Michael John Gray
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy said in his State of the Union Address that “a strong America cannot neglect the aspirations of its citizens–the welfare of the needy, the health care of the elderly, the education of the young. For we are not developing the nation’s wealth for its own sake. Wealth is the means–and the people are the ends.”
The Democratic Party is now the oldest existing political party in the world, having celebrated its Bicentennial in 1992. Founded by Thomas Jefferson, the reasons for this lengthy existence are mainly due to the fact that the Democratic Party has been and always will be open to all people. There is a place in the party for the young and the old, for the rich and the poor, and for all races. If there is any one factor that makes the party the great institution that it is, then it is this: Arguments arise among its diverse members but they are not allowed to fester and throw the party into disarray for long periods of time. These arguments are discussed and compromised in the most democratic manner possible.
The Democratic Party has been called “the Party of the People.” President Lyndon Johnson once said: “We are a party of activists, of doers. We believe that problems can be solved and we have devoted our energies to solving them. We have made some false starts. But we also have helped transform the face of America and enrich the lives of her citizens. We must continue in that tradition.”
Perhaps the most eloquent testimony of the wisdom and vitality of the principles of the Democratic Party is the fact that it is the oldest political party in the world. It is difficult to fix an exact birthday for the Democratic Party–the most consistent date given is May 3, 1792, the date of a letter from Jefferson to President George Washington giving a name to the party then headed by Washington. But the event primarily responsible for breathing life into the party was the fight for the Bill of Rights.
These rights, which insure freedom of religion, speech and press, and guaranteed fair trials to the accused, had been left out of the original draft of the Constitution. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention, mostly plantation owners and merchants, had been so concerned with building a government able to keep the peace and protect property rights, that they failed to provide these basic, necessary safeguards. Thomas Jefferson was not at the convention, but when he saw the omission, he wrote letters to his friends and followers throughout the country declaring: “A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, and what no just government should refuse…”
Jefferson rallied enough support to make acceptance of the Bill of Rights a condition of the Constitution’s approval. The organization he built up in its endeavor became the main theme of the Democratic Party.
Most of all, Jefferson believed in the inherent worth of the common man. “Every man, and every body of men on earth possess the right of self-government.” He was certain that given the facts, the people would use that right correctly.
The late Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey said, “I am one who believes this nation is..only as strong as the productivity, the intelligence, the health, and education of its people. We do not seek to make America strong for the purpose of aggression, but rather for the enrichment of life..so that the wealth, the economic wealth of the economic system is in a sense partially used to bring about the spiritual wealth of the social structure.
“I believe the people of America…desire a safer more peaceful world for themselves and their children: seek an end to poverty and deprivation for all people everywhere: and want to provide security and dignity to our elderly. The ultimate moral test of any government is the manner in which it treats three groups of its citizens: first, those in the dawn of life, our children; second, those in the shadow of life, our sick, our needy and our handicapped; third, those in the twilight of life, our elderly.”
Arkansas’s own native son, President Bill Clinton, said in 1992 that “the Democratic Party believes every man and woman should be able to live to the fullest of their God-given capacities. To do that in the world in which we live requires making America competitive in the global economy. We have to make a real commitment to economic growth, to affordable health care, to education for all, to preserving our environment and to uniting across racial, gender, age and income lines.”