Democracy is a political system enforced by the government to allow people to exercise their rights to vote and choose a representative that best suited their needs. Democracy is the opposite of an authoritarian government system as it allows freedom of speech, freedom of movement. A democratic system gives the people the political power to exercise equality and respect for each community. Other perspectives of looking at democracy are that it is the act of reducing and debasing the political marketplace and giving it to the majority. Democracy is a public, competitive but open space for all people to try and win people’s minds. (Touraine). Democracy in America was a long journey that involved prominent figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson among others.
The first arrival of Europeans in North America in the 17th century from England...
was a start for America to start abolishing the aristocratic system. (Tocqueville). In 1775, strong colonies including America were on a journey to break free from under the British rule of aristocratic and dictatorship. They successfully succeeded in this mission in 1783 and to show this there was a document by Thomas Jefferson “Declaration of Independence” that gives more details about their success. (Stears). The report by Jefferson defined what a democratic system would look like and how all citizens had civil rights to be obeyed. The idea that all men were created equal is what pushed other men to fight for a better constitution to govern the people. Democracy in America was a journey whereby earlier democracies included men of a particular status in the society. (Tocqueville).
After breaking free from the British rule, the key issues that
were addressed in the new system were maintaining people’s rights by creating the American Constitution. The constitution was to protect the American people from a dictatorial government and give them civil rights. The system which was referred to as a federal system ensured that no one group had power hence the equal distribution of power across each state. Despite breaking free from the British rule slavery and civil war was another challenge the American people were yet to face. Jefferson owned slaves who were kidnapped from Africa, and they were treated as his property. The slaves worked without pay, and they did not have civil rights as they not considered part of the constitution. As if that was not enough, the new government sold salves for gold and silver to other people. (Tocqueville).
In the 19th century, the American states were divided into two; the southern and northern states. The states of the South owned slaves while the northern states were considered to be a free state that did not practice slavery. The two areas had two different governments, but they both segregated the black people from the white people community. They even made laws that the African-American pay a specific amount of tax to vote. The southern states nation found a way to keep the black community alienated from the rest of the people. Blacks were not allowed in certain public places; they were not authorized to get any education and certainly not doing any business. The southern states came up with a name for such laws to be ‘Jim Crow’ legislation. (Tocqueville).
The Jim Crow laws did not last long as the civil rights movement
started challenging the early 1930s. To demonstrate their frustration with these laws, in 1955, a woman named Rosa Parks defied these laws by refusing to let a white man who came in after her to have her seat. Her act was only the beginning of a powerful United Civil Rights Movement group. Led by Martin Luther King Junior, the people started to defy the laws by publicly but peacefully refusing to do as per those laws. Their efforts were finally fruitful in 1965 when the Civil Rights Act was passed the United States Congress. King’s effort helped in ensuring the black people had equal rights to political systems in the American society. (Tocqueville).
In the early days of American democracy, the key figures in the system were John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, James Monroe, John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln. John Locke was an influential figure between 1632 and 1794, in shaping the American government that gave a new look to the type of government in a ruling. Locke agreed with Hobbes about how human beings have a self-interested nature, but he was also positive that the same humans can use the power of reason to avoid tyranny. He also believes in his second treatise of the government that a ruler can only say they truly have power if they get acceptance from the public. The people should be able to give a ruler his power for the power to be truly effective. The government and its rulers have a duty to protect the life, property and liberty of the people who choose them. He also argues that if the government fails
to protect the people and their rights then the people have a right to overthrow and demand for a new government. Locke’s ideas had a much far greater influence on Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence act. (Prochaska).
Thomas Paine was also an advocate for independence of the early American colonies from the British rule. His writings between 1737 and 1809 had a massive impact on convincing Americans to detach themselves from the Britain rule and start their own democratic government. His books were inspiring to encourage American to bring an end to tyranny and extend political power to the American citizens. Patrick Henry was also a writer whose words had a great influence on American political figures. His oratory was against the heavy taxation on American colonies which led to other prominent figures attempt freely the states from the British rule. (Tocqueville)
Abraham Lincoln was also a leading figure in contributing to a democratic government in America today. His most valued roles in history were his efforts to abolish slavery and Emancipation Proclamation. He was against the expansion of slavery in southern states and having been the president of the United States in 1860, he was determined to end slavery. The Southern slave states which were against his leadership led the nation to American Civil War. He was a negotiator between Moderate and Radical Republican leaders who were attempting to divide the nation and in the process gained support from War Democrats and loyalists. As a strong diplomatic leader, he used many speeches to win the North in his campaigns in 1864. His words also kept the nation together through the difficult and violent
times of civil wars and slavery. He gave a democracy and republicanism a new meaning. (Prochaska)
James Monroe’s contribution to democracy as the Fifth President of the United States left a mark in the history of the United States. Monroe served to protect the interests of the United States from those of European interference. He went an extra mile and promulgated the Monroe Doctrine which was responsible for protecting the US against any new colonies or foreign nations. The Monroe Doctrine continued George Washington’s foreign policy which demanded that European rulers should not interfere with America’s interests. His work was recognized by Thomas Jefferson as being honest and going above and beyond for the American people’s freedom. Monroe was also leading the Missouri compromise where he prohibited slavery to new states in the Arkansas territory and regulation of slavery among the western territory regions. (Tocqueville).
