How does mass democracy influence the United States in the time period of 1820-1860?

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

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I think that mass democracy is a part of the study of the time period that makes it so complex.  In other words, the rise of mass democracy brings up so much in way of intricacy that shows the time period both powerful as well as fundamentally flawed.  Mass democracy helps to fuel the individualist spirit of American culture and political expressions of the good.  It is the time period of Manifest Destiny, the belief that American expansion to the West is reflective of individual desire and individual action.  Mass democratic notions of the good whereby individuals are able to take political action fuels this.  It is also the time period where individuals are able to embrace capitalism and industrialization in the attempts to make money and develop their own hold on the economic means of production.  Mass democracy is a part of this, again, encouraging individual power and refusing to submit to larger institutions.  The mass democratic principle of individual autonomy can be seen in the Transcendentalist notions of the good that are being embrace in this time period, as well.  Thinkers like Whitman, Thoreau, and Emerson are inspired by the belief in that individual power is critical and essential to defining one's place in the world.  Finally, one can see how mass democracy ends up fueling the debate on abolition of slavery.  The same individual tenets that encourage individual autonomy and action end up rejecting slavery.  This helps to bring about the nation's collision seen in the Civil War.  When de Tocqueville writes about the greatness in American mass democracy also containing the very elements that can help to undermine it, this condition is embodied in the time period.

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