1. I think a system of government was developed in Greece because they wanted to form a structure that included the citizens of Greece. Greece served as one of the first forms of self-rule government. In Athens all the adults citizens were required to take an active part in the government. The idea that the people can replace their government throught peaceful transfers of power rather than violent uprising or revolution. Every year 500 names were chosen from all the citizens of ancient Athens. Those 500 citizens had to actively serve in the government for one year. Durng that year, they were responsible for making new laws and controlled all parts of the political process. To vote, citizens had to attend the assembly on the day the vote took place. This form government is called direct democracy.
The founders of United States chose to copy elements of greek democracy because democracy is the idea that the citizens of a country should take an active role in the government of their country and manage it directly or through elected representatives. The key part of democracy was that the people have a voice. The United States has a representative democracy. Representative democracy is a government in which citizens vote for representatives who create and change laws that govern the people rather than getting to vote directly on the laws themselves. I think the founders knew that with these elements our civilizations of the United States can be governed with some structure from not only the representatives but the people of our society as well.
Today I would like to discuss Athenian Democracy and its influence on today’s American democracy. The Greek word ‘polis’ translates to ‘city.’ Initially, it referred to an administrative and religious center that was separate from the rest of the city. However, it later evolved to mean the group of citizens under the jurisdiction of a city. Unlike other ancient city-states that were governed by a king or a small group of people, the poleis were political entities that were ruled by their citizens. This discussion pertains primarily to the contemporary cities in the United States. As residents of a local government, we elect officials to serve in the three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. In ancient Greece, the polis would have been classified as part of the legislative branch, while in modern times, we as citizens of our respective cities would hold a similar role.
During the ancient Greek era, the 500 citizens boule was an all-male council over the age of 30 with no criminal charges who were selected to manage the day-to-day operations of the city. These appointed individuals held a similar status to our modern-day senators and congressional representatives. Initially, the council was composed of noble members who advised the king. However, over time, the boulai evolved based on the constitutional requirements of the city. Additionally, most members were selected by lot and served for one year, similar to how our officials serve for biannual terms. Our President, on the other hand, serves for a duration of four years, which is akin to the position of the King. During the reign of Cleisthenes, the Boule regained political authority and became responsible for setting the agenda of the Ekklesia or Assembly’s legislative body. Additionally, it executed the formal implementation of political decisions made in the Assembly. Approximately half of the decrees ratified by the Assembly were the council’s responsibility. The Boule held meetings every day, except on holidays and other ominous events. This was similar to our legislative branch, but without the fear of being banished, losing citizenship, or choosing death over being ostracized. Just like Congress, the Ekklesia had the authority to declare war. However, the responsibility of developing military strategies now lies with the Executive branch, and the appointment of magistrates is done through nomination and election by the local government.
Finally, in ancient Athens and other city-states, a deme or demos referred to a suburb or subdivision. These demes were comparable to our current local boroughs, townships, and smaller areas that are smaller than a city. Presently, these smaller entities are represented through the nearest large representation.
I believe the development of this type of government was a result of Cleisthenes recognizing the negative impact of a tyrannical power structure on society. He aimed to introduce changes that would facilitate growth and balance. Cleisthenes held the belief that the citizens should ultimately wield power in their own government, not only due to its fairness but because it was the most effective means of maintaining social harmony. Considering the vast number of states, locations, areas, and people in the US, this structure was ideal for our democracy. Our early leaders were mindful of the impact of expansion on policies and government adaptation. By ensuring equal representation for each location based on a percentage of citizens or a set number of representatives per state, the government could continue to function during the country’s expansion.
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