What form of government do we have in the U.S.? While in school, most of us were taught that we have a democracy. If you listen to the typical republican and democrat politicians and pundits, you would hear the same thing — we have a democracy. How many times have we heard from politicians that a certain act, idea, or bill is a potential threat to our democracy? Problem is, these people who believe in and preach such things are dead wrong. They are either uneducated on the matter, or are purposely misleading those who listen. Our country is not a democracy, it is a republic. And yes, knowing the difference does matter.
Several years ago, I would have rolled my eyes at anyone who would argue concerning the difference between a republic and a democracy. I considered it "word play" at the time, concluding that it doesn't matter what you call it–our country is what it is. However, since then, I have educated myself on history and have learned that there is a vast difference between a democracy and a republic, and there is a need for citizens of the U.S. to understand the difference.
A republic and a democracy are very similar except for one key difference: where each places sovereignty, or power. A democracy gives sovereignty to the citizens as a whole group, or majority, while a republic gives sovereignty to the individual and the people. In a republic, rights are granted from God to the individual. Our government is supposed to protect those rights. In a democracy, rights are determined by the majority, granted by the government, and given to the majority whether or not the subservient minority agrees.
In a democracy, there are only two groups, the majority and the minority. There is no such thing as a minority group with a voice nor an individual with a voice. Nor are there any minority rights or privileges except those determined by the dictatorial majority. To solve a problem, only the majority is authorized to act.
In a republic, the individual is recognized, as well as the minority. To solve a problem, an individual may act individually, or through his or her representative. A republic is self-government
Founding Fathers And Democracy
What did the founding fathers think of democracy? They thought it to be dangerous. After the Revolutionary War, the founding fathers needed to form a government. Because democracy amounts to mob rule, or a mobocracy, the founders felt that a democracy would lead to tyranny of the individual. At great cost, they had just recently freed themselves from the tyranny of King George. They weren't about to establish a government that could easily become another tyrannical dictatorship.
From October 1787 to May 1788, a series of essays appeared in various New York newspapers. The purpose of these essays was to encourage New Yorkers to ratify the recently drafted U.S. Constitution. These essays, now known as The Federalist Papers, were penned by some of our founding fathers, and explained in great detail certain doctrines found in The Constitution. In Federalist #10 titled The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection James Madison wrote, "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." The will of the people as a whole can change drastically from one day to the next and allowing the majority to execute their ever swaying will is a very neurotic and unsustainable system.
In many democracies, the majority will eventually learn to rely on the minority for entitlements enforced by the government. When individuals decide to become members of the unproductive majority, there leaves less in the productive minority, and the system will eventually collapse in on itself leaving a dictatorship. In a letter explaining his defense of the U.S. Constitution and our republic, John Adams wrote in 1814, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."
No where in the U.S. Constitution or The Declaration of Independence does the word "democracy" appear. In fact, Article 4, Section 4 of The Constitution states, "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government." Our system of government was without question established as a republic.
Knowing The Difference Matters
Why does knowing the difference between a democracy and a republic matter to you? So we can keep our liberties, freedoms, and our republic. If we are irresponsible in our republic, our government can slip into an oligarchy, or a system that is controlled by the elite. After the four month long Constitutional Convention ended on September 18, 1887 (which determined our form of government), Benjamin Franklin emerged from Independence Hall. A Mrs. Powel asked him, "Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" Franklin replied, "A republic, if you can keep it."
How can we keep our republic? Firstly, we must know what a republic is and know our founding documents and our republic's history. In so doing, we can hold our elected officials to a constitutional standard. If we do not have an understanding of The Constitution, or of history, we will be unable to recognize political candidates who do or do not have a constitutional understanding of our government. President Obama has frequently overstepped constitutional bounds. Prior presidents have also done this, democrat and republican. It is our own fault for allowing them to ignore The Constitution. We must not apathetically allow any politician to usurp authority not designated in The Constitution.
We need to know our rights. Reading and knowing our rights which are spelled out in our founding documents will help us recognize when are rights, and others' rights, are threatened. We must defend them (non-violently), or we may lose them.
We must be a religious and moral people. In his farewell address, President George Washington stated, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports." John Adams wrote in a 1798 letter to Mass. brigade officers, "Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other."
Without religion, we can not easily have morals, without morals, we can not easily have virtues, and without virtues, we can not easily recognize principles of liberty and freedom. The principles of an immoral and non-virtuous people conflict with the principles of a republic. In order for a republic to survive, there must be virtuous and ethical individuals representing us. And like recognizing politicians who understand The Constitution, we can not expect ourselves to recognize moral and virtuous candidates if we ourselves are not a moral and virtuous people.
In the paragraph above, I am not referring to any particular religion. I simply mean that we must have a belief system that we use for guidance and moral definitions.
A republic is a form of self-government. If we are apathetic, if we do not stand up for our liberties and our freedoms, our republic may become lost. Staying educated on history and The Constitution, and each knowing our own principles will help guide us in selecting individuals for office. Being a religious and moral people will help us remain humble and patient as we deal with representatives and political executives who's principles conflict with our own.