Since when are the USA a free democracy?

Preface: This post is in no way intended to insult anyone, hurt anyone’s feeling or put anyone down. I’m just asking a question out of curiosity. I’d like you to take it as it is meant - a simple, factual question for a historical date.

I was talking to a friend of mine about the election in 2008, when he asked me “Since when are the USA a democracy?”. I guess he was talking about the election in 2000, when the majority of the people elected one person and the other one was the winner.

Although I don’t quite understand that myself, I’m not gonna talk about it now. No, what came to my mind was something else.

The USA are always portrayed as a kind of “guardian of freedom and democracy in the world”. I’m German, so I tend to agree. I don’t even want to imagine what Germany would be like, without the support of the USA after WWII. Thanks to your country, I can say that ours is a free democracy. In fact I can say that we are since 1949.

Which brings me to the point of this post: What would you say - Since when are the USA a free democracy? Do you have a certain date in mind, or has it been a continuous process, that cannot be nailed down to a specific point in time?

“Free and democratic” to me means that every citizen is allowed to vote (with certain exceptions of course), and that the state does not discriminate people because of race, gender,…

1838 - The Governor of Missouri signed a military order that the Mormons be driven from the state or exterminated. It’s legal invalidity was officially recognized and the State of Missouri formally apologized - in 1976.
Go or die? Not really free, right?

1890 - 300 men, women and children of the Lakota Sioux are slaughtered at the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Uhm, no. Not free.

1920 - The 19th amendment to the US Constitution became law and women were allowed to vote throughout the USA.
Okay, no democracy without voting rights for women.

1964 - The Civil Rights Act made it illegal to force black people to use separate schools, theaters, restaurants, buses, rest rooms, and trains.

Could that really be it? 1964? That would mean that you have made us a free democracy without being one yourself. That sounds weird, and maybe I’m missing something.

What do you think? What do your textbooks say? Can you name a date?

Again - No offense meant.

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Comment by snookerdoodle
2007-05-04 17:53:28

Great question, IMHO!

I would say that we are still not completely “free” and neither is Germany and that neither one has ever been. There are degrees of freedom (avoiding tempting geek humor here).

In general, no matter where you are, the wealthier, shrewder, and more amoral you are, the more powerful you are, and therefore the more freedom you enjoy. Case in point: the current DMCA hoopla. Powerful people were able to get laws they desired passed.

Ultimately, and sadly (to me), only the threat of some sort of mass revolution (not necessarily violent) keeps this in check.

Comment by jlbraun
2007-05-04 18:03:08

The US is a constitutional republic, not a democracy. In fact, I hope we never become a democracy - it’s simply another name for mob rule. Democracies as a rule do not respect minority rights.

Comment by Steve
2007-05-04 19:23:08

The US has never been a complete democracy. If you limit who votes, then you are not a complete democracy. Nonetheless, the US is a democratic republic.

Comment by Church of Integrity
2007-05-05 22:02:16

I agree to some extent with those that say that the US has never been absolutely free or democratic. I mean you can implement democracy in so many ways, like they got representative democracy or something like that here but one can argue that it’s not proper democracy because the people don’t have a direct say in the decisions made. Also one could say that most governments do things that their citizens don’t approve of. For example allowing industries to work that destroy nature, taking part in wars etc. I’m sure I can find many such examples.


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