History is our story, a story of mankind told by a man. The historian writes with the prejudice of his time. Reading an archaic history is revealing in telling the prejudice of the author’s time, a history book written 200 years ago about events of 2,000 years ago will tell two stories. It is the story of both times.
I am almost finished with The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in 1788, two years after the American Declaration of Independence. At this time no attempt at self governance had ever succeeded, Greek Democracy had failed, the Roman Republic had been superseded by a military tyranny, and history contained no example of success. All attempts had failed due to the pandering, egotism and greed of elected officials. Cicero wrote how to win an election in 64 BC, the basic advice is to campaign by promising anything, to rule by gratifying power. Machiavelli wrote the same in the 14th century, both works contain far more advice for a successful political career (and still relevant for today’s politician) but the basic story details the ease of manipulating and misleading.
Mr. Gibbons, the author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, had a great intellectual affinity with the American experiment and no hope that it would succeed. He was a member of the British Parliament and his prejudice displays in his historical work about the Roman Empire. For Mr. Gibbons constitutional monarchy was the most advanced form of a stable government.
We have finally cracked the secret for a successful form of representative government. Divided power, rule of laws and universal suffrage. The earlier attempts lacked the third key and had limited the vote to the aristocracy, this proved to be unstable and easily overpowered by one individual or small group. This is counter intuitive; it seems natural that only the best and brightest should have the privilege of the vote, the great unwashed masses cannot be trusted. This utopian belief in the best and brightest only elevates the greedy and self serving.
America started with a limited number of citizens that could vote. You had to be male, white and a property owner. We quickly extended suffrage to larger and larger segments of the society, which made our government stronger and more stable. A stable democracy requires universal suffrage.
There are current attempts to limit the vote, to dilute citizen participation. Changing the rule of "one person one vote" would destroy our form of government. Slowly over generations we would become a hereditary tyranny or be conquered by a foreign government. We would suffer the fate of the Roman Empire.