Veritas News Service and CAJI/IS Exclusive
by Columnist Johnathan Masullo
ARE WE A DEMOCRATIC OR A REPUBLICAN FORM OF GOVERNMENT?
He who distinguishes well teaches well.1
According to Mr. Jon R. Bond, “An overwhelming majority of Americans believe their form of government is a democracy.”2 This declaration ought to panic the reader. The author will ask random people at some stage in his whereabouts, “Are we a democracy or a republic?” “I do not know” or “Democracy” they respond. That too ought to alarm the reader. The word ‘democracy’ is misused and abused by the media, the government, the academia, churches, and other power centers of society. Democracy is loosely used between the people, but do they really understand what a democracy is? What did the founding fathers declare? Do we have a republican or a democratic form of government? What do these words mean? How often do we hear the word ‘republic’ spoken by the people et al? Perhaps the only time is for the duration of the Pledge of Allegiance.
To begin our inquest, we shall look to the founding documents of these United States.
The word ‘democracy’ does not materialize in the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States of America. Likewise, the adjective form of democracy, i.e., ‘democratic,’ does not come into view in any previously mentioned documents. The noun or adjective does not become visible in any State constitution as well. Mr. Charles Beard (1874 – 1948) and Mrs. Mary Beard (1876 – 1958) confirmed, “At no time, at no place in solemn convention assembled, through no chosen agents, had the American people officially proclaimed the United States to be a democracy. The Constitution did not contain the word or any word lending countenance to it.”3 If these United States are not democracies, then what are they?4
The difference between a democracy and a republic is not superfluous. There is immense legal undertone. The Constitution palpably confirms the “United States shall guarantee to every State in this union a republican form of government.”5 The founding fathers were astute men regarding forms of government and politics. Mr. Edmund J. Randolph (1753 – 1813) explained the purpose thereof, saying, “[T]hat the general object was to provide a cure for the evils under which the United States labored; that, in tracing these evils to their origin, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.”6 Mr. John Adams (1735 – 1826) observed:
“I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either . . . Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.”7
Mr. James Madison (1751 – 1836) said, on the subject of democracy, “[T]here is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual.”8 The then United States Department of War pointed out that democracy “has been repeatedly tried without success. Our constitutional fathers . . . made a very marked distinction between a republic and a democracy . . . and said repeatedly and empathically that they had founded a republic.”9 Case in point, Mr. Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) responded, “A republic . . . If you can keep it,” to a woman who inquired what form of government was established at the end of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.10
Now the author shall venture to discriminate a democracy and a republic. Yes, to be sure, a democracy and a republic are identical in every aspect; conversely, apart from one key characteristic. In order for the reader to see the sharp contrast, a discourse on democracy will be first. What is democracy? The word ‘democracy ‘ is thrown around lately in the media, especially with the “democratization of the Middle East.”11 Democracy is defined as “[t]hat form of government in which the sovereign power resides in and is exercised by the whole body of free citizens directly or indirectly through a system of representation, as distinguished from a monarchy, aristocracy, or oligarchy.”12 The word democracy has its origin in Greek. Democracy descends from dēmokratia, which means a “government by the people.”13 Individually, dēmos means “the people”14 and kratia means “to govern.”15 Essentially, democracy is the rule of the people. In a democracy, all powers of sovereignty are vested in the whole body of the people. The whole body of the people may exercise those sovereign powers either directly or indirectly in a representative system. In either case, the whole body of the people reigns supreme.
Considering that the whole body (or the majority) of the people controls, the minority is subjugated. The minority is not even a minority, since it must conform to the majority. Every individual in a democracy is subject to the whole body politic. Whatever the majority commands each individual shall follow suit. There is no liberty to object to the majority. If the minority objects to the will of the majority, then there will be penalties for working against the collective. A democracy is the absolute rule of the whole body of the people. In due course, a democracy will lead to anarchy for the reason that the minority becomes restless and irritated by the tyrannical rule of the majority. Ironically, that minority will replace the former democracy with new democracy to the liking of the newly formed majority. The cycle repeats itself down the road.
