Transportation Highlights of Past Party Platforms

Ed. Note: The American Presidency Project of the University of California – Santa Barbara provides an invaluable public service by hosting the only complete online version of the Public Papers of the Presidents dating all the way back to 1789. But they also have the full text of every published major party political platform dating back to 1840. The following is a series of of transportation-related excerpts from some of the party platforms since 1860. Disagreements were common, but agreements are also interesting. (See how both parties in 1920 advocated changing the federal-aid highway formula to reduce the matching share for states where the federal government owns a lot of land – a policy change which was then enacted into law in 1921.) 

Sometimes the platforms presage fundamental changes in policy – the 1908 Democrats and 1912 Progressives called for federal aid in road building (enacted in 1916), while both major parties in 1924 called for government promotion of commercial aviation (enacted in 1926). Sometimes, the parties themselves switch gears – contrast the 1964 Goldwater GOP platform with the 1960 and 1968 Nixon GOP platforms. And sometimes there is a long, long wait for new policy – the Democratic platform started calling for a major national high-speed rail investment in 2000 and for a national infrastructure bank in 2008, but neither of those policies have really crossed the finish line yet.


1860 Republicans:

…a railroad to the Pacific Ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the federal government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction; and that, as preliminary thereto, a daily overland mail should be promptly established.


1884 Democrats:

…all unearned lands heretofore improvidently granted to railroad corporations by the action of the Republican party should be restored to the public domain; and that no more grants of land shall be made to corporations, or be allowed to fall into the ownership of alien absentees.


1896 Democrats:

The Federal Government should care for and improve the Mississippi River and other great waterways of the Republic, so as to secure for the interior States easy and cheap transportation to tidewater. When any waterway of the Republic is of sufficient importance to demand aid of the Government such aid should be extended upon a definite plan of continuous work until permanent improvement is secured.


1908 Republicans:

We recognize the social and economical advantages of good country roads, maintained more and more largely at public expense, and less and less at the expense of the abutting owner. In this work we commend the growing practice of State aid, and we approve the efforts of the National Agricultural Department by experiments and otherwise to make clear to the public the best methods of road construction.


1908 Democrats:

We favor Federal aid to State and local authorities in the construction and maintenance of post roads.


1912 Progressives:

We recognize the vital importance of good roads and we pledge our party to foster their extension in every proper way, and we favor the early construction of National highways. We also favor the extension of the rural free delivery service.


1920 Democrats:

Improved roads are of vital importance not only to commerce and industry but also to agriculture and rural life. The Federal Road Act of 1916, enacted by a Democratic Congress, represented the first systematic effort of the government to insure the building of an adequate system of roads in this country. The act, as amended, has resulted in placing the movement for improved highways on a progressive and substantial basis in every State in the Union and in bringing under actual construction more than 13,000 miles of roads suited to the traffic needs of the communities in which they are located. We favor a continuance of the present Federal aid plan under existing Federal and State agencies, amended so as to include as one of the elements in determining the ratio in which the several states shall be entitled to share in the fund, the area of any public lands therein.


1920 Republicans:

We favor liberal appropriations in co-operation with the States for the construction of highways, which will bring about a reduction in transportation costs, better marketing of farm products, improvement in rural postal delivery, as well as meet the needs of military defense. In determining the proportion of Federal aid for road construction among the States, the sums lost in taxation to the respective States by the setting apart of large portions of their area as forest reservations should be considered as a controlling factor.


1924 Democrats:

We favor a sustained development of aviation by both the government and commercially.


1924 Republicans:

We advocate the early enactment of such legislation and the taking of such steps by the government as will tend to promote commercial aviation.


1928 Democrats:

Cost of transportation controls the income of every human being and materially affects the cost of living. We must, therefore, promote every form of transportation to a state of highest efficiency. Recognizing the prime importance of air transportation, we shall encourage its development by every possible means. Improved roads are of vital importance not only to commerce and industry, but also to agriculture and rural life. The federal government should construct and maintain at its own expense roads upon its public lands. We reaffirm our approval of the Federal Roads Law, enacted by a Democratic administration. Common carriers, whether by land, water or rail, must be protected in all equal opportunity to compete, so that governmental regulations against exorbitant rates and inefficiency will be aided by competition.


1928 Republicans:

Cheaper transportation for bulk goods from the midwest agricultural sections to the sea is recognized by the Republican Party as a vital factor for the relief of agriculture. To that end we favor the continued development in inland and in intra-coastal waterways as an essential part of our transportation system. The Republican Administration during the last four years initiated the systematic development of the Mississippi system of inland transportation lanes, and it proposes to carry on this modernization of transportation to speedy completion. Great improvements have been made during this administration in our harbors, and the party pledges itself to continue these activities for the modernization of our national equipment.


1952 Democrats:

In cooperation with State and local governmental units, we will continue to plan, coordinate, finance, and encourage the expansion of our road and highway network, including access roads, for the dual purposes of national defense and efficient motor transportation. We support expansion of farm-to-market roads.


