Democracy by Henry Adams
a review by Alisha T

Book Summary

Madeleine Lee, is a 30-year old widow living in New York. When she was 25 she lost, in quick succession, her husband and her baby. Lee and her sister, Sybil Ross board the train from New York to go to the capital in the search of "the mysterious gem which must lie somewhere in politics." She wants POWER. However, she finds an ill assorted group of men corrupted by greed, power, and money. 

Madeleine Lee is bored to tears by New York and chooses to go to Washington to be close to the hustle and bustle of the cities and close to center of politics. Mrs. Lee travels with her sister Sybil and they arrive in the capital. In no time Madeleine and her sister become involved in the center of social life and her living room becomes the social meeting place for people in the city, including senators John Carrington and Silas P. Ratcliffe. When she arrived in Washington she had no intentions of becoming romantically involved with a man, however two men in the group, the aforementioned Carrington and Ratcliffe, begin to develop romantic interests in the wealthy and attractive Madeleine. However there is differences in their love. John Carrington is sincerely in love with her, but Silas P. Ratcliffe, while he may be truly in love with her, is more interested in using Madeleine to help advance his political career.    

Over the time Lee is in Washington she gains more and more insight into the middle of political life. Ratcliffe sees his chances of marriage to Lee fade so he employs a complex plan to get rid of Carrington by setting up a well paying job in Mexico for his rival - who has little money - and cannot help accepting the offer. Little by little Ratcliffe brings Lee into a tricky positions in which he thinks that her only choice is to marry him. However, Carrington and Ross have also concocted a plot. Ross, who is very much against her sister's possible marriage to Ratcliffe begs Carrington to help her. Carrington agrees to do what he can and leaves behind a sealed letter which he tells Ross to give to Lee is she decides to marry Ratcliffe,  Lee is on the very cusp of accepting Ratcliffe's proposal when Ross comes to the rescue. She gives Lee the letter in which Carrington accuses Ratcliffe of being corrupt, in particular it accuses him of having taken graft during an election campaign nearly a decade ago. In a dramatic climax Lee turns down Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe then goes into the street and nearly gets into a fistfight with a visiting international ambassador. 

Sickened by the corruptness in politics, Madeleine Lee now wish to traveling internationally, preferably to Egypt. Sybil, who has become Carrington's confidante, pens him a quick letter in which she tells him to try to propose to her sister once they return from Egypt.  

To use an analogy one could say that Lee represents America. "America" must choose between corruption (Ratcliffe, who is after POWER), and the path to a better nation (Carrington). In the end as a democratic nation it is virtually the people's choice. America can choose corruption or the way to a better nation. The people must choose the path that leads to a better end than corruption. 

                                                  My Thoughts

Overall I really enjoyed Democracy. I think that Democracy provides a good cautionary tale against corruption and greed in politics. While Democracy deals with real and serious issues like corruption it is also an easy and fun read due to the traditional romantic aspect incorporated into the novel. Democracy is a good book for high-schoolers, but anyone over the age of 12 would probably understand it (but they may want to look up some of the vocabulary words in the dictionary!) Democracy is one of the most valuable tales about Washington and politics because the author, Adams, lived his story! Adams came from one of the most political families in his era, his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all either ambassadors or presidents of the United States. However, Henry Adams was disgusted by the corruption in politics and decided to become a writer in lieu of a politician. Thus, Democracy was his story. 

I give the book a 9/10. I would have liked to find out what happened to Lee after she returned from Egypt. 

About My Guest

Alisha is a book review blogger. She has always liked to read, but has just recently begun writing a blog. Alisha has worked at restaurants, in agriculture, and is currently self-employed. Alisha lives with her family in the South-West United States. You can read more of Alisha's blog at


  1. must go to the library and take this one out,sounds like something I would enjoy, Thanks.

  2. Great - glad that the review was helpful!


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