Andrew Jackson served as the seventh president of the United States and his most recognized roles in history of democracy include him shaping the Second Party System of America’s political system. He first showed support in fighting for the American people through federal appointments which allowed ordinary people to work. Jackson played a major role by commanding a campaign against the killing of Northern Creek Indians of Georgia and Alabama and saved WeatheFord from vengeance. His victory in War of 1812 against the British Empire was also great value as he led the American people to victory. He also introduced the “spoils system” whereby the winner of an election has the power to select officials from within its own ranks. (Prochaska)
John C. Calhoun had major contribution to the democracy of the American
people through his position as the seventh Vice-President of the United States. He started off in favor of the British ruling but later changed his course in 1820s and created Confederate States of America. He pushed for an argument which was to declare a federal law to be void if it was considered unconstitutional. Calhoun’s argument was the state had a right to secede itself from any Union instead of nullifying part of the federal regulation. He was also against slavery and his support for abolition of slavery contributed to the escalation of Southern threats of secession. He also led the pro-slavery agenda in 1839s and 1840s in an effort to do away with the expansion of slavery. Similarly he was an advocate for Fugitive slave act which was required enforcement of co-operation of other Free States in his effort to return escaping slaves. His efforts for abolition slavery led to a significant division between the Northern and Southern states. (Prochaska).
Henry Clay’s position as the ninth Secretary of State in America brought major contributions to the growth of American’s political arena. He was an active advocate for distribution of power between the government and the federal government as well as the economic and foreign policy. Clay was also known for his major role as leader and founder of the Whig Party which was in support of the Missouri Compromise. The Missouri Comprise made an effort to abolish slavery in 1820 and limit the expansion of slavery to the North. His political views and ideas on slavery and treasure for Union had an enormous influence on Abraham Lincoln. He also believed in the use of the
federal power and resources to support the American people’s interests. (Tocqueville).
Before the 19th century politicians were chosen through elections. There were only a handful of people who took part in the elections. The right to vote was reserved or given on the basis of gender, property and location. Only men over the age of 21 were allowed to vote. Women and the blacks did not have the right to vote. The right to vote also depended on whether one had a certain amount of property. The aristocratic government argued that only people with a stake in the country and those that were able to pay taxes should vote. Similarly, small rural areas were in a better position to elect more MPs in comparison to those in large towns. Despite the implementation of the “one person, one vote” there was still universal suffrage giving only a few individuals the political power to vote. (Tocqueville).
In an effort to increase more people to participate in elections, Americans pushed for more and in 1832 the Reform Act was formed. The Act helped in achieving a franchising so that more men could vote and go rid of some electoral system which had made the system unfair from region to region. Moving on to 1840s the Chartists pressure the government for more political power demanding to all men, regardless of the amount of property owned, had equal right to vote. They also demanded to annual elections, secret ballots, payment for MPs as well as ending the property qualification rule for MPs. Many Acts followed in between including the parliamentary Reform Act of 1867 that increased electorates to about 2.5 million. The
Ballot Act of 1872 was introduced in an effort to reduce electoral malpractice through the use of secret ballots.
The 1885 Redistribution of Seats Act allowed growing towns a chance to send more than one MPs to Parliament to represent their interests. Redistributing of seats allowed the abandoning of old dominance by the southern England and led to an increase in Scottish representatives. (Goldstein). The beginning of the 19th century things had completely changed and the implementation of The Representation of the people Act in 1928 was a good start towards a more democratic America. Even so many people were disappointed at the beginning of the 19th century because political power was still in the hands of an aristocratic government and the middle class. Universal suffrage allowed women to above 30 years to vote. The voters in early 19th century had limited options despite their right to vote being granted. They were only able to vote for or against the official candidate. The first few decades, there was a rise of partisan party politics and printed secret ballot started emerging and being used in elections. Political parties in this century functioned differently as there was no transparency to the public and government regulation did not hinder them. There were party conventions held to determine who was to appear on a ballot but at times names could be omitted or added as the printing of the ballots was being done by the party. (Touraine).
