A Brief History of Democracy



A Brief History of Democracy


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A Brief History of Democracy



A Brief History of Democracy




Government:  System for exercising authority

Democracy:  Idea that people can govern themselves

Aristocracy:  State ruled by the noble class

Citizen:  Adult male resident granted certain rights and responsibilities

Direct democracy:  Government in which citizens rule directly and not through representatives

Monarchy:  Government controlled by one person who inherits his or her power

Natural laws:  Patterns and explanations of the world discovered through reason and intelligence

Republic:  Government in which citizens elect the leaders who make government decisions

Senate:  Aristocratic branch of Rome's government



How did democracy develop?

Throughout history, people have known the need for a government, or a system for exercising authority. For most of history, people have lived under single rulers, such as kings. These rulers had total power. The idea of democracy ‑ that people can govern themselves ‑ grew slowly. Many people contributed to that idea over the centuries.

Greek civilization began about 2000 B.C. Ancient Greece was made up of city‑states. Each city‑state had its own government. The first democracy developed in the city‑state of Athens.

Athens had a king at first. Then it became an aristocracy, a state ruled by the noble class. Each year an assembly of citizens elected three nobles to rule Athens. Citizens were adult male residents given certain rights and responsibilities.

A statesman called Solon created four new kinds of citizenship in the sixth century B.C.  All free adult males were citizens. All citizens were able to vote in the assembly. But only citizens of the three higher classes, could 'hold public office.

Democracy in Athens was limited. Only about it one‑tenth of the population were citizens. Women, slaves, and foreign residents could not be citizens. Slaves made up about one‑third of the Athenian population at that time.

About a hundred years after Solon, a leader named Cleisthenes increased the power of the assembly. He allowed all citizens to present laws for debate and passage. He also created a council whose members were chosen by lot, or at random. The council suggested laws and advised the assembly.



What changes occurred in Greek democracy?

In the fifth century B.C., armies of Persian Empire invaded Greece. But the Persians were defeated by the Greek city‑states in 479 B.C. Athens then became the leader of the city‑states. A wise leader, Pericles, ruled Athens during a time known as the Golden Age of Greece.

Pericles strengthened democracy. He increased the number of paid public officials. This allowed poorer citizens to serve in government. He ‑also introduced the idea of direct democracy. This allowed citizens to participate directly in government rather than through people who represent them.

The Golden Age lasted less than 50 years. Tensions between the city‑states led to fighting among them. Then Greece was defeated by armies from the kingdom of Macedonia. This defeat ended democracy‑ in ‑Greece.. The Macedonian leaders ruled Greece by monarchy, or government controlled by one person.

During this troubled time, several philosophers appeared. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle set forth their ideas on government and society.

Greek ideas had lasting influence on government and philosophy. The Greeks did not rely on traditional explanations of the world. Instead they used reason to find patterns that they called natural laws. They developed direct democracy and the three branches of government.



How was the Roman government organized?

Rome began to rise as Greece fell. By 50.9 B.C., Rome was a republic. A republic is a form government in which citizens have the right to vote and to select their leaders. In Rome, as in Athens, citizenship with voting rights belonged only to males who ‑were not born slaves.

Rome's republican government had separate branches. Two officials called consuls directed the government. The legislative branch was made up of the Senate and two assemblies. The Senate was the aristocratic branch of government. The assemblies were more democratic. They included other classes of citizens. In times of trouble, the republic gave vast powers to a ruler called a dictator.

Rome gradually increased its territory through conquest. It then became an empire tinder the rule of a powerful emperor.



Why did Romans create a system of laws?

The Romans created a system of laws that they could use throughout their empire. Rome's laws have influenced democracy. Some of the most important principles of Roman law were: equal treatment under the law; innocent until proven guilty; the burden of proof rests with the accuser; and unreasonable or unfair laws could be set aside.

In 451 B.C., the Romans created the Twelve Tables, the first written collection of Roman laws. They gave citizens the right to be protected by the laws. About 1,000 years later, all Roman laws were put together in the Code of Justinian. It later was used as a guide on law throughout western Europe. The Code established the idea of "a government of laws, not of men." Under this idea, even rulers and other powerful persons could be held accountable for their actions.




