U.S. History/US History
How "democratic" was American society between 1865 and 1945? In what ways was American society becoming more socially tolerant and politically inclusive? In what ways did it remain, or become more, socially intolerant and politically exclusive? How would you assess the "democratic" nature of American society during this time period?
The term "democratic" can mean many things. From a purely political science perspective, democracy means the people voting directly on laws. By comparison, a republic is when people vote for representatives who create the laws. By this definition, the US is a republic, not a democracy. However, many people use the term "democratic" to refer to any government that has a mechanism that allows the popular will to have an impact on government.
In some ways the US was becoming more open and politically inclusive. After the Civil War, several Constitutional amendments granted voting rights to former slaves and provided them with the other basic rights of citizenship. Many of these rights, however, were blocked by other elements of society. States imposed poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent blacks from voting. Some tolerated outright harassment and terrorism, e.g. the KKK to prevent minorities from exercising their rights as citizens. In some ways, society became more divided during this time. In the decades after the Civil War, a strict regime of racial segregation evolved, primarily in the South but in other places as well.
Women's voting rights also became protected by the Constitution during this period, again with a Constitutional Amendment granting voting rights. Also, Native Americans (i.e. American Indians) were granted full rights of citizenship during this period.
During this same period, the progressive movement instituted state initiatives in many State governments, allowing voters to vote directly on specific issues rather than rely on elected officials.
Overall, many more people were permitted to vote and participate in the public process of government. However, there remained many limitations that continued to keep certain segments from full participation.