The Rise of Democracy Essay

The Rise of Democracy

                  Life brings about many things, and if one stops to watch the many wonders that are happening around them, they will find it amazing. While nature is truly God’s miracle to the human race, and changes are constantly taking place as to allow its survival, people also seem to need change to survive. No change within the human realm is more evident than that which happened throughout the European and North American continent during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This was a time of tyrant rulers, wars, revolutions, and most importantly, the rise of democracy.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

A decline in monarchical power started to become evident in England during the eighteenth century largely due to the Glorious Revolution that took place at the end of the seventeenth Century. With power divided between parliament and the monarch, parliament rejected the engagement of any other reforms taking place across Europe as they were reforms associated with absolute monarchies (Wiesner, 2006). Also refusing to partake in any sort of national legislation, the English government became a government run on interest. Through these interests, powerful political allies were built in Parliament through vast promises made to a variety of groups. Subsequently parliamentary politics became corrupt, and as their power increased from members securing votes by paying for them, the corruption also increased. However, this corruption from Parliament would come to a head during the latter part of the century when George III took the throne and began stressing his own prerogatives, and replacing many Parliament members with his own. This battle over prerogatives between the king and Parliament would also come to a halt by the end of the century with Parliament being victorious. From this point forward the nation became, for the most part, run by Parliament (Wiesner, 2006).

By the turn of the nineteenth century Great Britain was for the most part a constitutional monarchy. The move towards democracy in Great Britain took place in a slow and organized manner rather than an actual political depose or violent revolution, such as in France and the Americas. While the crown did still exist in Great Britain, it became much more of an advisory role than any sort of real power (Craig, et al. 2009).  However, though Parliament held the legislative power and the prime minister held the executive power it was not a true democracy by any stretch of the imagination, as nobility dominated the government while the working class still had no vote. The early government was designed as a two party system composing of the Tories, who desired power remain in the hands of the elite, and the Whigs, who felt more common people should also be given voting rights. The Whigs would ultimately win the power struggle and gained power in 1830, it was here that they began the course of executing political reform (Craig, et al. 2009).

            The first major breakthrough in the reformation came when Parliament passed the Reform Act in 1832. This act accomplished two things; first it extended voting rights to a larger number of people and second, it enhanced the representation for those in the industrial arena. Other areas of reform were soon to follow, such as revoking the Corn Law, which was put into place earlier to protect the profits of noble land holders by taxing imported grain. The revocation of the Corn Law created the distribution of national income to be much more equal than previously seen (Craig, et al. 2009).

During the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901, two very highly regarded prime ministers, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone continued to implement political reforms that would help shape Britain’s democracy. Both men sought to insure greater representation for every British citizen by reforming elections, education, and governmental administration. By the latter half of the nineteenth century both representation for labor unions and women’s voting rights had been greatly extended (Craig, et al. 2009).

            Contrary to Great Britain, France for the most part continued under continuous tyranny during the eighteenth and a great deal of the nineteenth centuries. Under King’s Louis XIV, XV, and XVI France continued to fall deeper in debt due to wars and the extravagant life styles of these monarchial kings (Craig, et al. 2009). However, with much of Europe’s commoners becoming enlightened throughout the eighteenth century, the years of struggle between king and Parliament finally came to a head in 1789. A revolutionary war consumed France and in August 1789 after being influenced by the colonial Declaration of Independence the French wrote their own Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. By 1791 they had finished drafting their own constitution which stripped the king of nearly all power. Not quite good enough for the revolutionists however, Louis XVI and his Queen were executed in 1793 hoping to close the lid on monarchial rule in France (Craig, et al. 2009).

             The French Revolution would continue for another six years until Napoleon Bonaparte entered Paris and was crowned First Consul. By 1804 Napoleon took the title emperor, while he created a strong central administration it seems that France was still for the most part headed by an absolutist. Napoleon engaged in several military campaigns during his reign as emperor allowing him to expand his empire. However, after his defeat in Russia in 1812 and Waterloo in 1815 Napoleon was exiled to the island of St. Helena in the south Atlantic where he would live out the remaining days of his life (Craig, et al. 2009).

