For all the cynicism about politics, Americans have a deep pride in the democratic process. During the 1800s, presidential elections were transformed from the concerns of a limited elite into a massive expression of popular will. From torchlight parades of the past to today's campaign rallies, participation is the order of the day--or, at least, the ideal of the day. In recent presidential elections only about 50 percent of the voting-age population went to the polls.

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National Museum of American History