A democracy is collectivistic in nature. There is no scope for independence of the minority. Democracies, since the majority rules, are governed by passion, irrationality, and impulse. A majority would not falter to purge the rights and liberties of a minority if it means the collective will be enhanced in the end. “The ends justify the means” is regularly the battle cry in a democracy.16 For instance, if A (the minority) is using traditional incandescent bulbs, and if B (the majority) is using compact fluorescent lamps, and compact fluorescent lamps allegedly use less energy and protect the environment, then B will thwart A from using incandescent bulbs. B discounts the right of A since the end, i.e., protect environment, justifies the mean, i.e., take away the right to choose lighting. Rights are not inherited from our Creator. Rights are granted by the dictatorship of the majority. Equally, rights can be taken away by the despotism of the majority. The majority giveth, the majority taketh. In essence, a democracy stresses the whole body (or the majority) of the people as the vital factor in all political, social, and economic concerns.
What is a republic? A republic is “[t]hat form of government in which the powers of sovereignty are vested in the people and are exercised by the people, either directly, or through representatives chosen by the people, to whom those powers are specially delegated.”17 The word “republic” has its foundation in Latin. Republic derives from res publica, which means “th republic, the state, commonwealth, or government.”18 Individually, res means “a thing, object, matter, affair, circumstance”19 and publica means “public, of or belonging to the people or the commonwealth, at the public expense.”20 In a republic, all powers of sovereignty are vested in the people themselves, and they may exercise those sovereign powers, either directly or through their representatives, in every way they are competent and that is practicable. The reader may remark, “Wait. That is like a democracy.” Correct, it is comparable to a democracy. Nonetheless, sovereignty is vested to whom? In a democracy, sovereignty is vested in the whole body of the people. While in a republic, sovereignty is vested in the people themselves.
The word “people” may be either singular or plural. People in a singular sense is “considered . . .any portion of the inhabitants of a city or country.”21 Any portion may be low as one individual. ‘People’ in a plural sense is “the body of persons who compose a community, town, city or nation. We say, “the people of a town,” “the people of London or Paris,” “the English people.” In this sense, the word is not used in the plural, but it comprehends all classes of inhabitants, considered as a collective body.”22 As a result, the whole body politic (or the majority) does not reign absolute; therefore, the majority is advisory, not mandated.
Back to the previous example. A (the minority) is using traditional incandescent bulbs whereas B (the majority) is using compact fluorescent lamps. Compact fluorescent lamps are allegedly environmentally friendly and safe. B may persuade or advise A to use compact fluorescent lamps, but B cannot coerce A to use them. Considering that the majority does not rule, the minority is not subjugated. Minority means “the smaller number”23 and that smaller number can be as low as one individual. The minority is free to reject the majority if he or they wish. Whatever the whole body of the people decides, each individual may choose to follow or not to follow the majority. There is liberty to object to the majority. If the minority decides not to follow the majority, then there will be no punishments for functioning contrary to the collective. Ultimately, a republic leads to peace and liberty in the realm.
Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution guarantees a republican form of government, to wit: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” Notice it says republican24 form of government, not democratic25 form of government. No State may join the union unless it is a republic. Anything non-republican is repugnant and unconstitutional. Our republic is one dedicated to “liberty and justice for all.” Individual rights are the priority of a republic.
