• Saturday, December 5, 2020

history of democracy

The Election Issue - Get Out & Vote
October 28, 2020
By , Founder

With the upcoming US elections, we thought it would be a fun exercise to look at democracy around the world. In our research, we learned that democracy itself is not a black-and-white concept — even in the US, which is considered a hybrid. And around the world, fewer than 50% of our 195 countries are some form of democracy, which means on the flip side, the majority of the world does not have a voice in their leadership. After this article, you’ll be ready for any of these Jeopardy Daily Doubles: the birthplace of democracy, the longest-standing democratic institution, the country with the longest continuous democracy. We’ll give you the last one now — the United States.

In honor of the election, here are 12 interesting facts about democracy:

1.         The generally agreed-upon birthplace of democracy is Athens. Cleisthenes, a Greek political leader, established the first democracy around 508–507 BC. For this distinction, he’s known as the “father of Athenian democracy.”

2.         Iceland and the Isle of Man both have parliamentary bodies over 1,000 years old, but Iceland did not become an independent country until 1944, and the Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown dependency, so both are out of the running for the distinction of country with the oldest democracy.

3.         There are generally two types of democracy: a direct democracy, where people vote directly on issues and referendums, and a representative democracy, where people vote for officials to represent them at the regional, legislative and executive levels. While the United States is ideologically a representative democracy, its form of government is a constitutional federal democratic republic.

4.         The most pure form of democracy is a direct democracy, where people decide on policy initiatives directly. This exists in two cantons in Switzerland.

5.         The image of the elephant for the Republican Party came about during the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. Andrew Jackson was the first Democratic president, and he used the symbol of the donkey in his presidential campaign posters.

6.         The GOP, the nickname for the Republican Party, stands for Grand Old Party.

7.         Of the 45 presidents of the United States, only 10 of those who sought reelection failed to win a second term.

8.         As president, the US has had 15 Democrats, 19 Republicans, 4 Democratic-Republicans, 4 Whigs, 1 Federalist and 1 without affiliation (George Washington). Millard Fillmore, the 13th president (1850–1853), was the last president from an independent party (he was a Whig, in case you were wondering).

9.         The highest voter turnout in history was in 1908, when one-term President Teddy Roosevelt did not run for reelection and William Howard Taft ran and won against William Jennings Bryan. This 2020 election is still TBD, but if early voter turnout is any indication, we’ll be nearing a record this year.

10.     The US has had four contested presidential elections, in 1800, 1824, 1876 and 2000. In all cases, a president was named by Inauguration Day.

11.     The worst US president in history? Well, that of course is subjective, but we went with US News & World Report because, after all, they do rank colleges and their ranking of presidents is based on approval polls and historians. (Note they have not included the current administration.) The honor of the worst US president in history so far goes to James Buchanan. To earn this distinction, Buchanan allowed slavery to flourish and the secessionist tide to grow among Southern states during his presidency. On the flip side, the top-ranked presidents, in order, are Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson.

12.     To come full circle, the United States is the country with the longest continuous democracy. It may not have felt like it this past year, but we do live in a democracy and our voices will be heard, no matter what. This is the most important election of our country’s 244+ years. So get out and vote.

13.     Get out and vote. It’s that important.