Thursday, March 3, 2011

Democracy: How Power Has and Hasn't Changed in Washington Since Henry Adams

Mrs. Madeline Lee sought an powerful experience in Washington, D.C. that has, by and large, not been altered since the time of Henry Adams’ writing of Democracy. Mrs. Lee may have sought an escape from New York City for many different reasons, but it is clear that she traveled to Washington for a mere few. She felt as though she was the only woman in New York that had any knowledge of American history. This knowledge and foundation of education, coupled with her drive for both power and recognition, led her to board the train to the nation’s most powerful city.

At first, Mrs. Lee’s arrival to the city was as nature as any newcomer’s reaction to a brand-new environment. However, she quickly became adjusted and content with the fast paced action of the nation’s capital: she made many visits to Congress nearly directly after arriving, attended parties with both Senators and Congressmen, and had the ability to marvel at the growing history of the District.

It is clear, from Chapter 2, that Mrs. Lee had a desire to meet and interact with Senator Silas P. Ratcliffe of Illinois. Given Mrs. Lee’s craving for power, it is not entirely surprising that she was extremely interested in meeting Senator Ratcliffe, as his colleagues anticipated him both running for President. Even more significant was that many considered him to be a perfect candidate for the position, arguing that he had a very good opportunity to be elected.

Others, however, considered Senator Ratcliffe to be elected to the position of the Secretary of the Treasury. Regardless of precisely which position he was aiming for at the time, it was clear to Mrs. Lee that Senator Ratcliffe had great positions of power lined up for him in his immediate future.

Even after disagreeing with both Senator Ratcliffe and the President, it was clear, as Adams notes, that “there was a very general impress in Washington that Mrs. Lee would like nothing better than to be in the White House” (Adams, 30). Continuing on her travels, Mrs. Lee has the ability to discuss history with fellow resident of Washington and visitors from around the country. One particular day, Mrs. Lee had the ability to demonstrate her knowledge and education of American history by discussing George Washington with fellow intellects while traveling on a boat.

However, as the story progresses forwards, it is clear that there is stress that builds within Mrs. Lee. She begins to be overwhelmed by the endless turn of events and overwhelming lifestyle that many people in Washington hold. Even so, she persists forward. Yet, as Mrs. Lee experienced firsthand, oftentimes power is not always what it entirely seems. Senator Ratcliffe was not elected President, showing Mrs. Lee (and many other citizens of Washington) that even with overwhelming support, power has the ability to be affected by outside factors. As a result of this, the new President of the United States and Senator Ratcliffe became true rivals.

Yet, after a brief period of frustration, the two began working well together. This common occurrence in Washington and in politics on a general scale is often most effective for gaining the support of multiple sides of the political spectrum. This allowed him, as Adams explains, to establish authority and power over the newly elected President (Adams, 59). After Ratcliffe brought Mrs. Lee into this circle of power at the White House, she herself attempted to secure a role of power over the Executive branch.

At some point, however, as Adams notes, this must come to an end. People, for one reason or another, lose support in the political arena, especially in the power that surrounds the White House. In addition, as Adams explains, as some relationships build and expand due to the power in Washington, others suffer, including the one between Carrington and Mrs. Lee.

In the end, Washington proved to be to powerful and overwhelming for Mrs. Lee and she was forced to leave in order to gain a break from the high-paced lifestyle. Mrs. Lee exemplifies the power struggles that occur in Washington on a daily basis. Oftentimes, a career or social life in Washington, especially one that is based in the higher-level political and social spheres of the city, can be overwhelming, time consuming, and seemingly endless for many individuals, Mrs. Lee included. It is clear through constant readings of media outlets and other avenues of information (social events, friends, word of mouth, etc...) that Washington is, in many ways, the same as it was when Mrs. Madeline Lee resided here.

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