Democracy is defined as a political system where government power is derived from the people. Three events in the colonial society impacted how democracy bloomed in America in the 18th century. The Great Awakening, immigration, and the Zenger case contributed to the birth of democracy in America.
The Great Awakening
The Great Awakening occurred in the 18th century. Previously, within the Church sermons relied heavily on intellectual discussions and viewed God as a happy god over a perfectly ordered society. In 1730 a dramatic change in the Church teachings brought The Great Awakening. During The Great Awakening the intellectual discussions of a happy god turned to feverish bible study and fear of hellfire and damnation.
A large part of the idea of democracy relies on a sense of consonance in making decisions within a nation. This Great Awakening was the first common experience colonists had regardless of their original nationality. Bringing the nation together with a common experience gave them reason to establish themselves as independent. As people started reading the bible for themselves it changed their reliance on religious figures and their view of authority in general. If the colonists could make their own religious and moral decisions, why couldn’t they make their own political decisions? This sense of self-direction led to them challenging the crown 30 years later and setting up a democracy.
In 1701 only 250,000 people lived on the Atlantic coast population excluding Native Americans. But within seventy-five years 2,500,000 colonists had immigrated. Fertile American land and dependent food supply attracted thousands of Europeans. Europeans flocked to America for one important thing: freedom. Large numbers of Protestants came from France seeking out religious freedom from under the crown. With this need for religious freedom came the need for political freedom.
Immigrants were also escaping the social class extremes of Europe. Colonies didn’t have a noble class that inherited privileges but rather a narrow class system where they could improve their social standing. This lack of hereditary aristocracy led to a system of democracy in America. Their want for freedoms led to what we now know as the Constitution.
The Zenger Trial
The tension between colonial forces and the establishment continued to heighten with the 18th century. A case in point was Peter Zenger’s trial. Newspapers in colonial days ran a risk of being jailed if any article offended a political authority. Peter Zenger was the editor and publisher of The New York Weekly Journal. In 1735 Zenger was brought to trial for printing false accusations against the governor of New York.
Zenger argued that what he said of the royal governor was factual. Regardless of the judge’s opinion, the jury voted Zenger innocent of all charges due to his veracity. This case established a poignant framework for the Freedom of Press. Newspapers were further encouraged to have their own voice, as were the people. The foundation for a government voiced by the people was laid. The Zenger Case was the spark lighting the fire of democracy in America’s heart.
Many people and events in America’s early history contributed to the democratic society in America. The Great Awakening, immigration, and the Zenger case were preparation for the radical change in government America was soon to undergo.