republican Parties Switch Platforms?