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Why the United States was Designed as a Republic

Benjamin FranklinBen Franklin famously replied when asked about the government that was created by the Constitution: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

“Democracy ” Not In Any Founding Document 

The US is a Constitutional Republic, not a “democracy.” No American founding document, not the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, or the Constitution mention “democracy”.  This is because democracy was viewed as dangerous to the rights of minorities.

Command for State Republics Found in the Constitution 

In contrast, the Constitution’s Article IV requires every state of the Union to be a republic. Article IV, Section 4 commands: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”

This means a government without a king, accountable to the people and governed by the “rule of law”. States would have no kings, elections for government representatives and an established law applied equally to all citizens. This is the essence of a republic.

The Dangers of Democracy 

Franklin’s description of democracy sums up the danger: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.”

Thomas JeffersonThomas Jefferson thought democracies were dangerous because: “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.”

John Adams knew democracies had short lives: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Because of that Understanding the United States is a Republic

The United States is a republic. In a republic the people choose representatives to exercise their power. A republic does not have a king or queen, but rather an elected or appointed president. A republic starts with a free individual with the right to govern himself. That individual gives some of that power to the community. The community chooses representatives to serve in government and gives those representatives the power to make laws. That power is to make laws only about those subjects that the community has identified.

The Elements of a Republic 

The elements of a republic are these: 1) a representative government, 2) a written constitution and 3) the rule of law. The rule of law requires that no one be above the law, that the law has been defined before a controversy exists, and that the rights of minorities are protected.

The source of authority in a republic is the people as a whole, and the people as a whole ratify, or agree to, a constitution before it becomes effective. A republic does not operate under the 50% + 1 rule by design in order to limit the government’s power and to protect “natural rights”.   

Democracy Contrasted with Republic

In a democracy citizens exercise power directly. In a pure democracy, 50% of the group plus one more citizen determine the laws. There are no protections for minority rights. Minorities have only those privileges granted by the good graces of the majority.

In its pure form, democracy is simply majority rule. All citizens get together to decide every issue of government. Decisions made by 50% + 1 of those participating are binding on everyone. Pure democracy is sometimes referred to as “mobocracy” because decisions are made by a simple majority of a mob and enforced on everyone.

Article IVArticle IV, Section 4, Republican Form of Government

The Article IV, Section 4 command of a Republican Form of Government for the states is known as the Guarantee Clause. This clause requires that state governments consist of representatives, rather than the alternative of “direct democracy”. Direct democracy is when all eligible citizens vote on every law. To be part of the Union a state must have a representative republican government.

Following the Civil War when Congress delayed “readmission” of many Confederate States. Congress refused to seat the Representatives and Senators that used tactics to limit voting by newly freed black males. These tactics resulted in “unrepresentative” state governments and thus the governments were not republican.

Washington Gridlock by Design

The Founders were well aware that having rule by a simple majority imperiled the natural rights outlined in the Declaration of Independence. They constructed a system designed to be ultimately responsible to the people, but included layers that required a consensus be built that included the input of minorities before action could be taken.

When there are complaints that “Washington isn’t doing anything”, they should understand that the slow process that sometimes seems to frustrate the will of the majority was intended to do just that, to protect the freedom and liberty of all.

Leer entrada en Español:  La razón por la cual los Estados Unidos se diseñó como república 

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