Americans’ expectations of the federal government have changed a lot throughout American history. In the past, Americans expected their government to protect their freedoms and equality of opportunity, and to not interfere unnecessarily with the interests of Americans, but due to economic crises like the Great Depression and the problem of poverty in the United States, Americans now expect their government to step in and help them when they are in need, and to make sure that enough reforms and regulations are made to solve their problems, improve their lives and prevent another economic crisis of that scale from happening again. Americans’ expectations of their government usually change whenever a major event happens that affect them significantly. When America gained independence from Britain, Americans were wary of having a tyrannical government control them just as how the British had controlled America before the American Revolution. That was why many of America’s founding fathers emphasized the importance of freedom when they were creating America’s new government. After a failed stint with a confederation and the influence of Federalism, America adopted a federal system of government, comprising of a strong central government and state governments, each with their own rights and restrictions. The powers of the federal government were also separated into three branches: the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary.
Each branch has its own specific powers, operating under a system called ‘checks and balances’ which allows each branch to check the others and make sure that the federal government’s power is balanced between the three branches, ensuring that no one branch became too powerful. And when the Constitution was ratified, many Americans and state governments feared that a strong central government could have a potential to suppress individual freedoms, and they wanted the government to protect their rights. Thus, the Bill of Rights was crafted, enshrining individual freedoms and civil liberties into law to protect Americans from having their rights taken away by an authoritarian government.
This shows that during the early years of America, the protection of the rights of Americans was of utmost importance, and Americans of that time expected the government to protect their rights and ensure that it would not be taken away from them. Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1828 amidst a surging popularity of populist politics. His presidency gave rise to a political philosophy called ‘Jacksonian democracy’, supporting principles like implementing universal suffrage for all white men by removing restrictions on voting, leading to increased political participation by common Americans which resulted in a more democratic electoral process, or as its supporters termed it, passing power to the ‘common man’ which had previously been excluded from the political process due to their many restrictions. With the government protecting and expanding the right to vote, Americans’ expectations of their government began to change. After the Civil War, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were ratified.
The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th gave citizenship rights to African Americans and other minorities, and the 15th gave African Americans the right to vote. These amendments benefited African Americans, who had lacked such rights prior to the Civil War. The actions the government took over the rights of African Americans reinforced the notion that the government should protect equality of opportunity for all Americans regardless of race, despite the initial ineffectiveness of the amendments. There also was a growing women’s suffrage movement from the 19th century onwards, aiming to secure the right for women to vote. The movement faced huge opposition throughout its history, with criticism based on past gender stereotypes to the movement’s actions, particularly the National Woman’s Party, and its militant tactics. It was only when news broke of the mistreatment of imprisoned suffragists and the forced feeding of suffragists going on hunger strikes did the government finally react to the movement, and in 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. This shows that Americans now began to expect the federal government to provide them equality of opportunity regardless of who they are as the government has the power to make changes that improve society.
Starting from the 19th century, America, like other European nations, transformed from a traditional agriculture-based economy to a modern industrial-based economy. With industrialization came increased urbanization, resulting in more Americans and foreign immigrants moving to cities to work in factories. The squalid living conditions caused by packing lots of workers into dirty and cramped tenements, alongside loose workplace safety regulations which resulted in the loss of 146 lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1912 and the few consumer protection laws that were in place, a socio-political movement called Progressivism gained prominence. During the Progressive Era, numerous progressives were elected to public office including three progressive presidents, aiming to reform American society whom they considered flawed due to the consequences of industrialization, urbanization and the practices of big businesses.
Their achievements include passing laws that improved living standards for workers and introduced stricter workplace safety and consumer protection regulations, giving Americans the idea that the government can change society for the better. But from 1929, America experienced its worst economic crisis when the Great Depression occurred. Banks failed, wages fell and unemployment rose, leaving many Americans penniless and desperate for help. Franklin Roosevelt, elected president in 1932, immediately started implementing the New Deal, a series of programs aimed at ending the depression and providing relief, recovery, and reform to Americans and the economy. Coupled with increased government spending, the economy began to improve, and as part of the New Deal, Social Security was implemented in 1935, creating a pension system for the elderly and insurance for the unemployed. Regardless of the effectiveness of the New Deal, its policies have clearly benefited Americans in need, such that they now expect the government to help save them whenever an economic crisis of such scale occurs again. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson launched the Great Society, a series of programs aiming to end poverty and racial injustice. Programs implemented like Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, alongside laws which strengthened environmental and consumer protection regulations helped decrease the poverty rate, reduced financial burdens and improved the lives of lots of Americans, its programs remaining influential today.
This shows that whenever a crisis like the Great Depression occurs which negatively affects Americans, they expect the federal government to step in and help them, to implement policies that ensure they are well taken care of and to prevent crises of such scale from happening again. Many events that occur throughout American history have the power to change Americans’ perceptions and expectations of the federal government, regardless of how positive or negative it is. We have seen a government that has taken a more caring stance towards Americans these years, but will this trend continue? I do hope that the government will continue to put Americans’ interests over theirs, as we head into the future together.