We Are A Republic Not A Democracy

Benjamin Franklin

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The story goes that Benjamin Franklin was standing outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia after the constitutional convention had ended. A lady walked up and asked the great man, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Ben Franklin thought about it briefly and responded, “a republic, if you can keep it.”

And so began the greatest experiment in governance ever undertaken. The republic Ben Franklin feared for, has lasted 220 years and is still going strong. Yes, it is presently being sorely tested but it is still intact and I believe will remain that way far into the future. The sad thing, is that many people in this country, don’t even know what a republic is, much less that they live in one. Many people will tell you that the United States is a Democracy. While there are elements of Democracy woven into the fabric of our country, it is absolutely not a Democracy in the strictest sense. James Madison wrote in the Federalist Paper No. 10, “Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. A republic, by which I mean a government in which a scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”

In other words a democracy allows for mob rule where the majority always gets their way. If the majority votes to take away your land, you lose your land. If the majority votes to outlaw your business, you lose your business. It’s that simple and this is what Madison was referring to when he talked about a democracy being “incompatible with the rights of property.” The founders were well aware that a democracy will eventually implode as the majority votes themselves largess from the treasury and special privileges. This is why they set the country up as a representative republic.

I stated before that there are elements of Democracy woven into the fabric of our country and this is true to the extent that our representatives are elected by majority vote (electoral college notwithstanding). The kicker is that these representatives, once voted in, represent everybody including those that did not vote for them. If you did not vote for your representative you can still approach him or her seeking redress of a grievance or simply to make your views known. With a republic, you avoid the problems inherent in a true democracy by making sure that everybody has representation and not simply the majority.

 

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