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Democratic Party history from the year you were born

  • 1951: Presidents are limited to two terms

    Republicans opposed President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision to run for a third term, which he won. The country’s first president, George Washington, had declined to seek a third term, but a limit remained an informal practice. Roosevelt’s opponent for a fourth term, Thomas Dewey, called 16 years in office a threat to freedom and proposed a constitutional amendment. With the ratification of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, presidents were formally limited to two terms.

  • 1952: Kefauver outmaneuvered at convention

    Democratic Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee won the New Hampshire primary before President Harry Truman declared he would not seek re-election. Angry at Kefauver, Truman helped Democratic Gov. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois to capture the nomination despite Kefauver’s string of primary victories. This was the last convention not decided on the first ballot as both parties began requiring delegates to back their state primary winners. Stevenson lost the election to Republican General Dwight D. Eisenhower in a landslide.

    [Pictured: Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson waves to a cheering crowd in Chicago's International Amphitheater on July 26, 1952, as President Truman steps aside after introducing the Democratic Presidential candidate for 1952.]

  • 1953: McCarthy pursues Communists

    When the infamous demagogue from Wisconsin, Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy, became chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, three Democrats on the committee resigned in a dispute over staff. Even Republicans stopped attending sessions as McCarthy and his lawyer Roy Cohen bullied and smeared witnesses on their own as they conducted a witch hunt for Communists in the government.

    [Pictured: Chief Senate Counsel representing the United States Army Joseph Welch (left) with Sen. McCarthy (right) at the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations' McCarthy-Army hearings, June 9, 1954.]

  • 1954: Democrats take control of Congress

    By 1954, Sen. Joseph McCarthy was attacking the U.S. Army and met his match when Joseph Welch, a lawyer representing the Army, asked him, “Have you no sense of decency?” From that point, the senator’s influence abruptly declined. With the country tired of McCarthy and a recession beginning to emerge, Democrats took control of the House and Senate.

  • 1955: Johnson has major heart attack

    Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, the Democratic majority leader in the U.S. Senate, had a massive heart attack that nearly killed him and kept him sidelined for six weeks. He recovered and later became president, but he suffered from severe chest pains at the end of his life and needed oxygen. He died from another heart attack in 1973.

    [Pictured: Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson photographed in September 1955.]


  • 1956: Eisenhower beats Stevenson again

    In a rematch from four years earlier, President Dwight D. Eisenhower faced Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the presidential race and prevailed. Democrats fared better in Congress that year, where they remained in the majority in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. In the House, they gained two seats.

    [Pictured: President Dwight D. Eisenhower reacts to his re-election on Nov. 5, 1956.]

  • 1957: Civil Rights Act approved

    The House of Representatives and the Senate, both then controlled by Democrats, passed the Civil Rights Act proposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which established the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice. It authorizes the U.S. attorney general to take action if state officials try to obstruct voting rights.

    [Pictured: President Eisenhower poses in the White House with civil rights leaders following their conference on June 23, 1958.]

  • 1958: Democrats see big Congressional wins

    Republicans suffered big losses in the election in the middle of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term: 48 seats in the House of Representatives and 13 seats in the Senate. The election represented the largest switch between parties in the Senate, and it upended the balance in the Senate between Southern Democrats and those from the rest of the country. Going forward, Democrats from the North and West outnumbered Southerners almost two to one.

  • 1959: Democrats torpedo Cabinet nomination

    The new Democratic strength in the Senate showed itself when President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Adm. Lewis Strauss as his commerce secretary. A history from the U.S. Senate described him as condescending and disdainful toward its members, and his nomination fell 49 opposed to 46 in favor. Eisenhower called the vote “the second most shameful day in Senate history,” after the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.

    [Pictured: President Eisenhower receives a report from Lewis L. Strauss, on the hydrogen bomb tests (Operation Castle) in the Pacific, March 30, 1954.]

  • 1960: John F. Kennedy elected president

    John F. Kennedy, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, became the first Roman Catholic elected to the presidency. With the country worried about where his allegiance would fall—with the United States or with the Vatican—he gave a speech to Protestant ministers at a meeting of the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” he said.

    [Pictured: Sen. Kennedy is given a rousing ovation during his presidential campaign.]