With Napoleon out of the way Louis XVIII took the throne only to be overthrown by Charles X. It seems Charles’ reign brought back memories of an earlier regime resulting in what is called the July Revolution and a new elected king, Louis Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, dubbed the Citizen King, Philippe’s reign would last eighteen years. However, Philippe was a very conservative monarchial king and under his reign the conditions of the working class citizens weakened subsequently immensely widening the income gap. This brought an economic crisis in 1847 resulting in yet another revolution and the abdication of King Philippe (Craig, et al. 2009).

The nephew of Napoleon I, Louis Napoleon became the first president of the Second Republic by popular vote in 1848 and was declared Emperor Napoleon III in 1852. Under the reign of Napoleon III not only did he redesign Paris, the French industrial revolution began. He sought to press forward his conviction of less expensive credit, free trade, and a need to expand Francs’ infrastructure in ways that would guarantee progress and prosperity through government policy (Craig, et al. 2009).

The first titular president, Napoleon III was also the last monarch to rule in France. Beginning in 1870 the Franco-Prussian war began and the Germans captured Paris laying claim to the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France, Napoleon III was exiled after the defeat. Soon thereafter however the Third Republic surfaced in France in 1871, finally closing the lid on monarchial rule (Craig, et al. 2009).

Revolution was not reserved solely to the European continent however, across the Atlantic colonists also became enlightened in the eighteenth century. As the Seven Years’ war came to an end in America in 1763, tensions between the colonies and Great Briton were steadily growing. With the war almost doubling Great Britons national debt and Britons ill-tempered disposition towards the high taxes they were paying compared to that of the colonies, Parliament began the attempt to control the colonies more economically as well as politically. They would do this over the next decade by implementing new and higher taxes as well as control the shipping industry, and deny colonial representation in the voting of such acts (Boyer, et al. 2006).

Overcoming small yet significant obstacles in the beginning, such as the writ of assistance; which allowed British customs officials the right of entry to any ship or building where they believed smuggled goods to be hidden, the obstructions would grow and become harder to remove. In 1764 Parliament, without colonial representation, implemented what was known as the Sugar Act. This brought a six cent per pound tax on all French-produced molasses brought into the colonies; this was easily rectified however by bribing customs officials with one and a half cents per pound. Not so easy to overcome, the captains of the ships were forced to complete an array of confusing documents to prove legality of their cargo, this allowed the British Navy to seize and detain most every ship that entered or departed the harbors, essentially placing the colonial shipping industry under British control. The trial for seized goods consisted of only a judge, who was paid five percent of the cargo if a guilty verdict was read. This would continue for two years until parliament would finally subside and lower the tax to one cent per pound due to the continuation of smuggling and the high costs incurred trying to prevent it. Although the impact of the Sugar Act had a massive impact on only three colonies, New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, it would show these and the other colonies where Parliament was headed (Boyer, et al. 2006).

            Also hitting New York harder than other colonies, due to the amount of British soldiers stationed there, was the Quartering Act of 1765. Looked upon as an indirect tax, it forced colonial legislators to procure such things as bed straw, candles, and portions of liquor for the British soldiers stationed inside their borders. When New York had refused to pay for the supplies, the Suspending Act was drawn up which would make any colonial law passed to be null and void if the colony did not produce the supplies  (Boyer, et al. 2006).

            In addition to the Quartering Act in 1765 was the Stamp Act, which forced the colonists to only buy and use specially marked and stamped paper for all legal documentation. In 1766 the Declaratory Act was implemented giving Parliament absolute power to legislate over the colonies in any case. The Townshend Duties of 1767, the Boston Massacre in 1770, and the Tea Act in 1773 were also key obstacles (Boyer, et al. 2006).

