Early American Democracy: The First Republic

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After the ratification of the Constitution, the United States was formally established as the first republic in the world. It is believed by many people that early American democracy was well developed and stable. However, the democratic system of government that had been adopted by the U.S. had never been implemented before, and the idea of popular sovereignty was, until that point, mostly just a theory. This meant that the early United States was, in many ways, a political project. Early American democracy was tremendously unstable. Parties and leaders found it extremely difficult to define the limits and allowances of democracy, which resulted in a volatile political environment. Moreover, the nation’s wealthy had illiberal amounts of control on politics. Finally, early governments frequently violated the constitution in overtly…show more content…
An example of this is the fact that it was not until the 1820s that the vote was extended to all white men (as opposed to only wealthy or landowning men) (Keyssar). In fact, a major concern of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democrats was the growth of “concentrated power,” and they believed it to be necessary to “protect [the republic] from the corrupting influence of the “business interest”—banks, corporations, and their judicial allies” (Oakes). And these concerns were not unfounded; after all, the Bank of the United States had previously “used its power and financial resources to influence elections and rig policy making” (Wilentz) Not only that, but the ability of the elite to control government was promoted by several contemporary politicians. Alexander Hamilton, for example, made “continuing efforts in the 1790s to enrich and ennoble the few” (Wilentz). Thus, it becomes clear that early American democracy was often confronted by severe corruption and oligarchic tendencies, making it demonstrably
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