Democracy An American Novel, by Henry Adams Essay

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In the late 1800’s, Henry Adams wrote Democracy An American Novel, in which he portrayed Washington society through the eyes of a wealthy young widow, Mrs. Madeline Lee, who is looking for the basis of American governmental power. In her search for the basis of power, Mrs. Lee encounters many facets of Washington society, such as the types of people who control the government. The novel moves beyond a simple plot and story and includes portrayals of the basic Washington types of people, Washington society, and Adams’ assumptions about American democracy. Adams’ main assumption was that a respectable government is practically impossible. Next, he believed the US political system naturally tended towards corruption and finally, he thought that politics and power inevitably tend to sap a person’s morals.

Adams’ assumption that a respectable government is not possible in a democracy underlies the entire book and culminates with Mrs. Lee and Senator Ratcliffe’s conversation about government corruption. Mrs. Lee asks, “Is a respectable government impossible in a democracy?” Senator Ratcliffe replies, “That no representative government can long be much better or much worse than the society it represents. Purify society and you purify government. But try to purify the government artificially and you only aggravate failure” (Adams 42). Speaking through Senator Rafcliffe, Adams is saying that representative governments not only represent the political views of the people, but also reflect society’s morals. Adams adds to this point with the views of the corrupt and cynical Bulgarian minister, Baron Jacobi. In reply to Senator Rafcliffe’s statement, Baron Jacobi declares that among the nations, the United States has elements of ...

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...oy a person’s morals and make politics a risky venture for anyone. Mrs. Lee discovered this when she realized that by believing that Ratcliffe was truly honest and working for the public good, she began to lose sight of right and wrong as well. Perhaps, Adams presents the best solution with the ending of his book; Mrs. Lee leaves Washington, its intrigues, corruption, and people. She ventures to Egypt to recover and regain her sense of right and wrong. In conclusion, if politicians could step away from politics for a while, perhaps they too might regain their sense of ethics and morality.

Works Cited

Adams, Henry. Democracy An American Novel. New York: Random House Inc., 2003. N. pag. Print.

Martin, Gary. The meaning and origin of the expression: Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Ed. Gary Martin. The Phrase Finder, 1996. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

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