A Republic, Not a Democracy

            The word “democracy” is found NOWHERE in the Constitution.  However, in Article 4, Section 4, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution it states, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican form of Government.”

            America was never meant to be a democracy.  In fact, the Founders abhorred the very idea of such a system of government.  When Benjamin Franklin exited the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787, a woman asked him what kind of government they had given us.  Franklin famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”  The distinction between a Democracy and a Republic is sharp.  A Democracy is a system of government in which the majority rules, either in a Direct Democracy (where each individual has a vote) or in a Representative Democracy (where individuals are chosen to represent the people in government).  In both, the will of the majority has limitless authority over any individual or group of individuals (the minority) and a simple vote of half plus one is required to enact legislation.  The individual is not protected in any fashion from the will of the current majority.  If there is a judiciary or executive, they have no power to challenge, let alone overturn, the will of the majority.  For example, if the majority decides to make slaves of the minority or to seize the property of an individual, that individual has no recourse.  This form of government exists today in the form of the British Parliament.  Unlimited governmental power is possessed by the House of Lords, under an Act of Parliament of 1949 which gave it the power to abolish anything and everything governmental in Great Britain.  The House of Lords has supreme authority even over the courts.

            A Republic is vastly different.  Its purpose is to restrict the majority from trampling the God-given rights of the individual or of the minority.  Like a Representative Democracy, it is a representative form of government.  However, where a Democracy is centered on the rule of the majority, a Republic centers on the Rule of Law.  A Republic is formed around a Constitution, which tells the majority that there are things it CANNOT do to the individual or minority, despite temporary, popular trends.  In the example above, the majority could not make slaves of the minority or seize the property of an individual if the Constitution forbade it.  A Republic stresses that government does not have limitless power over its citizens.  The government must restrain itself from abuses on the individuals in society because of the Law, which all…even the majority must obey.  The Constitution is absolute and can’t be circumvented, regardless of who is in power.  Every member of government must behave within the limits of the Law and every individual in society is protected by the Law from those in power.  That doesn’t mean that the Law will not need to be changed at some point as a society evolves, though, which is why an amendment process is provided.  The amendment process is made difficult purposely, so that the transient shifting of political winds over the years doesn’t make the original protections offered by the Constitution useless.  A “Living Constitution”, which can be altered without the difficult process of amendment, allows for the violation of basic God-given human rights if the majority wills it.

            The Founders debated the virtues and pitfalls of the several different types of government at length before finally choosing the Republican form of government.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”  After the Revolutionary War, Jefferson wrote in his “Notes On The State of Virginia”, “An elective despotism was not the government we fought for…”  And he wrote to James Madison in March 1789, “The tyranny of the legislatures is the most formidable dread at present, and will be for long years.  That of the executive will come it’s turn, but it will be at a remote period.”  Madison had written previously to Jefferson, “In Virginia I have seen the bill of rights violated in every instance where it has been opposed to a popular current.”  Madison also said, “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.”  Noah Webster published “Sketches of American Policy” in 1785 and was very influential among the many delegates of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and that same year he published “An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution”.  He said, “In democracy there are commonly tumults and disorders…Therefore a pure democracy is generally a very bad government.  It is often the most tyrannical government on earth.” As you can see, the Founders knew that the majority could just as easily oppress the individual as any king or despot, thus they turned to a Republican form of government, where men are not ruled by other men, but rather by the Law.  Or as Thomas Paine put it in 1776, “In America the law is king.  For in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.” 

            True Democracies, or societies ruled by the majority, have always been temporary.  The changing tides of majority desires tear them apart and the majority will inevitably invest their energies in empowering themselves at the expense of the minority or the individual.  Examples of this can be found in the ancient “republics” of Greece and Rome.  In order for a Republic to function properly and maintain the virtues of the Rule of Law, the people must adhere strictly to the Law.  If they don’t, the Constitution that protects them from the tyranny of the majority will erode and become meaningless.  The Republic will devolve into a Democracy, which being temporary and transient in nature, can lead to Oligarchy and absolute despotism.  This is why Benjamin Franklin answered the woman after the Constitutional Convention the way he did, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

            This is where we find ourselves today.  This country is divided by two political parties that pursue fundamentally dissimilar, opposing governmental systems.  Republicans are the Conservative party, seeking to conserve the Rule of Law set up by the Founders that protected the minority and the individual from the majority.  Democrats are the Progressive party, seeking to circumvent or manipulate the language of the Constitution, in order to “progress” beyond its original intent and the protections it provides.  Such a path will eventually negate our Republican form of government and send us spiraling into a Democracy, where simple majorities can impose their will on the individual and the minority by ignoring the law.

            There have always been forces at work in America that have sought to destroy the Republic and make it into something else…something where there are not limitations set on what the majority can do to the individuals it governs.  The “Left” is that force today and, unfortunately, they are winning the battle.  We (those who defend Republican government) have allowed them to frame the debate and win the war of words.  For instance: they call conservatives “right-wing”.  This is inherently false by any standard.  To the left of the political spectrum is absolute tyranny, where the government (whether a monarchy, oligarchy, fascist, communist, socialist, etc.) has absolute power over the people.  To the right of the political spectrum is anarchy or no government whatsoever.  The conservative falls in the middle, upholding government whose power is limited.  It is given power over those things necessary to a central government, but the rights of individuals are protected.  As Alexander Hamilton said in 1787, “We are now forming a republican government.  Real liberty is neither found in despotism nor in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.”  Republicans run to the Left because they fear being called extremely to the Right, but unless they advocate anarchy, those who accuse them mislead.  By running to the Left, they legitimize these fallacies.  We ARE the moderates.  We need not run from what we know is right.  We need not run toward tyranny to avoid the slings and arrows of those who would see the individual tyrannized.