A Republic Versus A Democracy…
My bet is that virtually all of you have been taught that the U.S. is a democracy. That is wrong. The U.S. is a republic. And the difference is extremely important.
The Constitution only refers to a form of government in one place. Article 4, Section 4, states,
“The United States shall guarantee to each State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”
What is the difference between a republic and a democracy?
When I was in school, I was taught that the use of representatives made us a representative democracy or republic, as opposed to a direct democracy. That is certainly in line with current dictionaries. It is also wrong.
Actually, according to the founding fathers, we are a republic because we operate within a framework of laws designed to protect the minority from the government.
The fact is that historically, not every republic is a democratic republic. Some were aristocratic. Others were oligarchical. But all operated within a framework that limited the power of the government over the people.
Why did the founding fathers provided us with a republic rather than a democracy?
In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison wrote, that in a democracy
“there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
In Federalist Paper No. 48, Madison wrote that in a democracy, because the people are
“continually exposed … to the ambitious intrigues of their executive magistrates, tyranny may well be apprehended on some favorable emergency.”
This really fits with Plato’s Republic, which goes through four stages:
~ The first, Pluto terms a Timocracy. It is ruled by people who value honor and order, and hold themselves to high standards both physically and mentally.
~ Over time, the birth rate among the lower class exceeds that of those with higher values, and wealth becomes the criteria for the ruling class, and the Timocracy is overthrown, resulting in an Oligarchy.
~ As the population of the lowest class increases, they are able to overthrow the Oligarchy, resulting in a Democracy, where those with the lowest morals, values and talent have just as much power, and just as much opportunity to rule, as those who are more fit to govern. This lack of morals and societal standards results in a ruler who essentially promises to give the lower class of people everything they want by making the wealthy pay for it.
~ Because the lower class of people are willing to give virtually unlimited power to this leader in
return for his promises, the Democracy, inescapably, devolves into Tyranny.
The founding fathers truly believe this, and history bears out that it is correct.
In 1814, John Adams echoed the same sentiment when he wrote,
“Remember, democracy never lasts long.
It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.
There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
Chief Justice John Marshall wrote,
“Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”
Benjamin Franklin described democracy as 2 wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
On May 27, 1788, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington:
“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”
By putting specific limits on the powers delegated to the federal government, the founding fathers hoped to prevent this progress.
Why do we so often hear that the U.S. is a democracy?
It appears Woodrow Wilson whose presidency ran from March 4, 1913 through March 4, 1921, was the first President to publicly refer to the U.S. as a democracy. Wilson advocated our using World War I to “make the world safe for democracy.” It was really part of the progressive movement of the late-19th and early 20th centuries advocating “majority rules” and “the will of the people,” over protecting the rights of those who may disagree.
Many will think that “majority rules” and “the will of the people” are high sounding ideals, but we have seen the consequences of that in recent years.
Think about the photographers, bakeries and wedding location providers that have been fined and threatened with jail time because they refused to violate their religious beliefs by participating in same-sex marriages.
Think about the pharmacists who have lost their licenses because they refused to stock “the day after” abortifacient drugs.
Think about the businesses that have been sued by the federal government for refusing to provide their employees with medical insurance that covers abortions and abortifacient drugs.
These are the result of a government operating outside of that legal framework to impose the will of the supposed majority on people in contravention of the right to the free exercise of their religion.
-John B. Barrett, Esq. for The Founding Project