The people of these United States are protected by the Bill of Rights from the majority. Additionally, one vote in a jury can stop the entire majority from depriving a people of their natural rights; this would not be so if these United States were democracies. In a pure democracy, fifty-one percent beats forty-nine percent. There is no such thing as a significant minority. There are no minority rights except civil privileges granted by the pompous majority. Simply stated, a democracy is a dictatorship of the majority. Socrates (469 – 399 BC) was executed by a democracy. Though he neither injured nor imposed anyone, the majority found him unbearable and thus sentenced him to death for “impiety, the introduction of strange gods, and the corruption of Athenian youth.”26
The difference between a democracy and a republic is the difference between collectivism27 and individualism.28 In the case of State of Ohio v. Gravett, the Court said, “Our constitutions are founded upon individualism and they make prominent the theory that to the individual should be granted all the rights consistent with public safety.”29 Likewise, in the case of State of Florida v. City of Stuart, the Court said the following:
“It is significant that our Constitution thus commences by specifying those things which the State government must not do, before specifying certain things that it may do. These Declarations of Rights — those omitted as well as those above quoted, have cost much, and breathe the spirit of that sturdy and self-reliant philosophy of individualism, which underlies and supports our entire system of government. No race of hot-house plants could ever have produced and compelled the recognition of such stalwart set of basic principles, and no such race can preserve them. They say to arbitrary and autocratic power, from whatever official quarter it may advance to invade these vital rights of personal liberty and private property, ‘Thus far shalt thou come, but no further.’ They constitute a limitation upon the powers of each and all the departments of the State Government. Thus no department, not even the legislative, has unlimited power under our system of government.”30
Individualism underlies our entire system of government owing to republicanism.31 The very nature of a republic is encumbering the whole body (or the majority) of the people seizing the natural rights of the minority that are endowed by God. In a republic, every individual may do whatever, whenever so long as he does not trespass32 against another individual or individuals. If A trespasses against B, then A is accountable to B in a court of law and a jury will unanimously decide if A is guilty; otherwise, one vote of not guilty will acquit A owing to the fact the minority has a voice in a republic.
In a democracy, whether it be direct or representative, the majority rules, period. Many individuals may ask, “What is wrong with majority rule? Should not the majority rule?” There is a lot wrong with majority rule and the majority ought not to rule. What about a lynch mob? There is only one individual with a dissenting vote and that individual is at the end of the rope. That is a democracy in action. Some individuals may say, “The majority may rule so long as it does not disallow the rights of the minority.” They would be correct with that idea. Lord Acton (1834 – 1902) observed:
“It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority. For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist . . . By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion . . . The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.”33
A true republic makes that possible with a constitution and the securities therein. For instance, the Bill of Rights proscribes the majority from rejecting rights of the minority. Restrictions on the majority are the fundamental nature of a republic. Restrictions on the majority also are at the heart of individualism. Collectivism supports any action so long as the majority rules whereas individualism defends the minority against the emotions, irrationality, and greed of the majority.
Keep in mind, in a democracy all powers of sovereignty are in the whole body of the people. The sovereignty is not divided into smaller units such as individuals. To solve a problem, only the whole body of the people is authorized to act. On the contrary, in a republic all powers of sovereignty are in the people themselves, whether one or many. An individual may act on his own or through his representative as he chooses to solve a problem. Mr. Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) explained this principle, saying, “The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves in all cases to which they think themselves competent . . . or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen.”34
The adoption of this concept is why these United States have been called “the greatest experiment in self-government.”35 Mr. Jefferson questioned, “Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.”36 Self-government is the state of being governed by one’s self, not governed by others, and is at the heart of a republican form of government. The people govern themselves while their agents37 (i.e. all officers of government) perform delegated tasks enumerated in the Constitution.
Many foreign nations claim to be a republic; however, it takes more than just a name. Do not assume just because a foreign nation claims to be a republic that it is a republic. Foreign nations that use the word republic in their title may operate differently. The reader must dig deeper. The author suggests looking at the foreign nation’s constitution. If the foreign nation claims itself to be republican, then it is a republic. If the foreign nation claims itself to be democratic, then it is a democracy. Do not be fooled by the title of a foreign nation.
There are foreign nations that claim to be “democratic republic.” Well, which is it? A republic or a democracy? Obviously, there is a misunderstanding of the terms. Democratic republic is an oxymoron for the reason that the term democratic pertains to democracy; therefore, a democracy republic is not logical. It is the hope of the author that these United States will always remain republican because liberty is hard-pressed these days. Mr. Jefferson said that liberty and ignorance cannot coexist.38 Will the reader help preserve individual rights by supporting the republic? Will the reader help raise public awareness concerning the difference between a democracy and a republic? Will the reader help keep the republic?
1 A maxim. Qui bene distinhuit bene docet.
2 Bond, Jon R., and Kevin B. Smith. Promise and Performance of American Democracy. 9th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2010.
3. Print. 3 Beard, Charles A., and Mary R. Beard. America in Midpassage. Vol. 1. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1939. 922. Print.
4 Rhetorical question.
5 Article IV, Section 4, Constitution of the United States of America
6 Elliot, Jonathan. The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution. Vol. 5. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott, 1836. 138. Print.
