Democracy In America: Individual Liberty Vs. Social Equality
American Democracy is built on the idea that the protections provided by a central government do not require the oppression of individual liberty. Over the course of American history concern for social equality rose to fuel a debate that continues to this day: can individual liberty and social equality co-exist without government intervention?
The first debate that heated up in American history was slavery. The slave owners argued for their right to own slaves and maintain their local economy. Abolitionists argued that the slaveholders did not have the right to deny equality to the slaves. The civil war ensued, and the first round of debate was won by the Abolitionists who successfully made the argument against slavery.
After slavery, the industrial revolution ushered in the Gilded Age. Many exercised their right to develop businesses and soon industrial giants, under the guise of individual liberty. Their employees were required to work long hours for little pay and endure deadly working conditions. The products produced by these companies were at times deadly to the consumer. The question of liberties was addressed again, but this time it was determined that the employee had the right to accept a low wage or not and that the consumer had the right to accept an inferior product, or not. Subsequent inquiries proved that the government needed to intercede on behalf of the employee and the consumer and began to regulate, or protect the two classes from the perceived liberty of the business owner.
The practices of the next generation of businesses and government leaders determined that it was not necessary for the government to intercede on behalf of the citizens during the early years of the depression. As the economy of the country declined, the government was forced to intervene, and New Deal legislation was developed. The courts argued on many points that the government did not have that right; however, much of the legislation was upheld.
Throughout the history up until today, the nation has proven that when provided individual liberties, many will do just what they have the liberty to do; in many cases without regard to the social equality of others. In other cases, individual liberties are oppressed, such as Abortion and Same-sex Marriage, by government. It would seem that Americans have the individual liberty to decide what social equality is and if social equality is important. American courts are kept busy trying to maintain the balance of individual liberty vs. social equality.
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