The Democratic Party was founded in the late 1820s at the end of the Era of Good Feelings to preserve the Jeffersonian agrarian vision for the nation, very much a liberal concept. The agrarian orientation tilted the party to various populist platforms, some of which, such as Indian relocation, are difficult to color as liberal. A couple of decades later, the Republican Party was founded on more explicitly liberal terms, including resolving the issue of slavery, a founding that drained the Democratic Party of the most liberal among its membership.
The Civil War ended the Democratic Party as a national force for many decades, resulting in the long line of “Beards,” the bearded Republican presidents who followed Lincoln and Grant that everyone has a hard time naming. What is lesser known is that the label liberal that had been catching on since the 1810s as a synonym for republicanism fell out of use at this time. Horace Greeley was recruited by the new Liberal Republican Party to oppose the 1872 re-election of Ulysses Grant and his Radical Republican faction. As it began to look as though Greeley could unseat Grant, the Grant campaign so successfully lampooned him in the papers that liberal fell out of favor as a political term.
As the desire to emulate the statecraft of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck began to influence both parties as progressivism, the Bourbon Democrats formed as a specifically liberal (though not in the racial equality sense) faction that succeeded in electing Grover Cleveland to the presidency in 1884. And once again in 1892, the last liberal before the string of successive presidents of the Progressive Era.
The presidency of Woodrow Wilson…