The idea of democracy under the ancient Greeks was far different than what is practiced today under the name of democracy. The Greek aristocracy despised democracy and planned its overthrow; the American Founders understood the problems inherent in democracy and avoided it. The Greeks held slaves: those caught in raids upon Mediterranean barbarians, prisoners of war who could not ransom themselves, unwanted children, and debtors.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
“If the right of every citizen, whatever his rank or means, to participate in political decisions and in the direction of the state, and the obligation of every citizen to serve the state with money and in person according to his wealth and ability constitute a democracy, then Athens was democratic.
The charge is often made, however, that the Athenian citizen body constituted a small, privileged group ruling over a large number of foreigners and slaves resident in Athens who could not acquire citizenship, and that Athens was therefore not a true democracy.
From the modern point of view the contention is valid, but it is one which the ancient Greek would hardly have understood. Citizenship was a natural right acquired by inheritance and protected by ancestral divinities. Residence in a city, therefore, no more made one a citizen than the renting of a room today makes one a member of the family of the house.
The foreigners were citizens of their own communities who were residing in Athens by their own choice, and under no constraint to remain there. Since they could not worship the ancestral gods of the Athenians, they could not hope to participate in the activities which were under the protection of the gods unless the state, in return for services rendered, granted them those rights by an act equivalent to adoption.
Slavery was a recognized institution. In the Greek view, slaves were inferior subjects, and any thought of allowing them participation in politics was absurd. Athens, governed by its body of citizens, the demos, as the Athenians called it, was, by the standards of the ancient Greeks, democracy.”
(The Ancient World, Volume I, Wallace Everett Caldwell, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1937, excerpts pp. 221-227)