It is commonly supposed today that our American form of government is a democracy. Others call it a “democratic republic”. Others emphasize that we are a republic, not a democracy.
What’s the difference between the two? Does it matter what we call it?
A democracy is the rule of the majority. This sounds good on the surface, but it results in majorities ruling minorities. In a democracy, if 51% of the people voted to violate your rights, you would have no protection.
The Founding Fathers knew the inevitable downfalls of democracies, and they warned against them.
Alexander Hamilton said, “We are a republican government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of democracy.”
Samuel Adams said, “Democracy never lasts. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.”
James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, said, “…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.”
Perhaps Benjamin Franklin put it simplest when he said, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”
A republic is the rule of law. In a republic, even if the majority votes to violate your rights, the law protects you. This is precisely what our U.S. Constitution does.
“If You Can Keep It”
The word democracy does not show up once in our Constitution, nor in any of the fifty state constitutions. We were set up as a republic, under the rule of law, not the whimsy demands of mobs.
As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked him, “Sir, what form of government have you given us?” He replied, “A republic, ma’am, if you can keep it.”
We must understand that we are not a democracy—we are a republic. Let’s keep it that way.