7 Adams, John. The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States. Vol. 6. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co., 1851. 483-484. Print.
8 Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, and John Jay. No. 10. The Federalist Papers. New York, NY: Penguin, 1961. Print.
9 United States of America. Citizenship. Washington, D.C.: War Department, 1928. 92. Print.
10 Farrand, Max. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Rev. ed. Vol. 3. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1937. 85. Print.
11 Bakhshi, Ahmad. “The Arab Spring is an Islamic Uprising.” Tehran Times 04 Feb 2012, Daily ed. n. pag. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. <http://www.tehrantimes.com/opinion/95141-the-arab-spring-is-an-islamic-uprising>.
12 Black, Henry Campbell. “Democracy.” A Law Dictionary. 5th ed. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company, 1979. Print.
13 Webster, Noah. “Democracy.” An American Dictionary of the English Language. 1st. ed. Vol. I. New York, NY: S. Converse, 1828. Print.
14 Burke, William. “Democracy.” The Greek-English Derivative Dictionary. London, England: J. Johnson, 1806. Print.
16 It is unknown where the expression, “The ends justify the means,” originated. Nonetheless, historians believe it can be traced back to the Jesuits. However, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) popularized the idea in his work The Prince (1532).
17 Black, Henry Campbell. “Government; Republican Government.” A Law Dictionary. 5th ed. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company, 1979. Print.
18 Beard, J.R., and C. Beard. “Res.” Cassell’s Latin Dictionary. London, England: John Cassell, Ludgate Hill, 1854. Print.
20 Ibid., “Publicus,” p. 350.
21 Webster, Noah. “People.” An American Dictionary of the English Language. 1st ed. Vol. II. New York, NY: S. Converse, 1828. Print.
23 Ibid. “Minority.”
24 “Republican, a. 1. Pertaining to a republic; consisting of a commonwealth; as a republican constitution or government. 2. Consonant to the principles of a republic; as republican sentiments or opinions; republican manners.” Ibid. “Republican.”
25 “Democratic, a. Pertaining to democracy; favoring democracy, or constructed upon the principle of government by the people.” “Democratic.” Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. Rev. ed. Springfield, MA: G.&C. Merriam Company, 1913. Print.
26 Kenny, Anthony. An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. 27. Print.
27 Collectivism is a theory and practice that believes that the abstract collective is superior to the individual and each individual has no rights. That his work, his body, his mind, and his personality belong to the collective. That the collective can do with him as it pleases, in any manner it pleases, for the sake of whatever it decides to be its own welfare; therefore, each individual exists only by the permission of the collective and for the sake of the collective.
28 Individualism is a theory and practice that believes that the individual is superior to the abstract collective and each individual has rights, which cannot be taken away from him by any other individual, nor by any number, group or collective of other individuals without consent; therefore, each individual exists by his own right and for his own sake, not for the sake of the collective.
29 State of Ohio v. Gravett, 65 Ohio St. 289, 62 N.E. 325 (1901)
30 State of Florida v. City of Stuart, 97 Fla. 69, 120 So. 335, 64 A.L.R. 1307 (1929)
31 “Republicanism, n. 1. A republican form or system of government. 2. Attachment to a republican form of government.” Webster, Noah. “Republicanism.” An American Dictionary on the English Language. 1st ed. Vol. II. New York, NY: S. Converse, 1828. Print.
32 “Injury committed with force, actual or implied; immediate and not consequential; if property involved, then property was in actual or constructive possession of plaintiff at time of injury.” Koffler, Joseph H., and Alison Reppy. Handbook of Common Law Pleading. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company, 1969. 177. Print.
33 Dalberg-Acton, John Emerich Edward. “The History of Freedom in Antiquity.” The History of Freedom and Other Essays. Ed. John Neville Figgis. London, England: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1907. 3-11. Print.
34 Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824. ME 16:45
35 Westfall, Douglas. Prisoners of the Civil War: The Story of Two Americans. Orange, CA: The Paragon Agency, 2001. 124. Print.
36 Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural, 1801. ME 3:320
37 An agent is someone acting on behalf of another.
38 “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816. ME 14:384