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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431

The political novel Democracy by Henry Brook Adams was written in secrecy by Adams until his death in 1918. He used various characters for the roles that were meant to both parody and directly criticize the methods behind American politics of the 19th century. The key characters are Mrs. Madeleine “Lightfoot” Lee, Sybil Ross, John Carrington, and Silas P. Ratcliffe.

Mrs. Madeleine “Lightfoot” Lee
Mrs. Lee grows restless after the deaths of her husband and son in New York, so she jumps into the political arena of Washington, DC, by way of moving to the city. Her avoidance of these deaths doesn’t show throughout the novel as keenly as her naivete of the true nature of politics. She is a very intelligent woman regarding arts, philosophers, and the proper etiquette for socializing in Washington, but she realizes her limits in dealing with the harsh realities of the politicians she comes across, such as Silas P. Ratcliffe, one of her suitors.

Silas P. Ratcliffe
Ratcliffe is an Illinois senator who upholds his party’s standards and hopes to rise in his position to that of the next president of the United States. He finds that Mrs. Lee is a useful asset to his display as a potential presidential candidate, so he pursues her until the end of the novel. He is also very attracted to her, but appearances are what is most important to him. He is neither moral nor immoral—he simply desires to become president at whatever covert costs he can handle. His rival for Mrs. Lee’s affections is John Carrington.

John Carrington
Carrington is a lawyer and former Confederate soldier who adores Mrs. Lee to the point of desiring her hand in marriage and for her to stay away from Ratcliffe. His character develops throughout the novel as a kinder alternative to the Illinois senator; he has had to build himself, professionally, from the ground up in order to take care of his suffering mother and sister post–Civil War. He becomes a close friend to Sybil Ross, Mrs. Lee’s sister.

Sybil Ross
Sybil, the younger sister of Mrs. Lee, moves to Washington with Mrs. Lee. Sybil is obsessed with materialism to the point that she may be distinguished as a vapid character, but this changes on her excursion to Arlington with Carrington, in which she shows a deep care for the man and what he deals with as a former Confederate soldier and honest man. She is fiercely emotional and intelligent as time presses forward in the novel, proving that she is more than her materialism implied in the beginning.

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