1956 Democrats:

We commend the foresight of the Democratic 84th Congress for its enactment of the greatest program in history for expansion of our highway network, and we congratulate it upon its rejection of the unsound, unworkable, inadequate and unfair roads bill proposed by the present Republican Administration. In cooperation with state and local governments, we will continue the programs developed and fostered under prior Democratic Administrations for planning, coordinating, financing and encouraging the expansion of our national road and highway network so vital to defense and transportation in the motor age. We support expansion of farm-to-market roads.


1960 Democrats:

We propose a ten-year action program to restore our cities and provide for balanced suburban development, including the following:…3. Federal aid for comprehensive metropolitan transportation programs, including bus and rail mass transit, commuter railroads as well as highway programs, and construction of civil airports.


1960 Republicans:

Continued improvement of our vital transportation network, carrying forward rapidly the vast Eisenhower-Nixon national highway program and promoting safe, efficient, competitive and integrated transport by air, road, rail and water under equitable, impartial and minimal regulation directed to those ends…A stepped-up program to assist in urban planning, designed to assure far-sighted and wise use of land and to coordinate mass transportation and other vital facilities in our metropolitan areas.


1964 Republicans:

In furtherance of our faith in limited, frugal and efficient government we also pledge:

—credit against Federal taxes for specified State and local taxes paid, and a transfer to the States of excise and other Federal tax sources, to reinforce the fiscal strength of State and local governments so that they may better meet rising school costs and other pressing urban and suburban problems such as transportation, housing, water systems and juvenile delinquency…

—critical re-examination and major overhaul of all Federal grant-in-aid programs with a view to channeling such programs through the States, discontinuing those no longer required and adjusting others in a determined effort to restore the unique balance and creative energy of the traditional American system of government…



1968 Republicans:

The Administration’s failure to evolve a coordinated transportation policy now results in outrageous delays at major airports and in glacial progress in developing high-speed train transportation linking our major population centers.

The nation’s air transport system performs excellently, but under increasingly adverse conditions. Airways and airport congestion has become acute. New and additional equipment, modern facilities including the use of computers, and additional personnel must be provided without further delay. We pledge expert evaluation of these matters in developing a national air transportation system.

We will make the Department of Transportation the agency Congress intended it to be-effective in promoting coordination and preserving competition among carriers. We promise equitable treatment of all modes of transportation in order to assure the public better service, greater safety, and the most modern facilities. We will also explore a trust fund approach to transportation, similar to the fund developed for the Eisenhower interstate highway system, and perhaps in this way speed the development of modern mass transportation systems and additional airports.


1972 Democrats:

The Democratic Party pledges: To create a single Transportation Trust Fund, to replace the Highway Trust Fund, with such additional funds as necessary to meet our transportation crisis substantially from federal resources. This fund will allocate monies for capital projects on a regional basis, permitting each region to determine its own needs under guidelines that will ensure a balanced transportation system and adequate funding of mass transit facilities.


1980 Democrats:

We must ensure, through such efforts as completion of high-speed rail passenger service in the Northeast Corridor, that railroads are an efficient means for personal travel. The decline in the nation’s railroad system must be reversed. Tracks must be rehabilitated, equipment modernized and maintenance improved if the nation is to have a rail system that adequately meets the needs of passengers and shippers.


1980 Republicans:

Republicans believe we should encourage effective competition among diverse modes of transportation. The role of the federal government should be one of giving financial and technical support to local authorities, through surface transportation block grants. Because of the long planning and construction times inherent in bus, rail, and other mass transit systems, a consistent and dependable source of revenue should be established.


2000 Democrats:

Al Gore and the Democratic Party support the building of high-speed rail systems in major transportation corridors across the nation. High-speed rail reduces highway and airport congestion, improves air quality, stimulates the economy, and broadens the scope of personal choice for traveling between our communities. We support new grants to Amtrak and the states for improving and expanding passenger rail routes and corridors.


2000 Republicans:

…the Republican-led Congress has enacted two historic pieces of legislation: the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-First Century and this year’s Aviation Investment and Reform Act. These landmark laws represent an unprecedented federal investment in roads, bridges, transit systems, airports and air traffic control systems — without additional taxes. They simply unlock the transportation trust funds to invest the dollars motorists and the traveling public have already paid. Those funds had been subject to years of abuse under Democrat-controlled Congresses but are now statutorily dedicated to building and maintaining the transportation system for which our citizens pay. The same budgetary protections should be extended to other transportation trust funds.

Republicans support a healthy intercity passenger rail system, and where economically viable, the development of a national high-speed passenger railroad system as an instrument of economic development, and enhanced mobility. We also support a multi-modal approach to our transportation needs.


2008 Democrats:

We will start a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that can leverage private investment in infrastructure improvements, and create nearly two million new good jobs.


2008 Republicans:

…we are committed to minimizing transportation’s impact on climate change, our local environments, and the nation’s energy use.



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