Democracies are based on "rule of law." The ancient Greeks (particularly Aristotle) valued natural law, the notion that human societies should be governed by ethical principles found in nature.
Liberty and equality. These words represent basic values of democratic political systems, including that of the United States. Rule by absolute monarchs and emperors has often brought peace and order, but at the cost of personal freedoms. Democratic values support the belief that an orderly society can exist in which freedom is preserved. But order and freedom must be balanced.
The American colonies began developing a democratic tradition during their earliest stages of development. Over 150 years later, the colonists believed their experience was great enough to refuse to recognize the British king. The first decade was rocky. The American Revolution and the domestic instability that followed prompted a call for a new type of government with a constitution to guarantee liberty. The constitution drafted in the early days of the independent American republic has endured longer than any in human history.
Voting is at the heart of democracy. A vote sends a direct message to the government about how a citizen wants to be governed. And yet, only 48.8 % of eligible voters actually cast their ballots in the 1996 presidential election. That figure represents the lowest general presidential election turnout since 1824. In off-year elections (those when the president is not running) the statistics are even worse. Why don't people vote?
Elections form the foundation of the modern democracy, and more elections are scheduled every year in the United States than in any other country in the world. Campaigns åÑ where candidates launch efforts to convince voters to support them åÑ precede most elections. In recent years campaigns have become longer and more expensive, sparking a demand for campaign finance reform. No one questions the need for campaigns and elections, but many people believe that the government needs to set new regulations on how candidates and parties go about the process of getting elected to public office.
So, the election is over. How can the average American remain involved in politics without waiting for the next election? One chief means of influencing the American government is by joining an interest group an organization that pressures elected officials to enact legislation favorable to its causes.
Despite promises made by presidential candidates, the President has no direct power to pass any legislation. This very important power lies solely with the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The Constitution specifically grants Congress its most important power the authority to make laws. A bill, or proposed law, only becomes a law after both the House of Representatives and the Senate have approved it in the same form. The two houses share other powers, many of which are listed in Article I, Section 8. These include the power to declare war, coin money, raise an army and navy, regulate commerce, establish rules of immigration and naturalization, and establish the federal courts and their jurisdictions.
The 14th Amendment guaranteed "equal protection of the law" more than 130 years ago. The fact that it took so many years for its effects to be felt is testimony to the complexity of the decision-making process in a democracy. It took all three branches, active interest groups, and concerned individual citizens to bring the country closer to the ideal of equal rights for all.
Americans could not break their ties with Britain easily. Despite all the recent hardships, the majority of colonists since birth were reared to believe that England was to be loved and its monarch revered. Yet there were the terrible injustices the colonists could not forget. Americans were divided against themselves. Arguments for independence were growing. Thomas Paine would provide the extra push.
Public education is the single largest expenditure for state and local governments across the nation. Yet it is arguably the most criticized. Many people charge that public schools are faltering and that American academic achievements are far behind those in other countries. In recent years, many states and localities have experimented with improving public schools.
The harsh public antagonism of the 1790s largely came to an end with the victory of the Democratic- Republicans in the 1800 election. "The Revolution of 1800," as Jefferson described his party's successful election many years later, was "as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form."
The election of 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson was an emotional and hard-fought campaign. Each side believed that victory by the other would ruin the nation.
Demands for better public education were many. Employers wanted a better educated workforce, at least for the technical jobs. Classical liberals believed that public education was the cornerstone of any democracy. Our system of government could be imperiled if large numbers of uneducated masses voted unwisely.
In Athenian democracy, every citizen was required to participate or suffer punishment. This practice stands in stark contrast to modern democratic governments in which citizens can choose whether or not they wish to participate. In Athenian democracy, all citizens pulled their weight.
Revolutions often fail. The French Revolution culminated in the leadership of Napoleon, a ruthless emperor who tried to conquer Europe. The Russian Revolution brought years of civil war and a brutal regime headed by Stalin that made many Russian people even yearn for a return to the days of their monarch. How did the American Revolution yield a constitutional republic with greater freedom on a large scale than the world had ever seen? Successful revolutions never begin overnight. The American Revolution was 169 years in the making. Throughout the colonial experience important stones were being laid into the foundation of American independence.
No democracy has existed in the modern world without the existence of a free press. Newspapers and pamphlets allow for the exchange of ideas and for the voicing of dissent. When a corrupt government holds power, the press becomes a critical weapon. It organizes opposition and can help revolutionary ideas spread. The trial of John Peter Zenger, a New York printer, was an important step toward this most precious freedom for American colonists.
The United States has a long history of activists seeking social, political, economic, and other changes to Americaalong with a history of other activists trying to prevent such changes. American activism covered a wide range of causes and utilized many different forms of activism. American sociopolitical activism became especially prominent during the period of societal upheaval which began during the 1950s. The African American civil rights movement led the way, soon followed by a substantial anti-war movement opposing American involvement in the Vietnam War, and later by vigorous activism involving womens issues, gay rights, and other causes. The United States remains a land of nearly constant change, and activists play a significant role in the ongoing evolution of American democracy. It seems likely that Americans will remain enthusiastic activists in the future. This exhibition is part of the Digital Library of Georgia.
American Government is designed to meet the scope and sequence requirements of the single-semester American government course. This title includes innovative features designed to enhance student learning, including Insider Perspective features and a Get Connected Module that shows students how they can get engaged in the political process. The book provides an important opportunity for students to learn the core concepts of American government and understand how those concepts apply to their lives and the world around them. American Government includes updated information on the 2016 presidential election.Senior Contributing AuthorsGlen Krutz (Content Lead), University of OklahomaSylvie Waskiewicz, PhD (Lead Editor)