Understanding the Evolution of Democracy in America

A century ago, a political philosopher named Alexis de Tocqueville wrote an interesting book about democracy in America. The Democracy in America is basically a modern form of democracy. It is also sometimes called the American Dictatorship. The term “democracy” in the United States was not used during the first decade of our republic because there was no popular vote for changing the constitution. Alexander Hamilton explained in the Federalist Papers that a democracy would have an upper and lower house. The members of the lower house are chosen by election whereas the members of the upper house are elected by the people through a constitutional amendment process called voting in a general election.

There have been many changes to the constitution of our nation since the beginning of our nation. One of the most profound and lasting changes came with the Industrial Revolution and the ensuing enormous rate of urbanization. The state-men in the early republic thought that a republic was a form of slavery. Thus, they limited the suffrage to a small number of wealthy voters who would help them keep power in their hands.

The growth of the middle class made the people of the western hemisphere much more comfortable with democracy. When the population began to expand, the emerging middle class needed a forum to be heard. This gave rise to the first national newspapers in America, which were founded by printing houses located throughout the vast American countryside. In 1791, John Jay proposed a plan to amend the Articles of Constitution to include a declaration that the federal government is “the one supreme power of the government of the United States.” This idea, which is not discussed nearly as much today, became part of the great democratic revolution, the US constitution.

The Articles of Union established a system of representative and indirect democracy in America. In the state constitutions for the first time, the people directly elected leaders of the legislative assembly. The state constitutions also gave power to the citizens to ratify the measures determined by the legislature. The state constitutions gave way for free elections for legislative representatives and governor, and allowed freedom of religion, press, and speech. It also gave way for trial by jury, and established the right of property taxation.

Over time the state constitutions changed, mostly to suit the changing desires of the democratic people. The state constitutions of today give way to a direct election for presidential candidates, but maintain the “one-person-one-vote” principle. Today, only the state Supreme Court can decide whether or not an election has been fraudulent. In addition, the US House of Representatives and the US Senate are chosen by the people through election, rather than by the state delegations. This difference between the federal government and the state governments concerning the nature of their powers gives rise to another distinction among the many definitions of democracy in America: the separation of powers.

The evolution of democracy in America has relied upon a number of historical events. The revolution of 1776 marked the beginning of the United States as a nation, and the further development of democracy in America has depended on the preservation of this fragile balance between the national interests of the majority of citizens, and the minority of representatives of the people who hold elected offices. Throughout the entire history of the evolution of democracy in America the people have not been shy about asking questions of their representatives about their accountability for their decisions. Today, with the Internet and technology rapidly advancing, the evolution of democracy in America can be studied from a distance.