Judaism:  Religion of the Hebrews

Ten Commandments:  Written code of laws

Prophet:  Person believed by the Jews to be a messenger from God

Christianity:  Religion founded by Jesus

Roman Catholic Church: Church that developed from Christianity

Renaissance:  Cultural movement that started in Italy in the 1300s and spread throughout Europe

Reformation:  Religious reform movement that began in the 16th century



What was Judaism?

The Hebrews were the ancient people who developed Judaism. People are the children of God according to the Hebrew Bible. (The Hebrew Bible is the Old Testament in Christianity.) Unlike other groups of people around them, Hebrews believed in one god. Hebrews also believed that God gave people the freedom to choose between good and evil. Therefore, each person was responsible for the choices he or she made. These beliefs led to a new emphasis on the worth of the individual

The Hebrews came to be known as the Jews. They developed a written code of law. It was called the Ten Commandments. The Bible says that God gave these laws to Moses in about 1200 B.C. These laws focused more on morality and ethics than they did on politics.

The Hebrews believed in acting responsible toward others. They thought that the community should help the less fortunate. The prophets of judaism hoped for a world without poverty, or injustice. Prophets were leaders and teachers believed by the Jews to be messengers from God..



How did Christianity and Islam start?

Jesus was born during 6 to 4 B.C. At this time, the Romans ruled Judea, the homeland of the Jews. Jesus began to preach at the age of 30. His preaching contained many ideas from Jewish tradition, including the Ten Commandments. He also stressed the importance of people's love for God, their neighbors, their enemies, and themselves. When Jesus and his teachings seemed to threaten the power both of the Jewish priests and the Romans, they put him to death.

In the first century after Jesus' death, his followers started a new religion based on his messages. It was called Christianity. The apostle Paul was important in spreading this religion. He preached that all human beings were equal.

The Romans opposed both Judaism and Christianity. But these religions spread throughout the Roman Empire. When the Jews rebelled against the Romans, they were forced from their homeland. The Jews then fled to many parts of the world. They carried their beliefs with them. As Christianity expanded, it became a powerful religion within the empire. By 380, it had become the empire's official religion.

Islam was another religion that believed in one god. It started in southwest Asia in the early 600s. This religion, too, taught that all people were equal. It also believed in the worth of the individual and the responsibility of the community to help its unfortunate members.

Several beliefs of these three religions helped to shape democratic ideas. These beliefs included:

  • the duty of individuals and the community to help oppressed people
  • the worth of the individual
  • the equality of people before God



How did the Renaissance and. Reformation help democracy?

The Roman Catholic Church was the church that developed from early Christianity. By the Middle Ages, it was the most powerful institution in Europe. It influenced all parts of life.

In the 1300s, a cultural movement called the Renaissance spread through Europe. This movement led to an interest in the works of the Greeks and the Romans. Renaissance thinkers were concerned about earthly life. They did not think about it as a preparation for life after death. The Renaissance also focused on the importance of the individual. Artists focused on capturing individual character. Explorers went out to find new lands. Merchants took many risks to gain huge wealth.

The Renaissance also led people to question the Church. This questioning caused the Reformation. The Reformation was a protest movement against the power of the Church. It started out as a call for reform. It ended tip producing a new division of Christianity‑Protestantism.

The Reformation began in Germany. Martin Luther criticized the Church for selling pardons for sins. He also disagreed with the Church in its teaching that people were saved by grace and good works. Luther said people could be saved only through faith in God. Soon, many new Protestant faiths sprang up.

Protestant ideas strengthened the belief in the importance of the individual. In Protestant faiths, the clergy did not have special powers. People could find their own way to God. They could read and interpret the Bible for themselves.

The Reformation broke apart the religious unity of Europe. It challenged the authority of Catholic monarchs and popes. It contributed to the growth of democracy.




