New Departure (Democrats)

New Departure (Democrats)

The New Departure refers to the political strategy used by the Democratic Party in the United States after 1865 to distance itself from its pro-slavery and Copperhead history in an effort to broaden its political base, and focus on issues where it had more of an advantage, especially economic issues.



The Democratic Party was the principal party in power in the southern United States, before and after the Civil War (1861–1865) and had supported secessionism, slavery and the Confederate States of America. An even greater liability was the accusation repeated by Republicans that most Democrats had been defeatists during the war and supported Copperhead efforts to lost the war. The Republicans, who claimed to have fought and won the war, saving the Union and abolishing slavery, had the advantage. Radical Republicans hostile to the white South took control of Congress in 1866, stripped ex-Confederates of their power in local affairs, and used the Army to support Republican parties across the South during Reconstruction. Democrats opposed Radical Reconstruction, but were ineffective.[1]

New Departure

By 1870, many Democrats had stopped opposing Reconstruction and many Republican policies in an effort to improve the fortunes of their party, in a strategy called the "New Departure" of the Democratic Party.[2][3] Democrats began asserting that they were just as loyal to the United States as the Republicans and now supported some civil rights.[2][3] In the South, Democrats who embraced the "New Departure" called themselves "Redeemers". Democrats began pushing for economic modernization and recovery, alleging that the Republican-controlled state governments were inefficient and corrupt. As falling cotton prices further increased economic depression in the South, Democrats attacked the Republicans as creating unwelcome tax burdens and being unable to revive the economy.[2][3] A prominent example of "New Departure" success was the election as the Governor of Virginia of William E. Cameron and of ex-Confederate general William Mahone as U.S. Senator from Virginia. Both Cameron and Mahone were leaders of the "Readjuster Party", which was a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and African Americans who sought the reduction of Virginia's pre-war debt. In Tennessee, "Redeemer" Democrats supported the Republican governor DeWitt Senter.


Georgia Democrats called their program the New Departure starting in 1872, when they regained full control of the state government. The Party was conservative on issues of race, and vigorously promoted the Henry Grady's New South dream of promoting economic modernization through business, railroads, banking, merchandising, and industry. The New Departure policy made Georgia's reconciliation with the business community in the north easier, and facilitated northern investments in the state. The era ended in 1890, when the Farmers' Alliance captured the Democratic Party.[4].

Criticism and opposition

The "New Departure" was strongly opposed by large factions of Democrats in the Deep South, who professed loyalty to the Confederate legacy. Republicans attacked the Democrats as being unsincere about reform, committed to states' rights at the expense of national unity and to white supremacism at the expense of civil rights.[2]


  1. ^ Summers (2009)
  2. ^ a b c d Ward McAfee (1998). Religion, race and Reconstruction. SUNY Press. pp. 22–26. ISBN 0791438473. 
  3. ^ a b c Review of "The Democratic Party and The Negro: Northern and National Politics, 1868-92. Retrieved 2009-07-25. 
  4. ^ Judson Clements Ward, Jr., "The New Departure Democrats of Georgia: An Interpretation," Georgia Historical Quarterly, Fall 1957, Vol. 41 Issue 3, pp 227-236

Further reading

  • De Santis, Vincent P. Republicans Face the Southern Question — The New Departure Years, 1877–1897 (1959)
  • Edward Gambill, Conservative Ordeal: Northern Democrats and Reconstruction, 1865-1868 (1981)
  • Summers, Mark Wahlgren. A dangerous stir: fear, paranoia, and the making of Reconstruction (2009)
  • Woodward, C. Vann. The Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (1951)

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