A democratic government is one whose authority is deeply rooted in the will of the people. Democracy can either be exercised directly by the people or through representatives. It is denoted by all citizens being equal before the law of the state and all citizens having equal access to power and the institutions of the state. These are rights or civil liberties that the citizens are entitled to and are safeguarded in a constitution.
Democracy is also characterised by the majority rule whereby elections is a key feature but without a responsible government that protects the rights of the minority, the tyranny of the majority may oppress them. In this way the greed of the majority over rides the needs of the minority.
The Revolution Era
American democracy dates as far as their declaration of independence from the Great Britain in 1776.Despite the independence of the states a new nation was still formed which was based on the principles of democratic liberalism and republicanism. This meant civic duty and a move from hereditary aristocracy (Clack, 2006).
In 1788, a constitution was made creating a federal government. This was a constitution that guaranteed citizens the safeguarding of their rights through the enactment of a bill if rights that would ensure equal individual rights and civic duty. This included the freedom of speech, association, the rights to life and the acquisition of property, and so on. Soon, democracy sunk its roots deeper with widespread equality.
By around 1840, the government had finished all property restrictions though the system evolved gradually. These was however not a one day event as it moved from the era of Jefferson, through Jackson’s and even beyond.
Tocqueville however notes that aggressions of power by the selfish cannot be fought successfully when all the citizens are equal. He argues that when there is no one who is strong enough to fight for the people, the notion that everyone’s combined force can work may not always be evident. (Zaleski, 2008).
The end of this revolution era was marked by the departure of George Washington (1796) from the presidency. He emphasizes on the similarities between the similarities of the people of America and discourages any attempt to divide them warning them of bad ends in case they divide themselves into different factions.
The Post Revolution Era and the Era of Good Feeling.
The other era is the post revolution era. After the war of 1812, there came the era of good feeling that was full of prosperity. This saw great strides in economic stability a new political aspect. Here multiparty democracy diminished when the Federalist Party finally vanished. This gave the citizens a grater sense of nationalism and unity among the states. Despite the fall of multiparty democracy, this led to a reduction of factionalism. It actually created an era whereby people were not divided along political lines. It also gave the nation more time for economic activities and little or no time for political activities as the remaining party was only one. (Sycrim 2001)
Unfortunately, the highly cherished era didn’t last long and by 1820 it had also vanished creating a power vacuum which gave way to a new era of the formation of new and more organized political parties.
The Era of Political Parties
The third era in American democracy following the era of good feelings was started by Andrew Jackson with his democratic party. In this era politicians could no longer sideline the middleclass like earlier when they only identified themselves with the propertied class. The comeback to multiparty democracy in America did not come on a silver platter either. Despite the fall of the old systems, there came a period between 1824 and 1828 when there were claims that John Adams was given the presidency by the then speaker of the House, Henry Clay. Jackson’s supporters decided that they’d overturn the 1828 election and embarked on a serious smear campaign with false accusations against Adams. Come 1828, Jackson defeated the incumbent Adams and his supporters, calling themselves democrats, got into power. (bookw56, 2003)
With the rise into power of Jackson, and his so called democrats, they became proponents of individual liberties and opposed government’s interference in private businesses. They also observed that citizens should be governed under the strict observance of the constitution. Jackson however dismembered the second bank of the United States for supporting Adams against him in the just concluded election which later led the country to a fiscal crisis. He also did away with the internal improvements that were sponsored by the previous federal governments and termed them as unconstitutional. An example of these was subsidization of different states in the building of roads and canals.
Jackson’s regime also fostered some long term commitment to corruption where after clearing out all administrators and replacing them with his cronies, this abolished job security for administrators. This also created an era of getting administrative jobs on basis of political affiliation as opposed to individual merit. Despite Jackson’s plunge of the bank, the republicans continued to support the bank and also the previous improvements that Jackson had done away with. They didn’t give up on their quest to defeat Jackson and bring back to the people a strong central government. They run Henry Clay against Jackson in the 1832 elections but didn’t make it.
The national republicans not giving up on this had rallied enough forces by 1834 to ensure a large coalition which included other desperate groups. They accused the republicans of Jackson’s dictatorial tendencies and the closure of United States’ Second Bank. They however developed a poor strategy; instead of rallying their forces on one candidate to run against Jackson, they rallied so many to ensure that no candidate garnered the minimum required votes. This would definitely mean that the election would pass through the House and Henry Clay, being the Speaker would ensure that their candidate goes through. Unfortunately for the national republicans, Van Buren, the Democratic Party candidate managed to get the required votes. It was however not a total loss for the national republicans, it secured them a place in the politics of the United States and gave them a platform on which to work harder in selling their agenda to the people. It at this stage helped them to reorganize themselves and come out more clearly to define who they are. They identified themselves as of a higher class than the democrats, in favour of a large central government and in favour of the internal improvements that were formerly sponsored by the federal government.
Soon after, in the 1840’s political alignments graduated into political parties with clear cut manifestos on what they had for their citizens. The Whigs, which consisted of the national republicans, became the liberals, and democrats, the conservatives. These parties however due to their internal loyalties made permanent a corrupt system started by Jackson, the spoils system. This is a system of clearing out all administrators and replacing them with political cronies. They also held countrywide campaigns and held primary elections to field one candidate in the presidential elections.
In the quest for more democracy, there came the urge to give poor citizens the right to own the land in which they settle, the Homestead Act. This came in the light of a new party, The Republican Party that comprised of a faction of members from the Whigs party. This party was formed to counter the Kansas Nebraska Act that allowed the people of these states to decide whether they wanted to allow slavery or not. (SoberSephiroth 2000).
The Republican Party was mainly focused on the protection of the growing industries and to stop the spread of slavery. The Republican Party only appealed to the northern states and this posed ea great threat to the southern states whereby they knew that their interests would not be accommodated in a Republican government. This led to the defeat of the Republican candidate John C. Fremont to James Buchanan of the Democratic Party in 1856.
From the American Revolution, through the era of good feeling, that of political associations to the one of political parties and beyond, democracy has been a key factor in America’s politics. The movement from an era to another, from a leader to another, the triumph of a leade4r over another and the defeat of a leader by another are all manifestations of democracy and the rule of law. The exercising of democracy in America has also been reflected in emergence of political parties and different political ideologies. These political parties greatly fostered the rise of a democratic culture whereby people with common interests and shared goals could use them as vehicles for change from one type of governance into another.
The political parties on the other hand did not come from nowhere to drive people to change. It’s been a lo9ng route from mere factions of convenience by different groups, to their remodelling before every election and eventually to the strong political parties of Democrats and Republicans. And despite political parties being misused to spread hate politics and propaganda against each other, they still represented the wishes and interests of the people and ensured the building of a healthy democracy in the light of a more united United States. Some very fundamental issues in the Democratic Development of the United States like the end of slavery would never have seen the light of day. It is the healthy political competition in the States of Kansas and Nebraska about the Kansas-Nebraska Act that led to this.