Democracy and Progress in America: An Introduction


de . moc . ra . cy (di mak're se) n., pl. Gr. demos, the people + kratein, to rule. 1 government by the people, directly or through representatives 2 a country, etc. with such a government 3 equality of rights, opportunity, and treatment.

Democracy, like any other ideal, means very different things through time. And like any other ideal, democracy is used in national memory and political life as a symbol--which changes through time. The story of democracy in America is long, complex, and well-worn by many writers and thinkers. Our goal is not to provide a definitive survey of American political and social thought, but instead to explore how democracy, by the middle of the nineteenth century, became inextricably linked with that other favorite American catchword, progress.

From the classicism of the Revolution and early Republic, through the colonization of the West by the East, and the whole country by the machine, to the growth of consumer culture, democracy has been defined in very different ways, but always tied to the notion of progress. Our discussion will focus on these changes through time, and serve to introduce the place of the Brumidi Corridor in the U.S. Capitol in the progress/democracy continuum.

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