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Essay/Term paper: Democracy

Essay, term paper, research paper:  History Essays

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Andy Carroll
July 8th, 1996

I. Meaning of Democracy
II. Summary of Places and Dates
III. Features of Democracy
IV. Types of Democracy
V. Early Democracy
A. Athens
B. Rome
VI. Middle Ages and England
VII. The Renaissance
A. United States of America
B. France
VIII. Modern Times
IX. Important People

Demos Kratia, or democracy, as it is used today, means " the people
rule." A democracy is a form of government is run by the people of that country
through elections and representation. A democracy is really a form of a republic
known as a democratic republic. A republic is a government where officials,
elected by a small group of people, make the important decisions.
Democracy has been around for almost 2500 years since Athens, Greece
became the first democracy. The Romans also experimented with democracy, however
it was more a republic, and not a democracy. Around 1200 England laid the
groundwork to become a republic. Later, in the 1700's, United States of America,
became a democracy.
There are many features of democracy. Most of these features are the
same, but individual countries use varations of the main ideas. The main feature
of democracy, which determines a true democracy, is free, competitive elections.
Sometimes however, women or minorities don't have the right to vote. Some of
these other features, such as checks on power, help to limit the strength of any
one person or party. Other features like free elections, and majority/ minority
rule, help to make elections fair, since the judgment of many people is
generally better then the judgment of a few people. Political parties keep one
government, or idea of government form holding all power. These features let the
people to govern themselves without the country being torn apart.
There are two true types of democracies, direct democracies, and
representative democracies. In a direct democracy all the people meet to discuss
problems and creat laws. A direct decision consults all the people for the
decisions.. Since that is unpractical in todays world, a new form of democracy,
the representative democracy has arisen. This form of democracy has elected
representatives making most of the day to day decisions, while the main groups
of citizens consulted for only the most important decisions.
One of the earliest known democracies was in Athens, a city-state in
southern, ancient Greece. Around 620BC, Athens became the first true democracy.
In Athens the ruler Draco tried to make many reforms in the city state. Draco
organized laws by putting them in a written code, letting everyone know what the
laws were and how they applied to everyone. He also gave the people the right to
a trial. The next ruler Solon, the next Athenian ruler also helped Athens become
a democracy. He also wrote many reforms into the laws and gave all citizens the
right to vote, an important step in the origins of democracy. Some of his
reforms created problems for other people, who wanted to become citizens. In
500BC, Athens looked like a modern democracy. The main lawmaking body was known
as the assembly, and all free male citizens could be in the assembly. The
assembly met about forty times a year to discuss and vote on the issues. The
council of 500, which was made of volunteers from all ten districts, helped
sort out the assembly's business. An even smaller council, a counsel of fifty
men, made the daily decisions of the city-state. The largest problem of Athens
democracy were that only a few of the people could become citizens, therefore
limiting the power to a small group. This problem caused many slaves, and other
non-landowners to be disappointed. Athens, no matter what the problems, was the
first true democracy.
Rome, around 500 BC, became a republic. A republic is not a democracy,
but is very similar to a democracy. In this republic, the elected officials only
represented a small fraction of the people. Some of the ideas Rome used, mainly
the practice of elected officials helped to shape the ideas of a representative
In Rome, the wealthy people, the patricians, had much more power then
the poorer people, the plebeians. Despite the fact that the plebeians had very
little power, the fact that they had any power at all was a step foreword for
democracy. As a part of Romes government, there was a senate and two assemblies.
The senate, made up of senators, proposed laws and ratified treaties. The
Assembly of Centuries directed military members, and the Assembly of Tribes
represented all of the people. In theory the assembly would be made up of both
plebeians and patricians. However it was proved that the patricians were very
adept at controlling the plebeians and thus held all the power at the assemblies.
Despite the fact that the Roman people had overthrown the king, they still felt
the need for supreme leadership. Because they felt they needed a powerful leader
they decided to appoint consuls, a pair of officials who carried out Romes laws.
The consuls ruled for one year, commanded their own army, and had the power to
veto any of the other consuls decisions. Another thing the Romans did was make
it so a dictator could rule for a six-month period of time so quick decisions
could be made in a crisis. The dictator, although he could make decisions, he
could not change the base laws for the country.
