Authors disputing the fact that the Athenian government under Pericles was a democracy tend to take an over-analytic approach to the subject, overlooking its true nature. The term democracy means "a government by the people". Therefore, as people's ideas and opinions evolve, so will the characteristics of a democracy.
In debating whether or not Athens can be considered a democratic system, the topic of slavery and the oppression of women are frequently discussed. Both of these occurred in the Athenian government, and historians use this as proof that it could not have been a truly democratic organization. As Donald Kagan writes, it is also important to take the Jacksonian democracy into consideration, during which America coexisted with slaves. He also brings up the fact that women were not given the opportunity to vote until this century (Kagan 182). Therefore, the Athenian government should not be denied the title of a democracy based on these grounds. Instead, it should be viewed as the beginning of a more people-oriented system, eventually leading to the abolishment of slavery and the acceptance of women in the political world.
The Athenian government was very open to the public. It consisted of an assembly, called ekklesia, available to all male citizens of Athens. The ekklesia was given the opportunity to vote and elect a leader based on the majority decision (Kagan 182). Pericles and his successors "depended entirely on the continued and freely expressed support of the Athenian people" (Kagan 193). Malcolm McGregor sums up by saying, "if a democracy means and is government by the citizens, if the ekklesia decided policy by vote, if free elections persisted at their constitutional intervals, then Athens was as democratic as government can conceivably be" (McGregor 178).