On April fool’s day 1774 Parliament had passed a package consisting of four new acts called the Coercive Acts, or Intolerable Acts as the colonists called them. The first, the Boston Port Bill, would close the Boston harbor unless the town arranged payment for the wasted tea, from dumping it overboard in what has been dubbed the Boston Tea Party, by June first. Second, the Massachusetts Government Act, this allowed the upper house of the government to be appointed for life only by the crown, thus giving Massachusetts a less democratic government. Third would be the Administration of Justice Act, which stated any person charged with murder while enforcing royal authority in Massachusetts would be tried in England or another colony. Last was the second attempt at the Quartering Act, this revised version gave the governor the right to commandeer empty buildings for troop quartering. Along with these acts, Parliament appointed Britain’s military commander Thomas Gage as governor of Massachusetts. The colonists obviously viewed this as yet another attempt by Parliament to control them (Boyer, et al. 2006). By July 1776 congress issued the Declaration of Independence freeing the colonies of the tyrant rule of Great Britain. Needless to say, revolution soon followed with the colonies emerging victorious by 1783.

However, due to political and economical issues that would arise at the outset of the revolution, a way to resolve and future govern theses problems would need to be put into place. Though united together in their desire to become a free nation away from British oppression, the views of a political government differed amongst the revolutionaries. Republicans saw democracy to be that of mob rule as the towns’ workers saw the republicans to only be out for a profit through taxation, while rural colonists feared a corrupt centralized government (Boyer, et al 2006). The colonists were declaring themselves free from the tyranny of high taxes, taxation without representation, religious freedom, trade regulations, and a centralized British government, the last thing they wanted was more of the same. As it would be, the biggest challenge the revolutionaries faced was introducing a new government in which all thirteen states would consent to.

            Addressing these issues head on by constructing the Articles of Confederation was a lawyer from Pennsylvania by the name John Dickinson. The articles made each state independent thus relieving citizens of the fear of a centralized government. The national portion of the government was that of a unicameral congress, to look at Americans as one class of people and not separate them into upper and lower classes, and members of congress were to be voted in by state legislatures, giving each state one vote. To kill the fear of high taxation of the people, it was written that congress could not tax the states but only request money, this was done in hopes that all states would contribute to the high cost of the war effort and to pay the wages of congress, it would later prove to be an almost fatal mistake. Finally, to emphasize each states freedom, the oversight and regulation of foreign and domestic trade was not allowed by congress, and there was no judicial system in place to force the congressional laws (Boyer, et al 2006). This also would later prove to be a mistake in the articles.

             By 1789 the first President of the United States was elected, and understanding that one man could not make all of the decisions regarding governmental policies; George Washington appointed two men to assist him in these decisions. He would assign Alexander Hamilton to head the treasury department and Thomas Jefferson as secretary of state.

Hamilton’s fear of a centralized government was that of a nonexistent nature and felt that at the state level power should be minimal. He also argued that the stronger and wealthier the government could be, the better off the people would be. On the contrary, Jefferson being a native Virginian feared a strong central government and felt that given a chance the people could, for the most part, govern themselves, he sought after a looser grip by the national government, as to allow the states to govern themselves. Although the two differed in every view they had for a better government, they both desired the same thing, to make the nation strong and prosperous free from tyranny. The different ways they sought to obtain those goals kept one another in check giving the young government the first real look at the process of checks and balances. Their differences would cause the creation of the first distinct governmental parties, Hamilton would head the Federalists and Jefferson the Democratic-Republicans.

As the third president of the United States elected in 1801, Thomas Jefferson would dedicate his presidency to restoring what he saw as a Federalist government that was becoming too centralized. He believed that to keep the United States from becoming that in which it became free of, states would need to maintain a greater level of authority over its population, as they were in fact immediately responsible for them. This was opposed by Federalists as they viewed a looser grip on state government would result in a greater threat of tyranny (Boyer, et al. 2006).

