- Published: 27 December 2011
A Periodic Internet Political Column
Written by William H. and John M. Huff
Last week marked the beginning of this internet column, and the introduction of many of our readers to the word "lawful" in the context of a Constitutionally-limited Republic. This week we will briefly discuss the significance of the word "republic" used to describe the American form of government, and how it differs from a democracy in several important respects.First let’s distinguish between a "republic" as a form of government, and the current "Republican" Party. We will briefly examine how the two major political parties evolved. In 1787 when the Constitution was drafted the word "republican" referred to those people who espoused the republican form of government. Despite the warnings of George Washington in his Farewell Address that political parties "render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection," parties began taking shape during the next administration, under John Adams. At that time the term "Federalist" was applied to a party representing a group who favored a strong central government. On the other side of the aisle, the words "republican" and "democrat" were used interchangeably to describe the "Anti-Federalists," who were proponents of a small federal government. The Anti-Federalists maintained that most governmental powers should be reserved to the States and to the People. By the time Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801, the Anti-Federalist party was called the "Democratic-Republican Party." When Andrew Jackson won the election of 1828, the party name was shortened to simply "Democrat." By the 1850’s, however, the issues of slavery and "homesteading" laws - especially concerning fees being charged by the federal government for land in the western territories - were causing another division within the party. Out of this division came candidates who promoted the abolition of slavery and an end to homesteading fees. Their solution to these problems, especially in the case of slavery, was for the federal government to get involved. This marked the birth of the modern Republican Party starting with a convention in 1854. In 1860 the Republican Party held it’s second national convention, and nominated Abraham Lincoln for President.
In order to get back to our discussion of republic vs. democracy, I will avoid launching into a discussion of the "Civil" War (or the "War of Northern Aggression" as some of my southern friends call it) or how both political parties have betrayed their original principles - essentially merging for all practical purposes. The Lincoln legacy was anything but small government - the original position of his party’s predecessors.
So what makes a government a republic or a democracy, and how does this distinction relate to politics today? We’ll start with an explanation of democracy as a form of government. This form has been described as a "mobocracy," because it represents mob-rule, or the unbridled will of the masses. In the purest version of this system all citizens would vote on every act of legislation. Some have said an absolute democracy is where "two wolves and a sheep vote to decide what’s for dinner." This comparison relates the dangers a democracy presents to property, and in some cases, the very lives of a minority. In short, a simple majority has unlimited power to restrict or eliminate the rights of any minority or individual citizen. In this system no rights are secure!
In reference to the dangers of unbridled majority rule, the Framers of the Constitution had repeatedly warned against the "excesses of democracy." James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, sharply criticized this form of government stating "...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. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions." In other words, the natural differences among people will eventually form factions, some of which will become majorities which endanger the security of minorities and individuals.
Without checks and balances, it is easy to see that a democracy would be continuously swept up in one political scheme after another. The majority would vote such a large amount of government welfare as to bankrupt government causing either a violent revolution or the weakening of the country’s defenses to the point of risk to foreign invasion.
The proponents of democracy claim this form is the only alternative to the tyranny of either a monarchy or a despotic legislature. In other words the public is presented with three options: slavery to a king; slavery to an aristocratic ruling class; or slavery to the masses who will ultimately vote themselves into financial ruin, risking further slavery to an invading power.
Is there a better system?
The Framers of our Constitution decided in peaceful assembly in 1787 to create a representative republic under a written Constitution. "The American Experiment" as it has been called, was the first time a government had been instituted in which the common people retain the majority of their rights and the ability to govern themselves, while at the same time the minority and individual were protected from the arbitrary or selfish desires of the masses. The principal instrument which accomplished this was the Constitution, the supreme law of the land which formed our government, and provided the standard by which all subsequent laws are measured.
The U.S. Constitution created a government in the form of a Republic with three branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial, to serve as a check against each other. The two-house Congress (called "bi-cameral") was created, with elected representatives from the people to serve in the House of Representatives, and representatives of the State Governments to serve in the Senate. To further protect the individual, the ancient right to trial by jury, a legacy of English jurisprudence, was preserved by the new American Constitution.
The Constitution was the instrument of the people granting limited powers to the federal government, and securing the remainder to the States and to the people respectively. Through State Constitutions, which also created republics in the States, the people granted certain limited powers to their State governments. Two important reasons for establishing a federal government were the organization of a national defense in the event of war, and for regulation of trade between the States.
By creating the Supreme Law to protect the rights of the individual; a three-branch government to prevent political corruption; and a system for electing representatives to serve the local interests of their districts; Americans instituted perhaps the greatest government ever established. We created a free society where the common people could enjoy their natural rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" more than any people that had come before.
So, there are many reasons our Republic can never be considered a democracy. In my opinion the greatest of these is the fact that we have a Constitution which strictly limits the jurisdiction of the federal government. Those who proclaim the United States a democracy in any context are either ignorant of the historical facts and their "Constitutional Birthright." Or they are intentionally attempting to deceive their fellow citizens into relinquishing precious rights granted by God and therefore beyond the reach of man-made law.