A key difference between Martineau’s Society in America and Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present is that while Martineau’s piece calls for progressive reforms, Carlyle instead advocates for the return to medieval values and practices. In Martineau’s essay, she uses modern examples to argue for women’s suffrage. She begins her essay, for example, with the argument that the Declaration of Independence cannot really derive its powers from the consent of the governed if women do not have the power to vote or create laws. In addition, she alludes to the works of her contemporaries such as Thomas Jefferson and James Mills, figures who had become the faces of democracy, to imply that a democracy without women is not a democracy at all.
On the other hand, Thomas Carlyle bases his piece on illusions to medieval concepts of nobility, and romanticized images of struggles between the rich and the poor that almost seem out of a picture book. For example, in his opening, he speaks of “serene highnesses and majesties” which make his own anti-democratic stance more bent on the past than the future. In his piece, he is advocating for an aristocracy that does not include women or the working class. While he wishes for prosperity for the working class, he also believes that they are not capable of controlling their own futures and success. In his piece, he says, “But oppression by your Mock-Superiors well shaken off, the grand problem yet remains to solve: That of finding government by your Real-Superiors!” Here, Carlyle is not proposing an equal society like Martineau is, but is advocating for a society run by what he perceives to be noble heroes.