What is a Democratic Republic?

Today, Shane Vander Hart at American Principles Project posted a copy of the the new C3 social studies standards.  He skimmed and found several places for concern and encouraged readers to read the text. So I did.

I didn’t get very far before I hit a snag.  In the first paragraph of the Introduction on p. 4 ,


In the College, Career, and Civil Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies Standards the call for students to become more prepared for the challenges of college and career is united with a third element: a preparation for civic life.  Advocates of citizenship education cross the political spectrum, but they are bound by a common belief that our democratic republic will not sustain unless students are aware of their changing cultural and physical environments; know the past; read,write, and think deeply; and act in ways that promote the common good.  There will always be differing perspectives on these objectives. The goal of knowledgeable, thinking, and active citizens, however is universal.  

Democratic republic? The term confused me.  I knew the term Democratic, as in Democratic Party.  I knew the term, republic, as a form of government.  But I had never put the terms together.

My mind instantly went to the famous quote by Benjamin Franklin when someone asked him at the close of the Constitutional Convention what form of government do we have – a republic or a monarchy?  He replied, “A republic if you can keep it.”

I googled democratic republic, truly expecting to find a long list of places where I could find a definition.  The first that popped up was Wikipedia,

“A democratic republic is a country that is both a republic and a democracy. It is one where ultimate authority and power is derived from the citizens. However, in practice countries that describe themselves as democratic republics do not always hold free or fair elections.”

Okay, I agree with what you’re thinking–that’s wikipedia and not exactly credible.  But that’s the problem. There was no other source for a quality definition.   So I typed in “democratic republic definition”:

democratic republic

Web definitions

People’s Republic (also Popular Republic, especially in other languages) is a title that has often been used by Marxist-Leninist…

No much better and probably a little worse.  So I typed in “democratic republic United States” again expecting a long list of sources to help me out and received no help at all.

I went to World Book…no results found.

I gave up and scrolled the standards to find a definition.  I landed in the Civics section on  pg. 29 hoping from some clarity and maybe even a definition.  I didn’t get either one.

“In a constitutional democracy productive civic engagement requires knowledge of the history, principles and foundations of our American democracy.

So is the United States a democratic republic, a constitutional democracy, or a democracy?

Ben Franklin called it a Republic, can’t we just keep it?

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