Democratic Party

The Democratic Party enjoyed complete control of state electoral and appointive offices in Virginia for most of the twentieth century. The Democratic Party's near monopoly on power had its origins in the machine of Thomas S. Martin, a powerful party organizer and U.S. Senator in the 1890s. Martin's organization helped defeat the Republican/Readjuster coalition that was a major threat to conservative Democratic rule in the 1880s. Voter disenfranchisement was the principal means Democrats used to achieve their goals. In 1901-02 Democrats pushed for a state constitutional convention and then at its meeting for tighter election regulations. The poll-tax, as well as property and understanding clauses, helped shrink the electorate. In the Progressive period and later in the New Deal years, independent Democrats emerged to challenge the conservative organizations of Senators Thomas S. Martin and Harry F. Byrd respectively. By the 1950s and 1960s the Democratic Party in Virginia was beginning to show signs of division. Northern Virginia and Tidewater Democrats wanted better state services, especially roads and schools, and fairer apportionment of legislators (apportionment was heavily tilted toward the rural districts of the state). Some Democrats stood loyal to the New Deal national party while the state's Democratic leaders, especially Harry Byrd, moved ever farther away from the national party's platform.