American Political System


The American Political system has been an intriguing topic for many decades. In many ways the American political system is unique in its approach to governance (Rubin). The purpose of this discussion is to examine the development of the American political system as it evolved from the early colonial period through the middle of the 19th century. The discussion will also include the nature of political participation in the colonial period, the prominent features of the democratic system developed by the founding fathers of the United States and the way in which the political process changed during the first half of the 19th century.

American Political History

The colonial period in America spans from 1492 when Christopher Columbus reached America until 1763. The colonization of America occurred as European people came to America to seek religious freedom, political freedom and wealth. By the 1600's those of British decent had established dominance on the East Cost of America. By 1607 the first colony was established in Jamestown, Virginia. According to Andrews (1931) "The planting of a settlement in Virginia was a commercial enterprise, undertaken by certain private individuals for the purpose of enlarging the trade of the English kingdom and of bringing a profit both to themselves and to those who had invested money with them. These English promoters were authorized and encouraged by the crown...(Andrews, 1931,p 3-4)."

The establishment of 12 other colonies followed until 1682 (Andrews, 1931).

European settlers found wealth in the farming of tobacco and cotton. To maintain this wealth Africans were enslaved and brought to America via the middle passage. Once they were in America they worked in fields and were treated as property.

In addition to the aforementioned British Colonies that were established in America, there were also British colonies that were established throughout the world. This rapid expansion throughout the world brought with it a plethora of challenges (Andrews, 1931). The author explains that as the colonies began to prosper financially and socially they also began to develop their own methods of governing that were different from Britain's governing in many ways.

In addition, as it pertained to foreign relations Great Britain experienced difficulty because the international situation was constantly changing and created new perplexities and obligations (Andrews, 1931). The author also explains that the British constitution was experiencing a great deal of change during this time and governance of the colonies was becoming uncertain.

As a result of the aforementioned issues and other problems associated with British rule and the colonies need for independence, the American Revolution seemed inevitable. The author explains that the colonies were composed of people already capable of maintaining a separate existence attained independent statehood, after they had deliberately rejected the principles had come in the course of that experiment when, as it appeared to Englishmen of the day, Great Britain's revenue, the heavy expenses of her wars, and the prosperity of her mercantile and landed classes had become to no small extent dependent on the colonies, that were thought of, not as political communities with highly developed social and economic needs of their own, but as areas of occupied and cultivated land, belonging to Great Britain and designed to serve as of profit to her government and people (Andrews, 1931,p 3-4)."

As a result of the aforementioned issues, the colonies begin to contemplate becoming independent from Britain and forming a separate nation. The author points out that 1763 was the year when America's relationship with Great Britain started to change dramtically. This change occurred because Great Britain had difficulty meeting the challenges posed by the territorial and the administrative support of the American colonies. In addition, ideas of imperialism and all that it entailed became more apparent to the colonists (Andrews).

By 1763 it also became apparent that Britain was dealing with a different group of colonists than those that had first inhabited the colonies (Andrews). The colonists from the early part of the century were poor, there numbers were few, and they did not understand the power that they possessed over Great Britain. Indeed after the treaty of Utrecht the colonists experienced a great deal of commercial expansion which brought about both wealth and power (Andrews). The colonists also began to understand that they could mange their own affairs (Andrews).

As a result, the foundation for the American Revolution had been set.

Between 1763 and 1791 (when the bill of rights was passed by the 1st congress) a series of events took place which led to a war between British and American troops and ultimately led to the surrender of British troops in Jamestown in 1781 (Andrews). By 1783 a peace treaty was signed between Great Britain and America. By 1787 the Northwest ordinance was signed, and the articles of confederation were rewritten (Andrews). Then by 1791 the bill of rights was passed.

In the development of the American democracy the nation's forefathers wanted the democracy to possess certain prominent features. Amongst these features -- described in the bill of rights -- is the prohibiting of congress from establishing or prohibiting the free exercise of religion, the right to bear arms and the right to due process ("The Bill of Rights"). As it relates to the constitution the prominent features are the establishment of the Congress as the Legislative power over the country (the Constitution of the United States of America). The constitution explains that the congress shall consist of the senate and the House of Representatives and the powers that they hold. The constitution also establishes the office of the president as the executive branch of government and the Supreme Court as the judicial branch of government (the Constitution of the United States of America). The constitution also explains the powers that the executive and judicial branches have. The constitution also describes the powers of governance for each state. It also includes important amendments such as the prohibiting of slavery and the right of every citizen to vote (the Constitution of the United States of America).

Indeed, Colonial America and the American Revolution played a critical role in the development of the American political system.

One author explains that as a result of the early colonists, American political history has been characterized by a pattern of sectional behavior (Vile). This means that individuals that live in certain geographical areas have often worked together to hinder the interests of people living in other geographical areas (Vile).

This mentality was most evident during the Civil War that forced the North and the South to war against one another. The author also explains that American political behavior throughout the 19th century was greatly impacted by agricultural sectionalism (Vile). The author points out that an "extreme example of sectional loyalty was provided by the presidential election of 1860, in which in the whole of ten Southern states not a single vote was cast for the candidate of the Republican party, Abraham Lincoln (Vile, p. 18)."

The author explains that in the final quarter of the twentieth century such sectionalism no longer existed in the extremes that it once did. In addition America now has a national identity and unity that is wholly different and in some way more cohesive than the unity that is found in some of the older European countries (Vile). However there are regional factors that are still present in American Politics as it pertains to elections, the decentralization of the party system and the manner in which congressional politics is carried out (Vile).

Indeed sectionalism continues to exist in American politics. No where is this most evident than in the two party system that has prevailed for many decade. The author explains that one could assume that the class, sectional, individualistic and pluralistic behavior of American citizens would create a political system having many different…