The Democratic Challenge
Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address called American democracy an “unfi nished work.” The ideals of popular sovereignty, political equality, and majority rule promised in the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution have inspired the struggles of generations of ordinary Americans to achieve their promise. The Civil War, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and the second wave of feminism were attempts to realize the promise of democracy for all Americans. It took more than thirty years from the adoption of the Constitution for most states to allow white males without property to vote. Women gained that right on the national level only in 1920, and young people ages eighteen to twenty did so only in 1971. Many African Americans in the South were unable to vote in any signifi cant numbers until after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, despite the Fifteenth Amendment’s guarantee.