Libertarian Democrat

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In American politics, a libertarian Democrat is a member of the Democratic Party with libertarian-leaning political viewpoints or views that are relatively libertarian compared to the views of the national party.[1][2]

While other factions of the Democratic Party are organized in the Congress, like with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democrat Coalition, the libertarian faction is not organized in such a way. Nevertheless, groups made up of the party membership, such as the Democratic Freedom Caucus do exist.[3] It was established in 1996 by Hanno Beck, Mike O'Mara and Andrew Spark.[4] The caucus maintains a platform,[5] a list of principles,[6] and a guide for activists.[7] The group's leadership currently includes 40 state chairs and regional representatives.[8]


Libertarian Democrats support the majority of positions of the Democratic Party. However they do not necessarily share identical viewpoints across the political spectrum; that is, they are more likely to support individual and personal freedoms, although rhetorically within the context of Democratic values.[9]

In general they support tax cuts, same-sex marriage, the decriminalization of marijuana, a non-interventionist foreign policy, and to a certain extent, hard money. They are more likely to oppose deficit spending, protectionism, subsidies (especially to corporations) race-based affirmative action and many regulations on small businesses.[10]

They staunchly support civil liberties and agree with the national party's stances on civil rights, separation of church and state, and habeas corpus for unlawful combatants; they oppose indefinite detention without trial or charge, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, the USA PATRIOT Act, warrantless wiretapping, the War on Drugs, bans on gambling, and prohibition of prostitution.[11]

While maintaining a relatively libertarian ideology, they may differ with the Libertarian Party on issues such as consumer protection, health care reform, anti-trust laws and the overall amount of government involvement in the economy.[9]


Jefferson and Jackson

The Democratic Party was ideologically preceded by the Democratic-Republican Party. The Democratic-Republican Party was led by Thomas Jefferson and largely shaped by his classical liberal beliefs. After the end of the First Party System the party faded away.

In 1828, the modern Democratic Party was established from old factions of the defunct Democratic-Republican Party as Martin van Buren unified political figures around Andrew Jackson and his ideas of Jacksonian Democracy. Libertarian ideas within the party stood for low tariffs, expansion of voting rights, and opposition to anti-immigrant nativism. Factions such as New York City's Locofocos were radically democratic advocates of free trade and hard money who stood against monopolies.

By 1861, these issues had faded to the backdrop as the American Civil War broke out.


Slavery was always a contentious issue amongst Democrats, dating back to the party's founding. Thomas Jefferson, although a slaveholder, was highly critical of the institution, and wrote in defence of its abolition.

Despite Jefferson's influence, the majority of the party, however, took a conservative approach to the issue of slavery, advocating conservation of the institution. Those Democrats who took the libertarian position that slavery was an abomination were labelled "Barnburners" by their opponents, the idea being that libertarian Democrats were the sort that would burn down their own barns to rid themselves of rat infestations. Libertarian Democrats referred to the conservative faction as "Hunkers." See Barnburners and Hunkers.

Bourbon Democrats

After the Civil War, the Bourbon Democrats came to power within the party. They represented business interests, supported banking and railroad goals, promoted laissez-faire capitalism, opposed imperialism and U.S. overseas expansion, prohibition of alcohol and fought for the gold standard. After decades of Republican dominance, Bourbon Democrat Grover Cleveland became President of the United States and opposed increasing the tariff and the annexation of Hawaii.

The Bourbons were in power when the Panic of 1893 hit, and they took the blame. Party infighting began leading to the showdown in 1896 between the Bourbon Democrats and William Jennings Bryan.

The ideals of classical liberalism had lost their distinctiveness and appeal and by the time of the New Deal Coalition had all but faded away in favor of modern liberalism.

Modern era

After election losses in 2004, the Democratic Party reexamined its position on gun control which became a matter of discussion, brought up by Howard Dean, Bill Richardson, Brian Schweitzer and other Democrats who had won in states where Second Amendment rights are important to many voters. The resulting stance on gun control brought in libertarian minded voters, influencing other beliefs.

In the 2010s, following the revelations by Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance in 2013, the increasing advent of online decentralization and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the perceived failure of the War on Drugs, and the police violence in places like Ferguson, Democratic lawmakers such as Senators Ron Wyden, Kirsten Gilibrand, and Cory Booker and Representative Jared Polis have worked alongside libertarian Republicans like Senator Rand Paul and Representative Justin Amash to curb what is seen as government overreach in each of these areas, earning plaudits from such traditional libertarian sources as Reason Magazine.[12][13][14][15] The growing political power of Silicon Valley, a longtime Democratic stronghold that is friendly to economic deregulation and strong civil liberties protections while maintaining traditionally liberal views on social issues, has also had a serious impact on the increasingly libertarian leanings of young Democrats.[16][17][18]

The libertarian faction has had an impact on the presidential level as well in the post-Bush era. Alaska Senator and presidential aspirant Mike Gravel left the Democratic Party midway through the 2008 presidential election cycle to seek the Libertarian Party presidential nomination,[19] and many anti-war and civil libertarian Democrats were energized by the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Ron Paul.[20][21] This constituency has arguably embraced the 2016 presidential campaign of independent Democrat Bernie Sanders for the same reasons.[22][23]

Public figures

U.S. Presidents

U.S. Representatives

U.S. Senators

U.S. State Attorneys General

U.S. State Governors

U.S. State Legislators


South Carolina

Authors and scholars


See also


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External links