During the nineteenth century, the United States of America was both democratic and undemocratic. As a newly independent country from Great Britain, the U. S tried to stay away from the tyrannical government which they had before. America believed that by giving people a say in the government and granting more rights to citizens, they would prove to be a successful government. However, although they seemed to be democratic, the United States still had some undemocratic aspects.
The United States during the mid-1800s believed that by giving people the right to vote on government issues and the right to vote for legislatures made their government democratic. However, not everyone was given the right to vote. During the mid-1800s, women were deprived from the right to vote. At the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, women gathered together to fight for the right to vote. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton both stated that “He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise; He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice…” (Document 2).
Women were treated as inferiors to men and had very little rights. Harriet Martineau describes the status of the American women in her 1834 visit to the United States (Document 6). She quotes that “every man in the towns an independent citizen; every man in the country a landowner”, however the woman of American were granted no such rights. By holding women back from the right to vote, the United States was undemocratic. As America began to expand, the need for more workers increased. The states in the south needed more workers to farm, while the north needed workers in factories.
The Southerners used slaves to take care of their massive plantations. These slaves were given no salary, improper food, and improper living conditions. The slaves worked hard, long hours and were whipped if their job did not satisfy their owner. Slavery was so bad that many tried to escape using different unique methods. Henry “Box” Brown desired freedom so much that he shipped himself in a small box to a slave free state (Document 1). Many believed that inside the crate there were dry goods, however to their surprise, an African American man appeared and was now a free man. Unlike the South however, the North rejected the idea of slavery.
They believed that it was against the Constitution and should be abolished. However, the Northerners needed people to work in their factories. Although they believed slavery was worse, they hired children and adults to work in the factories for long hours with little pay. Working in a factory was dangerous; many workers were abused and due to their working conditions were often sick. From the 1840’s cartoon contrasting slavery in the American South with “wage slavery” in the American North, there is very little difference from the way the workers and slaves were treated (Document 4).
Slaves and factory workers had no control over their lives and thus made the American system undemocratic. Slaves and factory workers were not the only people who were treated as inferiors. Stereotyping of immigrants became a popular trend during the mid-1800s. As more immigrants arrived, the American citizens believed they were superior to such people and treated with utmost disrespect. The Irish were depicted as drinkers and uneducated, while the Germans were also associated with drinking. Many Americans became known as nativists. Nativists were those that favor the ideas of people already living in the land as opposed to immigrants.
These people tried to protect the ballot from Irish and German immigrants. The nativists felt that the immigrants stole the ballots because they were unaware of their new land and government and were taking ballots away from those that were living in America for years. In the illustration of an Irish immigrant and a German immigrant, we see them stereotyped as drinkers by the barrels surrounding their bodies, and it shows them actually stealing the ballot (Document 5). This steered a sense of hatred for the immigrants by the American citizens.
These new immigrants were treated as second-citizens in this undemocratic nation. Even people native to the land were still treated without respect. In the painting of “the Trail of Tears”, innocent men, women and children were thrown out of their land because they Native Americans (Document 3). The U. S government showed no sympathy for them and forced them to move to a new location. On this voyage known as the “Trail of Tears”, many Native Americans lost their lives because of improper food and health care.
Forcing the Native Americans out of their homes showed other nations that the U. S government was not very democratic as it preached. Although the United States was seen as unfair in some aspects, the United States was still considered democratic during the mid-1800s. The United States was still viewed as a land of freedom and pride. During the Jacksonian era, it was the fight for the common man to have a say in the government. The United States did not want powerful and rich civilians to be running the government, but hoped that the common man would help America become a stronger nation. In the painting “Canvassing for a vote”, it is the role of the common man to have a say in the government.
The United States proved its democratic status through the vote of the common man. In the early 1800’s, the United States was a fairly new country. After being ruled under a tyrannical government, the United States feared that by giving the government so much power it would lead to a government like Great Britain. The United States was known as a democratic nation, where the people had a great say in the government. However, citizens considered this new nation to have some undemocratic ways. Still the United States was considered a land of freedom and prosperity.
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