In the middle ages Christianity tought people that they not only were
citizens of the earth, but they were also members of Gods kingdom. Since people
were tought that they were citizens of both, nobody could be expected to be
totally loyal to their country and be totally loyal to their religion. During
the middle ages, in most of Europe, people lived under a feudal system. Under
feudalism, people pledged their skils and loyalty to other people in exchange
for land, food, and protection. Another idea feudalism supported was that
individuals had certain rights and privileges. During the middle ages, the Magna
Carta was signed by King John in England. This document has become a very
important symbol of human freedom and liberty. It was used to support demands
for trials with juries, it protected people from unlawful arrests, and it made
the policy of no taxation without representation. During the next several
hundred years, English democracy evolved slowly. In 1628 Parliament passed the
Petition of Right, this petition told King Charles I to stop collecting taxes
without the consent of Parliament. This petition let Parliament meet at regular
intervals. When King Charles refused to agree to this petition a civil war broke
out fought between the Puritans, led by Oliver Cromwell, and the followers of
the king. When the followers of the king were defeated, King Charles I was
beheaded. The Revolution of 1688 established the supremacy of Parliament and
John Locke, a philosopher of the revolution stated the power should belong to
the people. In 1689 Parliament passed the Bill of Rights, which assured people
many basic civil rights. He also stated that the government was there for
protecting the peoples liberties, property, and lives. In 1689 Parliament passed
the Bill of Rights, which assured people many basic civil rights.
In the Renaissance, the first modern democracies emerged. One of the
main reasons democracies emerged was because the Renaissance tought independence
and individual thought. This new way of thinking helped to influence political
thinking and to speed the growth of democracy. The growth and evolution of
democracy was caused by the demands of greater freedom from many different
As a result of the new individual ideas people began to think
differently in many ways. One of the areas where there were many problems was
religion. In some countries, there was only one religion allowed by law. Despite
these laws many people wanted to be able to freely practice their own religion.
A result of this want was that many people left England to colonize newly
discovered countries. A group of these people came to America and founded new
colonies. One group of these people, the Pilgrims singed the Mayflower Compact,
which stated that all people were to obey "just and equal laws." In 1775 the
America revolution began between the colonists in America, and British over
unfair taxes and unfair representation. In 1776 the Declaration of Independence
was drafted, and singed. This Declaration stated that the colonies of Britain
were their own country, the United States of America with their own laws,
government, and taxes. The founding fathers of the United States of America
didn't trust the Athenian form of democracy, direct democracy, because they
feared giving the people too much power. Instead they divided the power between
the federal government, and the state government. They then divided the power
between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Also, they made it so
the president, who had power similar to the Roman consuls, would be elected by
an electoral college, instead of by a direct vote. In the long term almost all
adult citizens have been given the right to vote.
The French Revolution, which was spurred on by thinkers like Montesquieu,
Roseau, and Voltaire because their writings, some which were banned, told people
of the freedoms they "should" have. This revolution, although it didn't make
France a democracy, did limit the power of the French King, and it also promoted
the ideas of liberty and equality.
Today many types of governments claim to be democratic. Communism
governments are known as "peoples democracies." Tese are not considered "true"
democracies by many people, because they limit he rights of many people. The
reason many people don't consider these governments true democracies is because
they limit freedom of expression, and competitive elections.
There have been many important people in the development of democracy.
Draco, Solon, and Cleisthes were all important contributors to democracy. These
Athenian rulers laid the groundwork for our modern democracies. King John, who
signed the Magna Carta and changed turned England into a republic opened the
door to many individual freedoms. John Locke, Montisquieu, Roseau, Voltaire, Ben
Franklin, and Thomas Paine who helped to shape democracy through their writings,
their teachings, and their ideas. Thomas Jefferson who drafted the Declaration
of Independence helped to lay the groundwork for the United States of America,
which is considered the "benchmark" of democracy. All these people, and many
others, made very important contributions to the evolution of democracy.


Alexander J. Groth "Democracy" The World Book Encyclopedia. Volume 5, 126-130p.
Chicago: World Book, Inc, 1990

Jeffrey M. Ikler, Nancy Rogers, and others. The Pageant of World History.
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey; Prentince Hall, 1994


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