Feudalism:  Political and economic system of the Middle Ages

Common law:  Body of English law that reflected customs and principles established overtime

Magna Carta:  Document drawn up by nobles in 1215 guaranteeing basic political rights in England

Due process of law:  Administration of law in known, orderly ways to protect people's rights

Parliament:  Lawmaking body of England

Divine right:  Theory that a monarch's power came from God

Glorious Revolution:  Bloodless overthrow of King James 11 of England and his replacement by William and Mary

Constitutional monarchy:  Monarchy in which the ruler's power is limited by law

Bill of rights:  List of rights and freedoms considered essential to the people



How did democracy develop in England?

In 1066, William of Normandy, a French duke, invaded England. He claimed the English throne. This conquest gradually led to the end of feudalism in England. Feudalism was the political and economic system of the Middle Ages. The conquest also set in motion events that led to the development of democracy in England.

An early development in English democracy was a form of trial by jury. It began in the 12th century. Unlike, modern juries, these early juries did not decide whether someone was guilty or innocent. Instead, they were asked by a judge to answer questions about the facts of a case.

Another way that democracy developed in England was through common law. Common law was not like Roman law, which included things the ruler or lawmaker wanted. Common law was made up of customs and principles established over time. It became the basis of the legal systems in many English‑speaking countries, including the United States.

In 1215, King John became involved in a conflict with the English nobles. They presented their demands to him in the Magna Carta. This document contained important principles that placed limits on the power of the English monarch.

One of the Magna Carta's 63 clauses said that the king could not demand taxes. He had to ask for consent from the people. Another clause had to do with an accused person. The accused had a right to a jury trial and to the protection of the law. This right has come to be called due process of law. Still another clause said that the king could not tax people without the consent of Parliament. Parliament was England's lawmaking body.

In 1295, King Edward I needed money to pay for a war. He called together all the lords, plus some knights and leading citizens from the towns. They helped Edward make decisions. This gathering has come to be known as the Model Parliament.



How did Parliament increase its power?

Over time, Parliament had begun to see itself as a partner to the monarch in governing. Its power had grown. It voted on taxes, passed laws, and advised on royal policies.,

In the 17th century, European monarchs began to claim greater authority. They insisted their power came from God. It was their divine right. Conflicts soon arose. In England, Parliament clashed with James I over the rights of the people. When James's son, Charles, became king, Parliament tried to limit royal power. In 1628 they tried to force him to accept the Petition of Right.

The Petition was very important in constitutional history. It demanded an end to:

  • taxing without consent
  • imprisoning citizens illegally
  • housing troops in citizens' homes
  • military government in peacetime

Charles signed the petition. Later. he ignored the promises he made. Conflicts between those who supported Charles and those who supported Parliament eventually caused civil war in 1642. Several years of fighting followed. The kings opponents, led by Oliver Cromwell, won control of the government. Charles was executed in 1649.



What was the Glorious Revolution?

Oliver Cromwell ruled briefly. Then, a new parliament restored the monarch.  Charles' son became king as Charles II. Things had changed, however. The monarch could not tax without Parliaments consent. Also, Parliament passed the Habeas Corpus Amendment Act. Habeas corpus kept authorities from wrongly arresting or holding a person.

Charles II  was followed by his brother, who ruled as James II. James was a believer in the divine right of kings. Within a few years, Parliament withdrew its support of James. Instead, it offered the throne to James's daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange. This change in rulers was called the Glorious Revolution. It showed that Parliament had the right to limit a monarch's power. And it had the right to control who would succeed to the throne. As a result, England became a constitutional monarchy. In a constitutional monarchy, a ruler's powers are controlled by a constitution and the laws of the country.

In 1689, William and Mary accepted a bill of rights from Parliament. It listed the rights and liberties essential to the people and limited the power of the monarchy. Democratic protections included free speech in Parliament, and no taxation without the consent of Parliament.




Enlightenment:  Intellectual movement that started in Europe

Social contract:  Agreement between citizens and the government

Natural rights:  Rights all people have

Separation of powers:  Division of government into separate branches

American Revolution:  Americans' fight for independence from Britain

Representative government:  Government‑in which citizens elect representatives to make laws

Federal system:  Government in which powers are divided between federal and state governments

French Revolution:  French people's fight for democratic freedoms

United Nations:  International organization established in 1945



What was the Enlightenment?

