“The development of democracy led to significant social reform.” Discuss with reference to two democratic states

From the May 2019 Paper 2 IBDP History Exam

The development of democracy has indeed played a pivotal role in leading to significant social reform in many countries worldwide. This essay will investigate this proposition with reference to two democratic states: the United States and the United Kingdom. 

The United States, with its foundation rooted in democratic ideals, has seen the evolution of its democracy precipitate significant social reform over centuries. One of the most significant examples is the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century. The democratic process, particularly the right to protest and freedom of speech, was vital in advancing the cause of racial equality. Activists utilised these democratic liberties to mount pressure on the government, leading to groundbreaking legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These laws helped dismantle legal racial segregation and ensured voting rights for all citizens, regardless of race. 

Furthermore, the feminist movement utilised the democratic framework to push for gender equality. The suffragettes, beginning in the late 19th century, campaigned for women's right to vote, culminating in the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. This marked a significant social reform, as it allowed women to participate in the democratic process and thus influenced subsequent policies towards gender equality. 

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has also seen the development of democracy leading to social reform. The extension of suffrage throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries played a significant role in this. The Reform Acts of 1832, 1867 and 1884, along with the Representation of the People Act 1918, progressively expanded the electorate, including working-class men and eventually women. This broader electorate pressured politicians to address the needs and rights of these newly enfranchised voters, leading to significant social reforms such as the introduction of welfare provisions and labour rights. 

Another significant social reform came in the form of the National Health Service (NHS) established in 1948. The NHS, providing free healthcare at the point of delivery, was a response to the demand of a more equitable health system by a war-weary electorate. This reform was an embodiment of the principle that democratic governance should serve the needs of all its citizens, not just the privileged few. 

 In both the United States and the United Kingdom, the development of democracy has been instrumental in propelling social reform. This is largely due to the nature of democratic governance, which compels leaders to respond to the needs and demands of their citizens. However, it should be acknowledged that these social reforms have often been the result of persistent advocacy and pressure from citizens themselves, utilising the democratic rights and liberties available to them. Thus, while democracy has provided the necessary framework and mechanisms for social reform, the driving force behind these changes has often been the citizenry's desire for a more just and equitable society.