A More Perfect Democracy

The defining characteristic of any democratic government should be the continual pursuit of citizen participation. I often question whether our government truly strives to meet this ideal. From a historical perspective there are few occasions in which our government has pursued democracy first and politics second.

Our nation was founded some 232 years ago on the principle that "all men are created equal," but still to this day not all men are treated to equal rights. The root of this problem lies deep within the fabric of American consciousness and the Constitution provides no further assistance. Each state is allowed to implement voting procedure however it deems necessary; as the Constitution makes no explicit reference to voting, the cornerstone of its very existence.

For most of America's childhood, states reserved the right to limit eligible voters to property owning, white males. On the first day of January, 1863 Abraham Lincoln stated within his Emancipation Proclamation "that all persons held as slaves [within the rebellious states] are, and henceforward shall be free." This famous declaration paved the way for the 14th Amendment in 1866. The 14th Amendment elevated previously indentured servants from 3/5 of a person into full blown citizens. This momentous event laid the foundation for the 15th Amendment in 1870: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

In order to further my dialogue, I must dispel a commonly held and misconstrued belief. Despite what the Republicans may want you to believe, their current platform does not derive their existence from Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln would almost certainly be a New England Lefty if he were around today; need proof: "In 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed a bill that imposed a 3% tax on incomes between $600 and $10,000 and a 5% tax on higher incomes." Lincoln was the father of the income tax, a policy the current Republican Party supposedly detests; yet they hypocritically continue to trumpet the man from Illinois.

While Lincoln definitely leaned to the left, he was not single highhandedly responsible for enacting the first major addition to America's democratic model; that task was left to the states.

The next major piece of legislation came in the form of the 19th Amendment which granted women the right to vote. Democratic President Woodrow Wilson played an integral role in securing the amendment's passage. The amendment failed on several occasions prompting Wilson to call a special congressional session in advance of the Presidential election of 1920. Although a member of the Democratic Party, by today's standards he would likely be considered socially conservative. Wilson played a more direct role in the resolution of Woman's Suffrage when compared to Lincoln's aforementioned accomplishments but he still does not deserve all the credit.

The third and final amendment arrived on July 7, 1971. The twenty-sixth amendment was certified by the Administrator of General Services granting anybody aged eighteen or older the right to vote. The amendment was proposed by Senator Jennings Randolph (D) of West Virginia in response to procedural matters within the Selective Service Draft of 1969. Anybody aged eighteen or older could be drafted and fight America's War, but they could not vote. The amendment was ratified by thirty-nine states (eventually forty-two) thus making Randolph's amendment law.

Throughout history, each ideology has helped expand our democracy; regardless of motivation, in these three instances, the people won. If the amendment trend continues, our democracy should expand in some fashion within the next generation despite the forever growing partisanship this country faces.

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