As for the National Government, Jefferson felt by only paying interest on the debt that was generated from the war, more taxes would be needed, thus hampering the sole backbone of the country, farmers. For this reason he wished to cut expenses he felt were unnecessary, ultimately he would do away with taxes on whisky, houses and slaves; this allowed him to discharge all Federal tax collectors, as these men were paid from government funds. Also cutting the military budget, he downsized the Army dramatically to three thousand one hundred seventy two men and the navy to only six warships (Jeffersonian, 2007). He anticipated by making these financial cuts he could pay down the national debt that only increased while Federalists were in office. This was also opposed, as this plan would ultimately strip funds from the wealthy that had invested in the government, in essence, not allowing the rich to get richer from the government (Boyer, et al. 2006).

Twenty years after Jefferson left the presidency and a somewhat shady election in 1824, the political parties would split into Democrats and National Republicans, and in 1828 Andrew Jackson would take office as a Democrat (Boyer, et al. 2006).

            As Jefferson, he sought a government without centralization or corruption and believed the states should keep as much freedom as possible to escape the possibility of tyranny. To protect the Federal Government from corruption one of his first acts as president was to implement office rotation; his opponents would label this as the spoil system, but Jackson believed that this system would not allow for a corrupt class of civil servants who thought themselves to be above the people (Jacksonian, 2007).

            Giving people the freedom to push the Indians back, Jackson was very much in favor of westward expansion, however, that involved risky loans from banks, and like Jefferson he hated to see the rich get richer from the government and the common people. For this reason, Jackson vowed to remove all obstacles from allowing farmers, artisans, and local shopkeepers from making a fare share of wealth in a free competitive market place (Jacksonian, 2007).

The biggest obstacle he would face would be the Bank of the United States, by dominating state banks with a much greater lending capacity and being controlled by private stockholders, Jackson viewed the bank as independent and controlling.

            Ultimately Jackson’s fight against the bank would result in widespread controversy and the name change of the National Republicans to Whigs. The name Whig was chosen to stir the memories of those patriots who opposed King George III, for like him, they viewed Andrew Jackson as the same type of dictator (Boyer, 2006).

            By the end of the nineteenth century, following Americas Civil War, it was yet again time for change. This new change came in the form of the progressive movement; it marked an era of political and social change in America that lasted from the 1890’s until after World War I in 1917. Across the nation, all races, and all classes of people, middle class being dominate however, branded themselves progressives, it was not a unified party with all progressives seeking a single solution; however, what all progressives sought was the same end result, the reformation of America’s political and social systems. Along with the progressives, journalism played a major role in the progressive movement through muckraking; this brought political corruption, dishonest business practice, urban poverty, and the troubles of industrial workers to the attention of millions through photography and various articles (Armitage, et al. 2009).

            As a means to destroy political corruption, progressives successfully lobbied for direct primaries, direct election of senators, and in many of the state legislators the embracement of the referendum, the initiative, and the recall. The first restrictions placed on political lobbyists as well as regulations sited on campaign funds were also attributed to the progressives. With the government under more popular control, income tax and the Federal Reserve were successfully institutionalized by the progressives, which in turn brought government finances into a much more modern system (The progressive era, 2007).

            Greatly influencing the rise of democracy was the enlightenment period. No longer were common citizens of these nations willing to be ruled through tyranny. They sought a say in who held power in their country. Stripped of their power from time and enlightened revolutionists, absolutism crumbled and democracy was born.


Armitage, S. Buhle, M., Jo, C.,Daniel, F., John, M. (2009) Out of Many: A

History o the American People. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Person Education, Inc.

Boyer, P., S, Clark, C., McNair H., Sandra, K., Joseph, F, Salisbury, N. Sitkoff, H., Woloch, N.

(2006) The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People. Boston, MA. Houghton Mifflin Company

Craig et al. (2009) The Heritage of World Civilizations, 8th edition Upper Saddle River, New

            Jersey Pearson Education, Inc.

Jacksonian democracy (2007) Digital History, retrieved June 5, 2010 from


Jeffersonian Republicanism (2007) Digital History, retrieved June 5, 2010 from


The progressive era (2007) Digital History, retrieved June 4, 2010 from


Wiesner-Hanks, Merry, E. (2006) Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789. New York, New York.

            Cambridge University Press