Threats to Democracy

Threats to Democracy

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Threats to Democracy

What threats to "Democracy" presented themselves during the first few decades of independence? How did leaders of the U.S. solve these problems?

During the first decades of our premature nations' existence, it is hard to imagine that the United States would evolve to become such a great democracy. A democracy others would prefer to believe with hypocrite reasoning. When the U.S. first won its independence it was a united group of people left to fend for themselves. This group was to become a nation and creating it involved more than winning independence from Great Britain.

In 1783, the U.S. was a country forming in its premature stages. By 1787, this baby begins to develop, to become a nation. By 1787, people perceived that their constitution represented what the people desired the U.S. to be; well at least the Federalists presumed this. The Anti-Federalists watched for signs that threatened their "republican principals" for which they so recently had fought the American Revolution. After winning the war the unity and optimism among Americans did not translate easily or smoothly into the creation of a strong central government. The Federalists and Anti-Feds were very opposed to eachother's views. By the late 1700's and early 1800's, a deep political division had occurred amongst the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists.

Anti-Federalists were mostly from the South, and were labeled "Jeffersonians". Their label came from the fact that they defended slavery and third President, Thomas Jefferson, was known for owning herds of black slaves. Southerners held agreed with many of Jefferson's views. The Anti-Feds, Republicans, believed in strict interpretation of the constitution, peaceful foreign relations, and a reduction of the role of the federal government in the lives of average citizens. They were opposed to a strong central government and felt states should hold the power to govern. The Federalists believed that the constitution should be loosely interpreted and that America should follow the spirit of it to make laws and judgements. Federalists wanted to organize the states so a strong federal power could govern over them in order to keep enough power for the economy, war and ruling. Many were opposed to this form of government because it so closely mimicked that of Great Britain. Between these two diverse groups, their followers split the nation.

The United States was geographically split North from South.

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The North was home of manufacturers and industry. Farming was not the North's economic base as was manufacturing. Crops would not grow year around due to freezing weather; therefore slaves were of no need during off-seasons in farming. Here, it was not economically safe or resourceful to own slaves, because of the fact that they were expensive to acquire and maintain. Since slaves were mostly used in manual labor, their use in the North was almost nonexistent. Blacks were not used in factories for fear of them gaining knowledge and accessing power.

In the South, large plantations and small farm owners used slaves for their manual labor of the fields and common household work. Not every household in the South owned a slave, as many people may believe. Only the wealthy could afford slaves. These slaves abducted from Africa were characterized and treated equivalent to animals by their owners. Since slaves were owned, they were property, and they were treated however their holders felt fit. This was a great threat to democracy because it went against what democracy supposedly stood for. Slavery, at the time, was disregarded in the constitution and therefore it can be concluded that the government ignored it.
There were greater threats to democracy during the first decades of U.S. independence that are far more important to the significance of the period.

Americans held an optimistic view of the nation's "manifest destiny". Manifest destiny meant that the United States would eventually reach from sea to sea no matter what speed bumps it ran into. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 enabled President Jefferson to partake in this view. The purchase consisted of a vast 885,000 square miles of land for $15 million acquired from France. The purchase was done behind closed doors without the knowledge of the federal government; Jefferson wanted the transaction to be speedy and quiet. James Monroe arrived in France with power from President Jefferson to buy New Orleans and the Floridas for not more than 10 million dollars; he was offered the whole of the French territory for approximately 15 million dollars. Although the American agents had no authority to spend such a large sum, they signed the treaty of purchase on April 30, 1803. It was specifically purchased from Napolean Bonaparte who used the money to build France's grand army with which he planned to conquer many nations. This was a great threat to democracy because the president went behind the people's backs and negotiated with France. This agreement, which was very beneficial to France, had other nations such as Great Britain in an uproar. Although it was a quick decision for Jefferson, it was a good one for the U.S.; the size of the nation doubled with the stroke of a pen.

