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The Expansion of American Democracy. A Guide to Answering the Essay Question.

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the expansion of american democracy

The Expansion of American Democracy

A Guide to Answering the Essay Question

we the people
One of the most disillusioning things about our nation’s history is the failure of our Founding Fathers to live up to our own ideals in the 21st Century. But when the framers of the Constitution wrote the words, “We the People,” they were not talking about the same “people” we do today. They meant “white men with property.” Wealthy white men – like themselves – were the only one’s included in our nations democracy in 1787.“We the People,….”
andrew jackson

The first true example of the expansion of the suffrage in American occurred during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson. He presided over the nation when universal white man’s suffrage was allowed. Property requirements in order to vote were dropped during this time. Andrew Jackson – who the Whig Party despised for his vetoes and stubbornness – was considered a “Common Man.”

Andrew Jackson
the fifteenth amendment
It was the passage of the 15th Amendment, granting African-American men the right to vote, though, which is the first expansion of democracy which we studied. The Fifteenth Amendment
lincoln and the radicals
Abraham Lincoln and the Radical Republicans had made this amendment possible through their reforms – and through the Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation – issued in 1863 – was the first step in the process. Lincoln allowed African-American men to serve as soldiers, and although he never personally endorsed suffrage rights for all African-Americans, his party would eventually pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments – and help to protect African-Americans newly won liberty. Lincoln and the Radicals
the 13 th amendment
The 13th Amendment outlawed slavery in the United States of America. Every Southern State was required to ratify the amendment before re-entering the Union. However, the State of Mississippi managed to wait it out until the Compromise of 1876 ended Reconstruction. Mississippi ratified the amendment, finally, in 1995 – but due to a technicality, the state only officially ratified the amendment in February of 2013!The 13th Amendment
the 14 th amendment
The 14th Amendment guaranteed citizenship rights to any person born in the United States of America – including all slaves, but excluding all Native Americans… The 14th Amendment also guaranteed equal protection under the law – a point which Thurgood Marshall frequently argued before the Supreme Court in order to help ban segregation, discrimination, and other racist policies established during the Era of “Jim Crow.” The 14th Amendment
the failure of resolve

Although Radical Republicans tried to make these amendments relevant by enforcing laws which insured equality – going so far as to occupy the South militarily – eventually, the resolve of the people broke down.

The Failure of Resolve
the rise of jim crow
A tremendous backlash against African-American voting rights resulted. Jim Crow laws segregated the South and effective restrictions were placed on African-American voters. Brutal violence and a variety of unfair laws combined to rob African-American men of their suffrage rights and all Freedmen of equality. The Rise of “Jim Crow”
literacy tests
Literacy tests were used to prevent African-American men from voting. In the first place, many African-American men couldn’t read – they had been denied educations their entire lives. But more importantly, the test was always administered unfairly. Many whites were unable to read, yet, they managed to cast ballots.Literacy Tests
the poll tax
The poll tax made voting a cost prohibitive right for many African-Americans. Southern states in particular chose to put a high cost on the ballot. Since formerly enslaved men didn’t have very much extra cash, the poll tax prevented many of them from voting.The Poll Tax
grandfather clauses

Meanwhile, grandfather clauses were put into effect which allowed any person whose grandfather had voted in an election the state in the past – when only whites were allowed to vote – to be exempt from paying the poll tax or passing the literacy test. This way, poor whites – who may or may not be literate – could still vote.

Grandfather Clauses
violence and intimidation
And when the laws did not work to prevent African-Americans from voting, threats and intimidation from the Ku Klux Klan or other hate groups usually did. Thousands were lynched during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. Violence and Intimidation
progressive reforms

While African Americans were having their voting rights taken away, many voters were being empowered by the democratic reforms of Progressive leaders like Wisconsin Senator Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette.

