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Natalie Johnson '09

New “Democracy”:
How Power-hungry Politicians Learned to Appease the Power-hungry Mob

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AP US History
Dr. Charles Hanson
Spring 2008

The Project:
Advanced Placement United States History [APUSH] requires all students to write an independent research paper. The paper itself is a major part, but only a part, of the nearly year-long research project. Once the student settles on a viable topic and a specific research question in the fall, a series of assignments require him or her to unearth both relevant primary documents and instances of professional historians who disagree over their own answers to the research question. The paper itself is due in March, but students continue to refine their arguments until APUSH Lecture Night, in May, when they deliver public lectures on their research findings.


The most striking thing to me about Natalie’s research paper was the breadth of its ambition. It’s one thing to ask yourself how “democracy” went from a dirty word in American political discourse at the time of the Constitution to a byword for what we like about our political system today. It’s another thing to set out to find out. This is what Natalie did, and the resulting journey took her deep into Jacksonian party rhetoric, de Tocqueville’s musings on sociolinguistics, and the role of the new Western states in the expansion of voting rights in the early 19th century. The conclusion Natalie arrived at by the end of her research was that it was the settlement of the new Western states (today’s Midwest) that indirectly forced politicians to embrace the same idea of democracy that their predecessors had shunned as “mob rule.” Her scrupulous, sophisticated argument was a major factor in her winning the Joseph Bertrand History Award at the end of her junior year.