TRANSNATIONAL REFORM AND DEMOCRACY: ELECTION REFORMS IN NEW YORK CITY AND BERLIN AROUND 1900
The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
"Disenchantment with democracy" is Sven Beckert's diagnosis for the United States around 1900. According to Beckert, the era's elites paid little regard to the ideals of democracy and worked to exclude the lower classes from the electoral process. But was acceptance of democracy really that low? Previously overlooked elite discourses and efforts—particularly discussions that dealt with the practice of elections—show that this explanation does not tell the whole story. By drawing on endeavors
... cerning election reform in New York City, I argue that at the turn of the century a new understanding of democracy became a kind of modern consensus. This was the case not only in New York, a city in a republic, but also in Berlin, in the Prussian constitutional monarchy. These findings support the interpretation that around 1900 the understanding and acceptance of democracy underwent a seminal change in the transatlantic world. The consensus held that state legitimacy required mass participation and, even more, that mass participation was connected to "everybody" and to a meaning of "universal"— though this ideal of "universal" was constructed and exclusive in important ways.