Jill Lepore’s article “People Power: Revisiting the Origins of American Democracy” reads like a brief historiography of some of the more prominent takes on the history of the American Democratic movement. Lepore does a solid job of organizing and chronicling the changes in historical thought about our democracy over time.
Lepore has portrayed the debates and arguments over the American Democracy as becoming much more complicated as time has progressed. The first book, Mabel B. Casner and Ralph Henry Gabriel’s “The Rise of American Democracy,” seems simple in its writing and intent. The play at the end of the book is used to demonstrate the theme that frontier land and hardworking men were largely responsible for the rise of the political system.
Lepore then sets up a contrast between Noah Webster and Thomas Jefferson that is also representative of the conflicting views of the Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans. As the Federalists begin to lose ground, Jefferson’s beloved farmers gain more power and say in the government. This is something that really ticked off Webster. H believed that he had more to lose than small, poor farmers and therefore his vote should weigh more.
Lepore does a nice job of bringing in Alexis de Tocqueville’s opinions on equality and democracy. Tocqueville is such a widely read opinion that it is crucial for Lepore to include him in this historiography. The arguments made by Frederick Jackson Turner and Sean Wilentz contradict each other on the importance of the West and the frontier struggle to the development of American Democracy. While Turner’s argument glorifying the brave men who trekked out West is noble, Wilentz seems to make a stronger point that urban workers were the most democratic element of Jacksonian America.
Wilentz’s use of major political figures intertwining with less prominent men is a smart way to approach such a broad topic. Wilentz knows that in order to fully understand history, a careful balance of the big and small must struck. If this balance is made successfully, a reader or a student will be able to best learn about the past. They will receive the fullest possible idea of history and how people really lived. This will give us in the present, the best tools necessary to, as Casner and Gabriel wrote, “strive to learn not to repeat these errors. The generations which lived before us left us a heritage of noble ideals; let us hold fast to these” (1).