The active spread of democracy from 1815 to 1840 significantly expanded the rights and freedoms of citizens to participate in political life. The United States had a heterogeneous structure with extremely diverse social groups. Each of the groups had its own interests, which needed to be defended according to democratic principles. In this regard, a conflict of interest arises when one community restricts the rights of another, which is the limitation of expanding democracy.
At the heart of the United States is the idea of the coexistence of different states within a single entity, which also implies a heterogeneous population. John C. Calhoun perceived “the community as made up of different and conflicting interests” (Forner, 195). Thus, while spreading democratic principles, the interests of every majority in society must be respected and protected. In this case, the limitation arises due to the conflict of existing interests. In particular, the slaveowners, who essentially restricted the rights of people to freedom, also had their own values and represented a significant group. Thus, Calhoun argued that only by supporting the interests of all members of society can the diversity of a nation be preserved. In turn, a paradox arises when one group’s rights restrict another group’s rights.
This controversy concerns the issue of who determines democratic norms and laws. For example, the Appeal of the Cherokee Nation illustrates how the voluntary desire of the indigenous people of North America to be members of the nation was rejected (Forner, 201). They emphasize that they would like to stay in the land of their ancestors, where there are enough resources for the full life of the tribes. However, they are forced to move to a new region where they “see nothing but ruin before us” (Forner, 202).
Thus, despite the existing treaties, the interests of the indigenous people were not taken into account; they were not included in democratic negotiations. In this case, the limitation of expanding the democracy also consists of the impossibility of considering all groups’ interests. Indians were an integral part of the nation’s culture but were expelled as a potential threat to the freedoms of the inhabitants of the United States.
Thus, the expansion of the rights of one group included in society can significantly limit the interests of another. In particular, the expansion of voting rights has been associated with property qualifications, which were preferred by the ruling slaveholders class in the south. For example, such restrictions were in force in Virginia until the 1950s, which gave the richer members of society to support their political interests (Forner, 198). This situation could not but affect Black citizens, whose rights to vote were also limited by property qualifications (Forner, 204). Thus, a conflict of interests is again observed since the expansion of the freedoms of one of the groups suppresses the other. In particular, the expansion of democratic freedoms for dominant groups (slaveowners, White citizens) inevitably leads to the humiliation of the weaker.
Forner, E. (2017). Voices of freedom: A documentary history (5th ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.