Progressive Reforms
progressive reforms1

The Direct Primary System

  • The Initiative
  • The Referendum
  • The Recall
Progressive Reforms
the direct primary system
The direct primary system allowed voters not only to choose the person elected to office, but also the candidates for that office. Previously, political bosses had selected the candidates for office in secretive meetings – “in smoky back rooms” – as the saying goes. The Direct Primary System
the initiative process
The Initiative allows individual voters to participate in the lawmaking process by proposing legislation. If they can get enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot in an upcoming election, it may become law! This poster is part of a recent campaign to re-enfranchise people in Virginia who no longer have the right to vote because they were once incarcerated. Governor Bob McDonnell beat this one to the punch, though, proposing a change in Virginia law in this years State of the State address.The Initiative Process
the referendum
The referendum gave voters the power to approve or condemn proposed legislation passed by state governments. Referendums tend to take place on controversial topics like increased taxes and bond issues – read: increased taxes. More recently issues like gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana have been settled by referendums in states where legislators opted not to vote yeah or nay. The Referendum
the recall
The recall election allows votes to remove an elected official from office by the popular vote. In states where the recall is allowed, voters can simply hold an election to remove an elected official from office and replace him or her then and there. Often, voters will decide on who to replace the person with in the same election! Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, was elected to replace Grey Davis of California in 2003.The Recall
the progressive era
The Progressive Era also resulted in major national reforms which changed the nature of democracy in America: The 17th Amendment and the 19th Amendment.The Progressive Era
the seventeenth 17 th amendment to the constitution

The 17th Amendment allowed for the direct election of Senators. Previously, Senators had been selected by state legislatures. Like the previously mentioned voting reforms, this amendment gave more power directly to voters in the United States.

The Seventeenth (17th) Amendment to the Constitution
the 19 th amendment
The woman’s suffrage movement and all of its leaders – from Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Carry Chapman Catt – achieved an enormous victory with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Women voted for the first time in a national election in 1920. The 19th Amendment
voting and changing
The fact that women could vote in national elections now led to major changes in the way in which women participated in society. Women began to insist on greater access to education and jobs, more economic independence, and more opportunities socially. Changing gender roles were the word of the day. Voting and Changing
the civil rights movement reborn 1948 1965
Following World War II, efforts to provided voting rights and greater equality for African-Americans became a major issue in American politics and society. Starting with the administration of Harry Truman, African-Americans leaders began to demand – and receive – better treatment from the government – and higher expectations were demanded of society in general, as well. The Civil Rights Movement Reborn, 1948 - 1965
the civil rights movement
Although voting rights were only one of a host of serious issues African-American Civil Rights leaders sought to address, suffrage rights were at the heart of a number of important events in the Civil Rights Movement – from The March on Washington to “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama.The Civil Rights Movement
birmingham 1963
During the marches in Birmingham, Alabama in the summer of 1963, which were led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of the SCLC, voting rights were one of the primary motivations for the protests. Segregated stores, segregated schools, and violent racism were other priorities the movements leaders tried to correct. Birmingham, 1963
the march on washington for jobs and freedom 1963

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August of 1963 was in part a demand for greater voting rights, too. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech here. After the speech, African American leaders met with John F. Kennedy, who would propose the Civil Rights Act.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963
mississippi freedom summer 1964
During the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964, black and white college students from all over the nation attempted to register black voters in the state for the 1964 election. Three of these students were murdered by racist Mississippians. Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were all investigating an arson against a church in Philadelphia, MS when they were falsely arrested, kidnapped, and murdered. Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964
the civil rights act of 1964
In spite of all of this violence – and indeed, in spite of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The act forbid discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or sex – giving African-Americans and women greater opportunity. The Civil Rights Act of 1964
the 24 th amendment ending the poll tax
Later that year, the 24th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, banning the poll tax as a requirement for voting in elections. At the time of the ratification of the amendment, only five states in the nation still charged a poll tax in order to vote. Unfortunately, the state of Virginia was one of the last holdouts. The 24th Amendment – Ending the Poll Tax
voter intimidation persists
In spite of all of these positive changes, in some Southern states, like Mississippi and Alabama, African-Americans still encountered major obstacles in their efforts to gain suffrage. In many cases, they were denied the right to vote by threats, intimidation, or violence. Voter Intimidation Persists
bloody sunday in selma alabama
At Selma, Alabama, protesters attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on a voting rights march to the capital in Montgomery, Alabama were attacked by mounted police officers and brutally assaulted with tear gas and billy clubs. Americans who saw footage of the assault on television that night were reminded of anti-Semitic pogroms against the Jews in Germany – and horrified. “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama
the voting rights act
As a result of public anger over the assault, Lyndon Johnson proposed and later signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law ensured that states could not discriminate against or intimidate African-American voters, and that the federal government would monitor all elections to ensure equal access to the ballot. The Voting Rights Act
the 26 th amendment

One last amendment for the very young in the United States. In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, forbidding discrimination against voters who were 18 or older. The amendment was ratified to a large extent due to student protestors, who point out – quite correctly – that many eighteen year old men and women had been drafted into the military during the Vietnam War, and were presently fighting to protect a nation that did not allow them to vote – having been sent there by a government which they had had no role in creating.

The 26th Amendment