Lecture Description

Americans have long used the term “democracy” to describe the political system they most admire and in which they live, but in the founding era, “democracy” was a fighting word. It is rare to find someone who used the term “democracy” with a positive connotation before the early 1790s, yet by 1800 a significant number of Americans proudly used it as a descriptor of their new nation’s political system. This talk will explore how and why this transformation occurred, and how we might think about its lasting significance. I will focus on the role Thomas Paine played in shifting the meaning of the term democracy in this era of international revolution, both as an influential thinker and a controversial symbol of democracy’s most radical implications.


Politics Revolutionary and Early National

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