To what extent did America uphold its democratic ideals from 1880-1920?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

In much of this time period, there will be, as the previous post, suggested a great deal of divergence in thought.  The most stunning example of America upholding its democratic ideals could be seen in the United States' entry into World War I.  President Wilson believed that the nation's participation in the war was "to make the world safe for democracy."  Wilson's address to Congress identified specific goals and ideals to which America gave its support and, thus, justifying its participation in World War I.  At the same time, one could argue that another example of American values being upheld was present in Progressivist Reforms of the late 19th century and early 20th.  The idea of power coming from "the bottom up" was of critical importance to the Progressivists, who sought change in the political orders of the day that rewarded corruption and abuses of power.  In addition, the fight for women's suffrage, articulating conceptions of freedom for African- Americans and other marginalized groups, as well as the Muckrackers' attempt expose government collusion and unsafe business practices could all be considered actions that upheld American democratic ideals.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

This is, of course, a matter of opinion.  Also, there are many different things that the US is doing during this time that can be seen as upholding or not upholding those ideals.  Here are some things that were going on that you should think about as you answer this question:

  • Imperialism.  The Spanish American War.  We took Cuba (sort of -- think Platt Amendment) and the Philippines among others.  We fought the Filipinos to prevent them from becoming independent.
  • Relations with the Indians.  This is the time of boarding schools and the Dawes Severalty Act and such.
  • Progressive Era.  Think about all the reforms of the Progressive Era.  Were they democratic because they reined in big business or were they anti-democratic because they tried to control the poor and immigrants (think Prohibition).
  • Or course, women get the vote in 1920.
  • WWI -- was it for democratic ideals?

So, there's a lot going on during this time period.  What do you think -- was it on balance democratic?

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