Democracy is the process or system of government where the following four elements should be present:-
1. Free and fair elections for choosing and replacing government
2. Active participation of the citizens in politics and civic life
3. Human rights of all citizens should be protected
4. All citizens are under equal law and procedures.
And antebellum era refers to the time between 1790 and 1860 when subsistence agriculture replaced by commercial agriculture in the north and factory production replaced household production.
It needs to state that from the political point of view United States was democratic, but in the perspective of social and cultural field the democracy was not complete and was questionable. What the political perspective of today’s America is almost similar to that time. But the social and cultural democracy was not similar as it is today. The arguments regarding this statement are described below.
Whether United State s was democratic in antebellum era, it is important to have all the four criteria mentioned above. On the basis of these elements, antebellum democracy can be judged.
Free and fair elections for choosing and replacing government
The first criterion to judge and support the statement mentioned above is “free and fair elections for choosing and replacing government”. Democracy is a process for the people elect their leaders and to hold them accountable for their policies. Antebellum era is well known as the era of common people. Independence, self-determination, pride built on control of black, female and native dependents. Democracy as a symbolic theatre began with the Salem witchcraft crisis of 1692 and extended through the Great Awakening and the antebellum era (Ruttenburg, 2007). During this time political parties such as democratic, free soil, know-nothing, and republican expressed their passions and beliefs in slogans, songs and paradise (Ãnthon‚ 2001). On election days, nearly eight out of ten eligible voters went to the polls and world saw the presence of democracy.
Participation: the role of the citizens in a democracy
Participate in public life is the key role of citizens in a democracy and at the antebellum era it was present. People could involve for campaigning for a political party or candidate. At that period people also could stand for political office, attend community meeting. A vital element of democracy “participation” had come through that time and from this point of view it can be said that antebellum era was definitely the beginning of democracy.
The rights of citizens in democracy
Right of citizen means the basic right that the state cannot take away and guaranteed under rules of law. Throughout the American history the rights of citizens has been a diplomatic subject. In the antebellum era the situation had been changed because of the Jacksonian democracy. The Jackson democrats completed an effort to grant power to the lower classes while diminishing the influence of the rich and potent. They viewed themselves as the savior of the general people but they desired equality only for the white man. The animosity towards minorities, and economic policies of the Jacksonian democrat was pompous which never can be the substance of a democratic era.
In the antebellum era, the rights of citizens were only among the white people and the black as well as other minority group could not get the same rights. Women could not give their opinion through vote. Slavery was still common among the majority of white people, which does not fit with the democracy and it prevents many aspects of democratic elements. The minorities received no aid from the efforts that the Jacksonian democrats made to increase equality, and as a result many rebelled.
The rules of laws
Democracy is the process that is ruled by the laws, not by the individuals. These laws protect the rights of citizens and confine the power of governments. As it is known that the rights given to people at time of antebellum era were not equal. So since the rights were not equal, then the implementation of laws does not stand for anything.
From the time of antebellum period many manuscripts have been documented. Some them give their viewpoints from an angle, others gave another view point from another angle. That’s why Nathan O. Hatch rightly noted that the manuscripts are “the rarest kind of historical evidence, a window on the mind of a man who would generally be considered among ‘the inarticulate'” (Richards, 2002).
So it can be said that the antebellum era was democratic, but some of its most important elements were not ethical and democratic at all.