The great democracy experiment - how original was it?

Was our country’s beginning, i.e. committees of leaders making a set of rules of how our government should be set up, making it a republic where elected representatives made the government decisions (laws, etc.) for the people, truly unique? What other countries began that way? Was it among the firsts? If not, why is it called a great experiment?

Well there was Athenssome 2300 years before US democracy for a start…

(ETA: presuming that you talk about the US)

Wikipedia: History of Democracy

Yes, I am aware of Rome, Athens, Sparta, etc. as being either republics or democracies, or something similar, and having evolved a variety of governing rules. I am actually asking if the U.S. was the first country to be established as a new country, and dedicated from the beginning to the notion that the public could rule themselves. Earlier colonial efforts, I think, were anything but that.

[my bold]

Classic Sparta was nothing of that sort. In fact it was the very opposite (I always shudder when I think about that monstrous state).

Do you refer to the U.S.A. itself, or earlier colonies? Is the Mayflower Compact related to your question? Some of the pilgrims were delighted they ended up somewhere else than Virginia and quickly asserted their right to “enact [their own] just and equal laws” (though still acknowledging their “dread Sovereign Lord” back in England). Here’s an excerpt from their Compact:

The medieval Republic of Florence might sort of fit the bill.

Like the US, it started as a breakaway from a monarchy, and was founded on principles of collective rule and rule of law - rule by a merchant class in practice.

On the other hand the Florentine government system went through numerous changes, and never reached a universal suffrage stage before being subsumed back into another monarchy.

Of course it took the US close to 200 years to get close to universal suffrage, and who knows where the story goes from here…

It’s now believed that Sumerian city states were initially at least, democratic. About 5000 years ago. And it seems they survived for much longer than thought.

How do you define something as a new country? Was the Commonwealth of England a new country founded in 1649? Or was it the same country as the Kingdom of England, only under a different government without the King?

If a change of government didn’t make England a new country then how did a change of government make America a new country? The states that formed the United States of America had all been existing colonies.

Iceland? A colony in, AFAIK, a previously uninhabited land, with a form of assembly of residents making the rules.

It was inhabited by Irish people who, um, voluntarily chose to move on to Greenland when the Nordic settlers arrived. Yeah, that was it, they voluntarily chose.

But, yeah, leaving aside the “uninhabited” point, I think the Iceland example is a good one.

Shit, mate, you could even argue that our British ‘oppressors’ were democratic; they just weren’t democratic from our perspective.

But understand something: “democracies” can be used to implement different laws and rules. You can have a “democracy” according to the definition of the term but one that hardly acts in the democratic spirit. Democracies can be utilized to do undemocratic things.

Democratic is the best form of government; it’s also the hardest to maintain because it requires competence, which in turn engenders confidence that people can govern themselves. Put incompetent people in power, and people lose confidence in the ability to govern themselves, which is really easy to do.

Understand something else: you cannot have a healthy democracy without equality, or at least without true equal opportunity. A democracy that doens’t embrace egalitarian values is doomed to fail, just as a socialist society that creates a bureaucratic elite is destined to fail at living up to its own standards of equity.

Some tribes have a form of democracy, and early humans were egalitarian, with labor divided evenly. Democracy is in our blood; authoritarianism is not. But obedience to authority and a fake chieftain are in our blood. And civilisation confuses us sometimes in the same way that urban birds are confused by artificial lighting at night.

The US was a bit different thing because at the time it was established most of the rest of the planet had been inhabited for a long time.

The US is close to universal suffrage? It still has a long way to go. The qualifications for US voter registration are very eccentric and inconsistent compared to other nation states. Nothing universal about it, it is a patchwork of odd rules that favour some groups and not others.:dubious:

That’s not a point of difference; it’s true for all states. There is no state in existence today which was established at a time when much of the planet was uninhabited.

So had the US.

The real difference between the US and the other established countries at the time was that the US didn’t adopt a hereditary ruler. Yes, there’d been a few previous such countries, but it was widely thought in Europe that such governments were unstable. Many in Europe thought the US would come running back to Britain in a few years, or break down and be absorbed piecemeal by other countries, or something like that. After all, even the Netherlands, which had gained independence from Spain not too long before, had adopted a hereditary ruler. And during the Commonwealth, Britain had essentially been ruled by one man who passed the rulership to his son.

The extent of Irish settlement of Iceland before the Norse settlement is not known very well. The sagas indicate there were some few monks. I have never seen the idea that they were forced to move to Greenland, which might not even have been known by any Europeans yet at that time.

It was an evolutionary thing - there had been councils of various compositions, various formality constructed to advise the ruler. A number of states had some form of ruler selection other than heredity over the centuries. By the time of Cromwell, the elected parliament had sufficient power that the King could not overrule them, and they eventually made that point with Charles I. Each step was a bit further than the rest. AFAIK all the states had assemblies to advise the governors, and the disagreement was how much the governor and the home country that appointed him could overrule the local assembly. The evolution of constitutions from unwritten rules to specific written rules likewise was an evolution. Perhaps the advantage of the colonies was being able to start from scratch (uninhabited area or not) and define their governance, in writing, before Britain realized they were big enough it should send an agent to oversee the operation. the history of the states before 1776 was endless bickering between the locally elected assemblies and autocratic governors imposed from London. The miracle was after a false start and a lot of bickering, a bunch of politicians actually agreed on a compromise that held until 1860.