Introduction to American Government
Themes in American Political History
Americans tend to view their history as a success story and as a victory for democracy. A number of themes recur in how Americans think about their history, including the mythical founding of the United States, the struggle against tyranny and injustice, and the sense of history as progress. Popular culture, especially movies and television shows, constantly reinforces these themes and this view of American history.
Most Americans re-imagine the founding of the United States in mythical terms, as the triumph of wisdom over tyrannical ignorance and as the creation of something new and important in the world. Likewise, many American citizens tend to revere the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and the Founding Fathers are seen as paragons of virtue and political acumen. The iconic image of George Washington on the one-dollar bill or the statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial fits in with this heroic vision of the founders.
Struggle Against Tyranny and Injustice
Most Americans often think of their country as the champion of democracy and justice. Many events in American history are therefore seen as part of this struggle. Americans tend to think of the Civil War, for example, as the battle to end slavery, World War II as the defeat of evil tyrants, and the Cold War as a triumph of democratic values over communism and totalitarianism. Today, many Americans see the fight against terrorism as the latest example of the United States standing up for what is right in the world.
History as Progress
Although the United States is not a perfect democracy, many Americans interpret its history as progress toward a better democracy. In this view, America has improved from century to century, getting better and more democratic over time. The expansion of the right to vote is the best example. At the start of the republic, the right to vote was restricted in most places to older, wealthy, white landowners. Over time, however, all citizens won the right to vote, including the middle classes, the poor, people of other races, women, and younger people. American democracy has thus grown as more people have been allowed to participate.