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that developed in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Thinkers of this movement had been influenced by the Scientific Revolution. They hoped to use reasoning instead of traditional beliefs to discover natural laws that govern society.

One Enlightenment thinker was Thomas Hobbes. He believed that the best form of government was absolute monarachy. He said people should form a type of social contract with a ruler. They would submit to a ruler to prevent disorder.

John Locke took a different view. He said all people had natural rights. These were the rights to life, liberty, and property. He said people form governments to protect these natural rights. He also said people have a right to rebel against a government that does not protect their rights.

French Enlightenment thinkers included Voltaire, Jean‑Jacques Rousseau, and Baron de Montesquieu. Voltaire fought for tolerance, freedom of religion, and free speech. Rousseau said the only legitimate government was one in which the people chose what was best for the community.

Montesquieu believed that government should be kept under control to protect people's freedoms. He believed that  could best be done through a separation of powers. This meant dividing the government into branches that would include a lawmaking body, an executive branch to earn‑ out the laws, and courts to interpret laws.



Why did Americans fight for independence?

Enlightenment ideas had a strong impact on the colonists in Britain's North American colonies. The colonists helped Britain defeat France in the French and Indian War. The victory gave Britain all of North America east of the Mississippi River. To help pay for the war, the British Parliament placed taxes on the colonists. The colonists opposed these taxes because they were not represented in Parliament. This was just one of a series of measures that the colonists thought violated their rights.

Eventually, the colonists fought for independence in the American Revolution. They issued a Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. After years of fighting, the British army surrendered in 1781.

In 1787, a group of American leaders met in Philadelphia. They met to set up a new plan for governing the nation. Enlightenment ideas helped shape this plan. The U.S. Constitution included a representative government, as advocated by Rousseau. This is a government in which citizens elect representatives to make laws for them. The Constitution created a federal system. In this system the powers of government are divided between the federal government and state governments. The Constitution also included a separation of powers between branches in the federal government. This was based on the ideas of Montesquieu.



Why did the French revolt?

In the late 1780s, there was great unrest in France. The middle class was dissatisfied with Louis XVIs weak leadership. The Enlightenment raised questions about people's rights. The economy was failing. and the peasants were hungry and restless.

In 1789 the common people formed the National Assembly. They felt that they were not represented in their government. Soon people from other classes joined them. Peasants in Paris began an uprising to win democratic freedoms. This fight is known as the French Revolution.

The National Assembly made many reforms. It adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. This document guaranteed certain rights to all French people. The Assembly also ended the feudal system and drafted a constitution that made France a limited monarchy.

The work of the Assembly did not last long, however. A radical lawmaking body took charge. During this time, a Reign of Terror took place. Many people who were against the revolution were killed for their beliefs. In 1799, a military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, gained control. He created a dictatorship. Democracy in France did not develop until the mid‑1800s.


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How does the United Nations promote democracy?

It took hundreds of years for democracy to develop throughout the world. Today, most people look upon it as the best form of government.

An international organization called the United Nations (UN) was established in 1945. Its goal is to keep world peace and to make people's lives better. In 1948 the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document includes such democratic ideas as the right to life, liberty, and security. It also includes rights to equal protection under the law and to the freedom to assemble.

There are many places in the world today where people do not have these rights. Recent struggles for democracy have taken place in a number of nations, including South Africa and the republics of the former Soviet Union.





absolute monarchy:  Monarchy in which a king or queen has absolute power

apostle:  One of the earliest missionaries of Christ

assemble:  Come together as a group

assembly:  Government body

city‑state:  Self‑governing state made up of a city and surrounding territories

consent:  Give permission

dictator:  Leader who has absolute

ethics:  Set of values

interpret:  Explain the meaning of

morality:  Rules of right and wrong

oppressed:  Burdened by an unjust exercise of power

philosophers:  Thinkers

principles:  Fundamental truths

radical:  Favoring extreme or rapid changes

statesman:  Wise and experienced political leader

submit: Yield to the authority of another

tolerance:  Willingness to let other people hold opinions that are different from one's own

traditional:  Something that is passed down from generation to generation


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