There are two primary reasons why Americans were able to believe that they were a democratic society despite the fact that so many people in their society were excluded from everyday rights, including being able to participate politically. The first ties into no man being able to escape their own culture.The other has to do with false assumptions and personal involvement.
The first is the idea that no man lives outside of his culture. As mentioned in question 1, the political climate of the early 1800’s focused more on equality by eliminating class privileges. “besides evoking this heightened sense of ‘popular sovereignty,’ the democratic impulse seemed to stimulate a process of social leveling” (Devine, Pg. 185). There was less of a demand for equality for all and more of a demand for the ability for people to rise in status. Women and other minorities were not really considered because it was of the opinion the slaves would benefit from masters who could climb the social ladder, women would benefit from husbands and fathers who could climb the social ladder, etc. Because of this popular cultural appeal, it was easy for people to believe that they lived in a democracy despite not including everyone.
The second mention was of false assumptions and personal involvement. This is an error that even the question for this response begs. The questions asks “How were Americans able to believe that they were a democratic society when so many people in the society were not permitted to be participants politically?” (Alixopulos, 2012), but the truth is that not all Americans did. For the most part, Americans that believed they were living in a democracy, were those that were benefiting from it and were allowed to be involved politically. There were plenty of Americans who didn’t believe that they were living in a democracy and those were usually the people that were being excluded. “With two crucial exceptions- unescorted women and people of color- almost anyone who could pay enjoyed the kind of personal service previously available only to a privileged class” (Devine, pg 184). During the 1800’s women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought hard to gain equal rights for women including the ability to vote. “More than any other woman of her generation, Susan B. Anthony saw that all of the legal disabilities faced by American women owed their existence to the simple fact that women lacked the vote” (Linder, 2001). Other Americans like Nat Turner fought hard for the rights of African Americans.
As a secondary to the above, is personal involvement. People who were involved in the political affairs of the time were the ones that believed they lived in a highly democratic society. And in those terms, they were right. “The popular hero was the self-made man who had climbed the ladder of success through his own efforts without forgetting his origin” (Devine, Pg 185). They enjoyed all the rights that a democratic society could afford and if something went in a direction they didn’t like, they could vote on it. People who were not involved in political affairs, were usually those who felt that the government wasn’t very democratic. These people also had few opportunities to change the things that were unfair, especially in a democratic and political arena. regardless of race or gender, foreigners were also able to see this. Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville also saw this noting “the power of white supremacy, providing an unforgettable firsthand description of the sufferings of an Indian community in the course of forced migration to the West as well we a graphic account of the way free blacks were segregated and driving away from the polls in northern cities” (Devine, pg 202).
Linder, Doug. “The Trial of Susan B. Anthony.” UMKC School of Law. UMKC, 2001. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/anthony/sbaaccount.html>.