The Rights of Man in America, 1606-1861

The Rights of Man in America, 1606-1861

The Rights of Man in America, 1606-1861

The Rights of Man in America, 1606-1861

Excerpt

More than fifty years ago the author of that marvelously capacious History of the American People, John Bach McMaster , published three concise lectures on The Acquisition of the Political, Social, and Industrial Rights of Man in America. It was a unique study at the time McMaster presented it, and, remarkably enough, it has remained a unique study. Although historians have accepted the rise of democracy as the central theme in the nation's history, no historian since McMaster has written the history of American democracy itself, in the broad meaning of the word suggested by McMaster's title. The purpose of this book is to present such a history of American democracy from its seventeenth-century English origins to the Civil War.

The problem of defining democracy was less difficult in the nineteenth century than one would suppose who knew the word only as it is used today by a variety of conflicting authorities, ranging from Herbert Hoover to Chou En-lai. In the twentieth century the term has been so fought over as to have passed out of the category of words for which there is a broadly acceptable definition. Such was not always the case. In the early eighteenth century "democratic" was a term of abuse, synonymous with "leveling"; that is, descriptive of mob rule. It had no other generally accepted meaning except the inapplicable meaning of direct democracy as practiced in certain bygone Greek city states. By the mid-nineteenth century, this old abusive definition had given way to a new one, and "democracy" had come to mean a political and social system having the characteristics of contemporary American government and society. The French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America was accepted as constituting the most authoritative available definition of the word.

The basic requisites of this new democracy were representative political institutions based on manhood suffrage (or at least white manhood suffrage), the ultimate rule of the . . .

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