Democracy in the United States: Origins and Modern Issues
written by: ContessaD
• edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom
• updated: 8/2/2012
Democracy is a form of government that means “rule by the people". The majority of nations worldwide are under democratic rule including United States. Find out the origin of American democracy in this article.
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The Greeks were widely credited for coming up with the concept of democracy. The early Greek civilization had conceived of democracy sometime in 6 B.C. “Democracy" came from two Greek words- “demos" which means people and “kratein" which means “to rule." By the etymology of the word alone, democracy means rule by the people. Up to this day, many political science experts consider the early Greek government as the perfect form of democracy. During the time of the Greek civilization, every man had the right to suffrage. People basically had the power to decide on various government issues. As time went by, the concept of democracy was picked up by various nations. The Americans were widely credited on making democracy the most widely used form of government in the world.
This article particularly focuses on the origin of American democracy.
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Declaration of Independence
The United States established its own democracy in 1776 with its Declaration of Independence. The great US leader, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the said document. In preparing the said declaration, Jefferson took cues from the ideas of philosophers like Rousseau and Locke. For instance, Jefferson borrowed the idea of Locked that all men are created equal. Locke’s idea that men have the right to life, liberty and property was also modified by Jefferson and changed it to right of liberty and life and the pursuit of happiness. Rousseau, on the other hand, gave Jefferson the idea that people can rise against its very own government if it fails to uphold the said rights.
The said US declaration gave inspiration to other nations, who took the cue from the United Nations and adapted their own democratic forms of government. The French particularly embraced the idea of democracy after seeing the benefits it afforded to the Americans. Voltaire and Montesquieu were two French philosophers who introduced democracy to their country.
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Modern US Democracy
The US employs representative democracy, a kind of democracy wherein citizens are represented by elected officials in various democratic processes. Members of the US Congress- the House of Representatives and Senate- represent their constituents in tackling various national issues. Since 1950s, the US had successfully introduced and propagated the democratic form of government among the nations of the world.
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Although the US had successfully made itself the leading proponent of democracy, it was still confronted with different issues that challenged its reputation as a democratic country. The issue of African-American slavery was one of the major issues that confronted the US democracy. It was ironic that in a country advocating equality, Black Americans were not afforded rights that their White counterparts enjoyed. Slavery was a social and economic condition that was prevalent in eleven US states, and it would take many years before the black Americans were given equal rights and opportunities as the whites had.
While the US government took the initiative of bringing back the Africans to their native continent in the 18th century, it still took a century before the black Americans were given equal rights particularly the right of suffrage.