One of the topics in the text that really captivated me was the topic of democracy. The topic can be found in Chapter 10 of the book. In its simplest definition, democracy refers to a form of administration or government where all eligible citizens equally participate in the proposal, development and formulation of laws and policies. This can be done either directly or via elected representatives such as members of parliament, senators, county representatives and so on. Democracy encompasses economic, cultural a social conditions that essentially enable equal and free political self-determination practice.
Democracy is a direct contrast to government forms whereby power is in the hands of a single individual, (a monarchy), or where the power is held by a small group of individuals (an oligarchy).
America Past and Present explores the concept of democracy in the United States from the 1820’s. According to the book, the 1820’s and the 1830’s witnessed massive ascension of popular democracy as well as an unprecedented increase in national political involvement. This period can thus be described as the birth period of American democracy. The book states the European visitors were astounded by the equalizing tendencies exposed by the legal institutions, public spaces and clerical professions in America. One of the sectors in which these “equalizing tendencies” were epitomized was the hotel sector. However, one downside of the hotel sector was the fact that it sometimes tend to blur some elements of social distinctions. For instance, women, Native Americans and African Americans were denied hotel service similar to their denial of voting rights. The book states that the country’s founding fathers had shared a belief that although democracy was a fairly plausible form of administration, it however contained some dangerous impulses. However, the 1820’s brought along a shift of opinion where democracy became more acceptable as well as applicable to institutions in America. There was a decline in the concept of deference while sovereignty in all institutions started to rise. There was also the emergence of “self-made man”.
Economical, political and social connections were no longer a guarantee to someone’s success. By the end of the 1820’s, most of the American states had eliminated the manhood suffrage property requirements. As political involvement rose, a forum for a permanent two party system started finding ground and political ideas started to revolve around this forum. The argument was that for a democratic government to take shape a loyal opposition was needed.
The book names Andrew Jackson as a symbol of democracy triumph. Jackson rise to prominence was catapulted by ‘popular sovereignty” and not political connections. In addition, when he was denied the house of Representative presidency through some seemingly corruption vices, he came back to capture the seat convincingly through a democratic process.
The American Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor is charged with the role of promoting and supporting democracy programs and policies not only in the United States but also in the entire world. It is the country’s democracy advocate and partakes to ensure democracy across an array of fields such as parliamentary development and election monitoring.
Currently, the United States government and the society in general remain committed to the expansion or elevation of this democratic legacy to been greater heights not only domestically but also in foreign lands. Like the American founding fathers of democracy such as Andrew Jackson, the United States seeks to ensure that throughout the world, every citizen receives the fundamental right of choosing who will govern them and also actively participates in the proposal, development, and formulation and even in the implementation of laws and policies. With a rapid shift in most of the world’s nation’s opinion about democracy, it is likely that this will happen sooner than later.
The period being learnt in this module mainly lies mainly in the 19th Century. This period was truly revolutionary in terms of American history as can be attested by the text. Radical developments and emergence of new ideas took shape in this era and these have continuously trickled into adjacent eras. Some of these aspects are still being felt today. In fact, it is very plausible to agree with historians who argue that this period witnessed the birth of modern America.
One example of such an aspect is the issue of slavery. Slavery had been in America for several centuries before this period. The period between 1600 and 1800 particularly witnessed the arrival of thousands of slaves from Africa. The slaves worked in massive plantations in America located mainly in the southern states where they worked for many hours with no pay. They were continuously mistreated including through physical beatings and emotional torture. Chapter eleven of America Past and Present illustrates some of the evil things that slaves were often subjected to. The chapter also talks about the social organization of slaves, for instance, their families, community and kinship and the fact that such institutions provided a foundation for slaves that prevented them from becoming totally demoralized. The Chapter also looks at the role of religion of the slaves that kept them in harmony.
However, the era between 1800 and 1877 witnessed the emergence of a new point of view. Slavery started to be seen as an extremely evil and heinous act that needed to be abolished immediately. There emerged various agitators and advocates of slavery abolishment’s who not only campaigned for the formulation laws criminalizing slavery but also physically freed slaves sometimes through physical means.
The period set forth a journey for the freeing of al slaves and the abolishment of the vice completely. Thus the period can be seen as the birth of modern American where nothing such as slavery exists today and both Black and white people live together in harmony.
Another example of a feature from this period that can be considered to have been a witness to the birth of modern America is the extension of education. Education can be considered to have taken seriousness during this period. In Chapter 12 of America Past and Present titled ‘The Pursuit of Perfection”, it is stated that public education took shape in this era. This happened under the leadership of education reformers such as Horace Mann. The book states that for the first time, tax money started to be used as a way of school financing. This new development started to supplement the informal education that had been common and present in most towns and cities. Most of the reformers had a belief that quality education was vital especially to the poor communities in America. The new schools not only taught students the basics of writing, reading and arithmetic but also taught them societal ethics.
This evolution of education during this era is traceable today. One of the most fundamental characteristics of modern day America is quality education. The nation s boasts of world-class institutions across in all its states. In addition, the literacy level of American is one of the highest in the world. It can therefore be safely deduced that the evolution of education in this era essentially gave birth to modern day America.
America Past and Present, Brief Edition, Volume I: To 1877, 8th Edition by Robert A. Divine, T. H. Breen, George M. Fredrickson, R. Hal Williams, Ariela J. Gross, Randy Roberts, H. W. Brands. Pearson Education, Inc., 2011
Bancroft, G, and R. B. In Nye. The history of the United States of America from the discovery of the continent. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966. Print.
Garcia, Jesus. Creating America: A History of the United States. Evanston, Ill: McDougal Littell, 2005. Print.
Tryon, R. M. "A New College Text in United States History:The United States of America: Through the Civil War David S. Muzzey." The School Review 12.23 (1922): 34-67. Print.