How Democracy Expanded in America in the Early 19th Century
Political democracy in America resulted from the significant market revolution and territorial expansion. Challenging property qualifications, which began in the American Revolution, reached a peak in the early nineteenth century. Even because the expansion of commercial agriculture and industry increased the number of wage earners in rural areas and cities, and those who could not meet property requirements would insist that they were as fit as others to exercise their rights as citizens. Owning property, therefore, began not only necessarily mean possessing intellectual or physical endowments.
Participation in the formation of political institutions, therefore, should involve free individuals who have the moral right to contribute to their states. As mentioned by Tocqueville, democracy transformed into a “habit of the heart,” which was the culture encouraging individual initiative, belief in equality, and an active public sphere.
Those who dominated politics, specifically large slaveholders, showed significant resistance to the changes in voting qualifications, stating that one must own land in order to vote. However, the constitutional convention of 1850 eliminated the requirement for property, opening new opportunities for the democratization of America. While the speed with which the process occurred varied from one state to another, by 1869, all but one eliminated property requirements. However, several states continued to bar individuals on the grounds that they lacked general independence, which presented a restriction on exercising democracy.
Another limitation was concerned Rhode Island, which required voters to own real estate valued at $134 or rent for at least $7 per year. Overall, the personal independence that was necessary for citizens began to depend not on property ownership but on ownership of one’s self, which is a reflection of the era of individualism.