Similarly, polling places were not peaceful since the distribution of political parties hired people to hand out ballots and it was chaotic scenery. Political parties set their tickets at the busiest polls so they
could gather more votes. The ballots were then collected and handed over to the election officials who would count the votes and give the final results. The election officials were chosen and appointed by the party that was ascending which more often than not had issues such as election fraud from its opposing party. Electoral fraud and the manipulation of the judges of election did not always succeed as there a lot of administrative pressure from the opposing parties which made the counting of ballots a fair game. In fact the government parties were at a significant advantage as they never lost an election during the late 18th century and early 19th century. (Goldstein).
Some of the Acts that ensure the American people had more political power include the 1911 Parliament Act, the 1918 Representation of People Act and the Representation of the People Act of 1928. These three Acts contributed to a democratic America that we see today. The Parliament Act of 1911 was implemented to reduce the power of House of Lords by reducing their ability to delay bills that came from the House of Commons. This meant that the House of Lords had no authority to intervene or interfere with “Money Bills”. It gave the Commons the power to decide what they would do with the money that was obtained from the people through taxation. The Representation of the people Act of 1918 was especially supportive of the Chartists’ demands of giving equal right to vote to all people. After the trauma and violence of World War I the Representation of the People Act gave all men aged 21 and above the right
to vote. Additionally all women over 30 years of age were also granted the right to vote.
This was the beginning of a new democratic and fair government whereby leaders were elected as per people’s votes. Politicians had to seek the consent of the people before going to office. Later on in 1928 there was also the Representation of the People Act whereby women were allowed to vote just like men under the same franchise. The results of these acts were fruitful and were in motion in 1969 whereby men and females above 18 years of age were allowed to vote. (Goldstein).
The pieces of legislation that gave the American people their power is the American Anti-Corruption Act which gives a fair platform for all American citizens by eliminating political bribery, increasing transparency through ending of secret money and give every voter a voice through the creation of citizen-funded elections. The president chosen by the American people does not have any power in passing any legislation as the representatives of the Senate and Parliament have to represent the people who voted for them. Members of the Congress have to view their constituents’ views by visiting their homes and hearing what the local community has to say.
Although some do listen more than others, they both are influenced by the people as they are the ones to re-elect these members in the next election. The members of the Congress have to consider party views as they need a vote from each member in the Congress. The changes in democracy during the 19th century have had a huge impact on the American government today. For instance, adults above the age
of 18 years old are allowed to vote and MPs are allowed to be on the ballot box despite the property they own. The use of secrecy boxes is also implemented in elections today as citizens have the right to choose a leader freely and in secret. The difference in today’s politics is that political campaigns have become expensive in that one has to go from state to state to convince people to vote for him or her. Politicians use a lot of money to give monetary gain to their voters so they can turn up during the Election Day. They also depend on sponsors to manage their campaigns and once they are elected they return the favor by being partial to their sponsors. In the America we have today, being democratic is not enough anymore. A strong government can easily be weakened and brought down by a poor system of governance.
The constitutional system lacks power as the three branches of the government are not as powerful as initially intended. (Ringen). In conclusion, the development of the American democratic system has undergone a lot of changes with influential political leaders pushing for more political power. Throughout the 18th century Abraham Lincoln, John Locke, Martin Luther King Junior among others were never scared to voice their demands and opinions against slavery and segregation of the black community. They vote for a democratic system and freedom of the British rule, and that is what they got. They then divided the United States into Southern and Northern states and over time slavery was abolished. The right for all men and women to have equal right to vote is
implemented in America today. Representatives of the people are elected through secret ballots and fair election. This is a sign of a democratic America.
- Goldstein, Robert Justin. Political Repression In 19Th Century Europe. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.
- Prochaska, F. K. Eminent Victorians On American Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.
- Ringen, Stein. "Is American Democracy Headed To Extinction?". Washington Post. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 May 2016.
- Stears, Marc. Demanding Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. Print.
- "The American Anti-Corruption Act | Criminalize Corruption.". Anticorruptionact.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 May 2016.
- "The National Archives | Exhibitions | Citizenship | Struggle For Democracy". Nationalarchives.gov.uk. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 May 2016.
- Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy In America ; Volume 1. Salt Lake City: Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, 2006. Print.
- Touraine, Alain. What Is Democracy?. Boulder, CO: WestviewPress, 1997. Print.
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