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Characteristics of American Democracy

Major Defining Characteristics of the American Democracy

American democracy is the reward of a political culture that not only shares common values and beliefs, but also respects individual thought on the attitude and basic functioning of the government.
Gaynor Borade
Last Updated: Feb 26, 2018
American people voting
With the adoption of a democratic republic, the constitution of the United States not only generates a rostrum for liberty, equality and fraternity, but also extols the definition of democracy as a 'government of the people, for the people and by the people', as given by Abraham Lincoln. There is no scope, in such a democracy, for aristocracy or a refusal to share power. These form the pillars of American democracy. The federal system of American government is a striking feature of its political system. Many democracies are constitutional republics as the United States of America, yet there are striking differences among its political system when compared with most of the democracies of the developed nations.
The American political system works as the federal constitutional republic system, where the President, the Congress and the judiciary system share the powers of the national government, and where there is dominance of only two major parties. American democracy is representative in spirit and hence a kind of 'republic' - 're': representing and 'public' - of the common man. This characteristic of the adopted democratic principles is very unlike those observed in self-appointed governments. The federal government shares sovereignty with the states, where the state government has the power to make laws for its citizens, which do not come under the purview of the federal system, like education, family law, contract law and certain crimes.
Selection of the Head of the Government
  • In the United States of America, the President is the head of the government as well as the state, unlike other parliamentary systems where the Prime Minister is the head of the government who is the leader of the elected party.
  • In the United States of America, the Presidential candidate is indirectly elected by a group of specially selected voters called the Electoral College.
  • In most democratic governments, different parties already have representatives of each state who are directly elected by the people and who enjoy cabinet portfolios. In America, the President nominates dignitaries as cabinet ministers who are essentially not part of the Congress.
Two-Party Political System
While most democracies have a multi-party system, the political system of America has been dominated by only two parties - Democratic and Republican, ever since the American Civil War. Although other parties have also existed, these two remain the major players. The major benefit of such a political system is that it eliminates the need for a coalition to form a government.
The Constitution of the United States establishes its government on federalism, where powers are shared between the national and state / local governments. This is unlike some other democracies where the powers are centralized, i.e., the national government holds total power.
  • Though all the states have their own constitution, they are all subject to comply with the Constitution of the United States of America. For example, the constitution allows a criminal the right to trial by the jury. The state Constitution, however, cannot deny this right for a criminal in its region.
  • The national government has certain exclusive powers, which affect or are applicable to every citizen of the country. For example, printing currency, declaring war, establishing an army / navy, entering into treaties with foreign governments, regulating commerce between state and international trade, establishing post offices and issuing postage, and making laws necessary to enforce the Constitution.
  • Besides complying with the Constitution of the United States, the local or state Constitution has powers reserved to establish local governments, issue licenses (driving, marriage, etc.), regulate intrastate commerce, conduct elections, update the amendments made in the United States Constitution but should not indulge into powers that are delegated to or prohibited from the United States Constitution, can set legal age for smoking or drinking in the state.
  • On the other hand, there are certain powers that are shared by both the national and state governments, which are best to work collaboratively to suit its application on a national as well as local level. For example, setting up of courts, creating and collecting taxes, infrastructure, borrowing money, undertaking expenses for public welfare, making and enforcing laws, etc.
Judicial Powers
  • In the United States of America, there are certain powers vested with the judiciary that it shares with the federal system, acting as a parallel authority within its scope of law for national government.
  • The Supreme Court has the power to nullify or overturn a law that it deems outdated, unlawful or unconstitutional. However, in some parliamentary systems, the Supreme Court cannot do so. It can only point out or make a remark for a particular law to be amended, at the least. The court is subject to announce its justifications based on the existing laws only.
The characteristics of American democracy are in sync with the original plans enumerated within the constitution. The principles are adhered to in spirit and law to assure every citizen of equal opportunity and right. The eradication of impediments related to qualifications of voters has made it possible for a majority of people to vote and ably express their preferences. There is no scope for monopolizing elections or fanning preference for special interest representatives. It is the very spirit of the American democracy that empowers every citizen to stand up against corruption and question practices. The resilience and sense of self-worth of American people are the outcome of the stronghold provided by the democratic principles. The fabric of American society is the result of 'unity in diversity' and a belief in 'power vested in the common man' throughout American history. Without a doubt, the features of democracy represent the power vested by the government in its people and vice versa.