Democracy or Republic?
Despite clear historical evidence showing that the United States was established as a republic and not a democracy, there is still confusion regarding the difference between these two very different systems of government. Some confusion stems because the word “democracy” is used to describe both a “type” and a “form” of government. As a “type” of government, it means that generally free elections are held periodically, which America has. But, as a “form” of government, it means rule by the majority, which America does not have; America is a republic. Webster’s 1828 dictionary states that a Republic is: “A commonwealth; a state in which the exercise of the sovereign power is lodged in representatives elected by the people. In modern usage, it differs from a democracy or democratic state, in which the people exercise the powers of sovereignty in person…”1 In a democratic form of government, the populace votes on all matters that affect them, and do not elect others to represent their interests. Therefore, a majority-rules direct democracy gives unlimited power to the majority with no protection of the individual’s God-given inalienable rights or the rights of minority groups. In contrast, in a Republic, the power of the majority is limited by a written constitution which safeguards the God-given inalienable rights of minority groups and individuals alike. It is historically relevant to note that since the birth of our nation in 1776, no American president referred to America as a democracy until Woodrow Wilson misapplied the term during World War I. Sadly, today, it has become common to use the term democracy in describing our form of government,2 including in recent years by both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
So why is this distinction between words important? It may be that President Obama was right when he asserted that “words matter.” Although meanings of words do evolve over time to reflect changes in culture, it appears, in this case, that progressives have intentionally sought to distort the terms “democracy” and “republic” so the misapplied term “democracy” could serve as an ideological Trojan horse that would help transform the republic into a system of government it was never meant to become.
The Founders never used the words” republic” and “democracy” interchangeably. They had studied various forms and systems of government from throughout history in order to establish a system of government that would best deter a tyrant (in their case King George III), or a group of tyrants, from denying God-given rights to Americans. Interestingly, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution do not use the term democracy to describe our form of government. Furthermore, “Neither the Articles of Confederation nor the Constitution set up direct democracies.”3 The authors of these founding documents disagreed on many points, but on one point they ALL agreed wholeheartedly: “The United States is not a democracy, never was, and never was intended to be. It is a Republic.”4 The following statements represent a small sampling of what the Founding Fathers thought about democracies.
Alexander Hamilton asserted that “We are now forming a Republican form of government. Real liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. If we incline too much to democracy we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of a dictatorship.”4 Hamilton, in the last letter he ever wrote, warned that “our real disease…is DEMOCRACY.”3
Thomas Jefferson declared: “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”
Benjamin Franklin had similar concerns of a democracy when he warned that “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!” After the Constitutional Convention was concluded, in 1787, a bystander inquired of Franklin: “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
John Adams, our second president, wrote: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.”
James Madison, the father of the Constitution wrote in Federalist Paper No. 10 that pure democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been 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.”3
The Constitution itself, in Article IV, Section 4, declares: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” Obviously the Framers were not speaking of a political party, as no political parties existed at that time. The Pledge of Allegiance, although not a founding document, does strike the right chord when it asks Americans to “…pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands…”
Clearly, the Founders have given us ample warning that democracies have historically led to tyranny and that, in their wisdom, they never intended our nation to devolve into a democracy. But it bears repeating–why does this distinction between the words “republic” and “democracy” matter today? Perhaps because ignorance of our own history has made it easier for statists in America to blur distinctions that have traditionally defined our Republic. If people are oblivious of America’s history and the changes that are slowly being made, they would naturally have little interest in defending it or the Founders’ original intent. So, what is the transformation for which progressives seek? It is the “total rejection in theory, and a partial rejection in practice, of the principles and policies on which America [has] been founded…” 5 By using the word “democracy,” progressives (in both political parties) have effectively begun to convert our Republican system that preserves unalienable and individual rights to an increasingly socialist system that replaces the individual’s rights with government distributed entitlements. Sadly, legislatively, on many counts, progressives have been successful in this quiet revolution. Although there are too many to list here, the following are a few examples of trends away from a republican and limited form of government.
The passage of the 16th Amendment in 1913 amended the Constitution to establish a progressive income tax, which was founded on the false pretense that “justice” could be found in redistributing wealth in America.6 Karl Marx and Frederick Engles wrote in the Communist Manifesto how “a heavy progressive or graduated income tax…[would be used] in most advanced countries.”7
The 17th Amendment, championed by Woodrow Wilson, changed the way senators were elected to office. Prior to this Amendment, they were chosen by state legislatures and now they are elected by the popular vote; the 17th Amendment moved the country away from a republic and closer to a democracy. A strength of a republic lies in the fact that the power of the political entities that make up government come from different sources. For example, as designed by the Founders’, House members are elected by the people, the president by the Electoral College, Supreme Court judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, and senators were elected by state legislatures. Having the two houses of Congress “…elected by different constituencies–was designed to frustrate special-interest factions …by requiring the [combination] of a majority of the people with a majority of the state governments before a law could be enacted.” The 17th Amendment diluted our Republic, eroded federalism in America, weakened state powers, strengthened the federal government’s control over the states, and laid the “foundation for the modern special-interest state.”8
The passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, though very popular today, historically represented “… a complete change in the relationship between the individual and the federal government. Indeed, it marked one of the earliest and most tangible breaks from American economic and constitutional traditions.”9 Although the Social Security Act did not directly alter Republican governance, it did ignore the limiting powers of the Constitution. The new entitlements provided by the Social Security Act, over time, naturally increased people’s dependence on government, which expanded the size of the federal government, eroded individual liberties, and moved the country closer to socialism and away from the republican principles upon which our country was founded.
It appears that incremental progressives have effectively manipulated the conversation by controlling the words used to convey political concepts. Over time, foundational words that explained our heritage were altered as a necessary first step towards fundamentally transforming the republic. Our forefathers literally pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to secure inalienable liberties–not only for themselves, but also for their posterity. Now, “we the people” of our generation have been presented a similar choice. It is my conviction that millions have already chosen sides and have been prepared for this critical moment in time to rise up and restore our religious heritage and history and to fight for the restoration of the Republic.
- “Websters 1828 Dictionary.” Christiansoup.com. Christian Technologies, Inc., 2010. Web. 11 Apr 2012. <http://www.webster1828.com/websters1828/definition.aspx?word=Republic>
- Boller, Paul F., Jr. Not So! Popular Myths About America from Columbus to Clinton. 1995. 35-38. Print.
- Brookhiser, Richard. What Would the Founders Do? Our Questions, Their Answers. 2006. 121. Print.
- Morris, Seymour, Jr. American History Revised. 2010. 135. Print.
- West, Thomas, and William Schambra. “The Progressive Movement and the Transformation of American Politics.” The Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation, 17 Jul 2007. Web. 11 Apr 2012. <http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2007/07/the-progressive-movement-and-the-transformation-of-american-politics>
- Folsom, Burton W.. “What’s Wrong with the Progressive Income Tax?.” Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 03 May 1999. Web. 11 Apr 2012.
- Marx, Karl, and Frederich Engels. “Communist Manifesto (Chapter 2).” MIA:Marxists: Marx & Engels: Library: 1848. marxist.org, 2000. Web. 11 Apr 2012. <http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch02.htm>
- Zywicki, Todd. “Repeal the Seventeenth Amendment.” National Review Online. National Review Online, 15 Nov 2010. Web. 11 Apr 2012. <http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/252825/repeal-seventeenth-amendment-todd-zywicki>
- Levin, Mark. Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. 2009. 97-98. Print.