Silas P. Ratcliffe in in Henry Adam's Democracy and Insights into a New Political Era

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Democracy’s Silas P. Ratcliffe: Insights into a New Political

In Henry Adam’s Democracy, the character of Senator Silas P. Ratcliffe first comes across as the kind of politician that Henry Adams openly criticizes and denounces. However, with further analysis one can see how Adams uses Ratcliffe’s character to depict the stark contrast between an ideal, model political figure and a more pragmatic, realistic one that exists in current day politics. Ratcliffe epitomizes the new type of Western leader who is deeply influenced by the subtle appeal of political power. In the beginning of the novel, Ratcliffe is portrayed to have launched his political career as a well-intentioned post Civil War governor from Illinois. However, as the novel progresses, the temptations of political power erode away at his will, and social pressures cause him to take on an increasingly cynical attitude toward politics. Adams compares Ratcliffe to political leaders prior to the Civil War in order to give readers a clearer image of the type of politician that has emerged since the war, as well as the new issues that partisan politics and social pressures have brought to the table. Adams's depiction of Ratcliffe not only includes biographical overtones of political figures of his time, but also foreshadows the complexities that inhibit modern government officials in today’s political realm.

In order to accurately depict the effects of the pressures that political leaders face, Adams portrays Ratcliffe as unhappy with political life and suggests that he found it detrimental to “honesty and self respect” (Gilley, 1991). Ratcliffe rationalizes his moral decline with a detached outlook on politics. He says that he became a politician because “it is the trade he is fittest for” and that ambition is his “resource to make it tolerable.” (Adams 171). Although Adams did not excuse Ratcliffe’s rationale, he suggested that the erosion of the Senator’s will was brought on by the pressures of an...
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