The United States is regarded as one of the mature democracies in the modern world and a model that other countries should emulate. The adoption of the US Constitution in 1788 provided the world with the first formal blueprint for how democracies should look, with George Washington becoming the first democratically elected president in 1789. The American democracy was different from the corruption that was characteristic of the unreformed British model or the violent agitations of French politics. However, to appreciate the American democracy it is important to understand how and why it was born. This paper discusses the theme of American democracy to understand its origins, why it was important, and who was involved in the process starting from 1776.
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After gaining independence from British control, American revolutionaries faced the challenge of forming republican governments in every former colony. There was a need to establish who would be responsible for political power in the now independent states and democracy emerged as the preferred model. This need underscores “why” democracy was born in the US. In 1776, John Adams, under the influence of enlightenment political thought, encouraged all the 13 independent colonies to formulate their state constitutions.
Even though Adams preferred republicanism over democracy, he was afraid that entrusting power to one group of individuals would be a recipe for tyranny. Therefore, he suggested the formation of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches as separate arms of government for checks and balances. This model underscores the basic structure of a functional democracy; hence, it suffices to say that this is how the American democracy was born.
In 1776, Pennsylvania created its constitution and New Hampshire followed in 1784 as the precursors of democratic practices in governance. One of the basic characteristics of a democracy is the right to vote, which was missing in most independent former colonies. However, the Pennsylvanian constitution paved the way for this provision by allowing people to vote even if they did not own property as long as they had lived in the same location for a year, paid taxes, and were aged 21 years or older (Corbett 196).
However, despite advocating for the formation of the three arms of government, Adams was concerned that the Pennsylvanian constitution had granted too much democracy, which could be abused and create confusion. Therefore, in 1780, he played a central role in the writing of the Massachusetts constitution with “two legislative chambers, an upper and lower house, and a strong governor with broad veto powers” (Corbett 197). In this new system, judges were appointed as opposed to being elected to keep democracy under check. This model of governance closely mirrors the current system of governance in the modern US.
However, the different models of governance adopted in different states faced numerous challenges, and thus they continued to evolve with time to address emerging issues, such as representation and taxation. There was an increasing need to form a strong national government and in 1987, 55 men secretly met in Philadelphia, and instead of amending the Articles of Confederations, they created a new framework, which would later be the manuscript of the US Constitution.
The Electoral College was established as a balanced way of choosing the president. The process underwent refinements and adjustments and ultimately the US Constitution was ratified in 1788 as the benchmark for a true democracy. This paper has offered a brief overview of why, how, and when democracy was born in the US.
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Corbett, Scott, et al. U.S. History. OpenStax, 2017.