Another great threat to democracy was the Burr Conspiracy of 1804. Burr became involved in a bizarre plot to separate the West from the rest of the nation after a series of events. He lost the presidency in the election of 1800 to Jefferson and became vice-president. As vice-president, Burr created difficulties for the president. Burr's strange behavior during the election of 1800 raised suspicions that he had conspired to deprive Jefferson of the presidency. Whatever the truth may have been the vice-president entered the administration under a dark cloud. Burr was an ambitious man and it was frustrating for him to deal with the minor roles that the vice-president was in charge of. In the spring of 1804, Burr decided to run for governor for the state of New York. During this edgy time high Federalists were planning the succession of New England and New York from the Union. Alexander Hamilton, secretary of treasury, made comments about Burr that he insisted made him lose the election. Burr then challenged Hamilton to a duel, which Hamilton accepted reluctantly. Unfortunately Hamilton, a magnificent man for our nation, was shot and killed by the vice president in New Jersey on Nov. 11, 1804. Due to the murder of Hamilton, Burr fled to the west in seek of gaining followers there. Jefferson was slow but successful in meeting this first real threat to the new American union. Aaron Burr was accused of making a treasonable effort to set up an independent government in the Southwest and his career laid in shambles.

The War of 1812, a strange war, helped the U.S. finally feel free from Great Britain. In 1811, there was a strong anti-British mood in Congress. A group of militant representatives, some of them elected to Congress for the first time in the election of 1810, announced they would no longer tolerate national humiliations. They called for action, for resistance to Great Britain, for any course that promised to achieve respect for the U.S. and security for it's republican institutions. These aggressive nationalists, many of them from the South and West, have been labeled "War Hawks." The group included Henry Clay, a Kentucky congressman who served as Speaker of the House, and John C. Calhoun, a brilliant South Carolinian. The people felt that Britain's lingering dominance was threatening to their democracy. Britain was on the verge of forming peaceful relations at the time that the U.S. planned to wage war, for their own reasons. James Madison, President at the time, had reason to ask Congress to wage war. The War Hawks were putting pressure on him and at the same time his major aim was to force the British to respect American maritime rights, especially in Caribbean waters where Britain had possessions. Even though the U.S. was not ready to go into war, and Republicans in Congress were reluctant to help the military gain needed resources, the votes in Congress to wage war outnumbered those against. The war persisted until 1815.
After the war ended, there was the Battle of New Orleans, which was not even supposed to have transpired. Poor communications disabled the military from learning drafts for a peace treaty had already been written up. The British, led by General Edward Pakenham, landed an assault on the Americans, led by General Andrew Jackson, whose army was very well defending their positions. In a short time the British force was destroyed and the Americans had only suffered light casualties. The victory was significant in military terms but it was more important in creating a base for a much-needed source of pride for Americans. After this war, the U.S. felt free from foreign threats to their independence and way of life.

The greatest threat to our democracy has been a man, President Andrew Jackson.
This "Military Hero", served his term during 1828-1836. He was a public figure who came to symbolize the triumph of democracy. The election of 1828 saw the birth of a new era of mass democracy. After losing the election of 1824, he came back to win in 1828 by devising penetrating ways to win peoples' votes. The mighty effort on behalf of Jackson featured the widespread use of such electioneering techniques as huge public rallies, torchlight parades, and lavish barbecues or picnics paid by his supporters. His campaigning techniques proved successful and as president he came to be known as "a man of the people". Jackson found the modern political party (today's Democratic Party) and set down most the foundation of our politics today. As the seventh president of the United States, he was simultaneously the best-loved and the most-hated president the young nation had known. Jackson believed the president was directly responsible for the nation's good, and so he set a new example for future presidents by being a more active and responsible leader. When he did not agree with Congress, he freely used the right of veto. His six predecessors, between them, had vetoed only nine bills. Jackson vetoed 12, besides frequently using the pocket veto. Jackson was the first to make the presidency a powerful office.

Through his aggressive leadership and patronage, Jackson had welded together a vigorous new party--the Democratic Party. He might have been a great threat to democracy but there have been many threats to this grand nation since the days of its birth that has benefited it. This great democratic nation is constantly expanding its horizons to accommodate new technology and satisfy generation after generation of Americans. No empire in history ever been built that can compete with the grand United States; if its democracy is mighty enough, it shall out last any threat to its existence.
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