Constitution Week: Democracy or Republic

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Constitution Week: Lessons for Homeschoolers

Day Two – Democracy, or Republic?

constitution lessons for homeschoolers

As the delegates to the Constitutional Convention emerged from their meeting place after concluding their secret vote,  Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” to which Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

The Framers of the Constitution intended to create a republican form of government, not a democracy.

Many leaders today still insist on calling our form of government a democracy, including our President.

So what’s the difference?
Pure Democracy is people gathering together to vote on a particular issue at hand. In this case, the majority rules. No other laws or rules matter except what the majority wants in that moment.

In describing democracy, James Madison in Federalist #10 said,

“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.”

John Adams, in an 1814 letter to John Taylor warned,

“Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Direct, or pure, democracy relies on faction and emotion to carry the day. Who can make the most emotional speech in favor of their opinion? or who can threaten and intimidate others best to support their own point of view? The Framers knew well that live, liberty and property were not secure under a democracy.

A republic is government by the people’s elected representatives. Representatives are elected, and when questions arise, those representatives vote knowing they are accountable to the people who elected them. But what keeps the elected representatives from deciding only what’s in the best interest of their small group of voters? The answer was to elect enough representatives to the federal body that this local loyalty would not have a great effect, but on the other hand, to keep the number of representatives small enough that they would still feel accountable to their voters, and be concerned with issues of national, and not just local, importance.

Thomas Jefferson stated

“The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.”

The Framers understood that even good men can be corrupted by power, so they tried to make sure that power was spread out over as many people, and as large an area, as possible.

The Framers set up two levels of representatives for us:
–the House of Representatives, whose members are elected from our local areas, and are to represent the will of the common man
–the Senate, whose members were originally elected by the state legislatures to represent individual state interests
The 17th Amendment allowed the common man to elect Senators, which took apart an important link between the state legislatures and federal governments.

Here’s what Madison says in Federalist #10 –

“It must be confessed that in this, as in most other cases, there is a mean, on both sides of which inconveniences will be found to lie. By enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects. The federal Constitution forms a happy combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.”

So is it important to distinguish between democracy and republic, and to correct those who would characterize the American constitutional system as a democracy? I believe it is a vital distinction. We are a Constitutional Republic. A Republican form of government is the for government that best protects our unalienable rights, and provides a lasting framework for civil order.

Our Constitution is the longest surviving written Constitution in world history. How were the Framers able to achieve this accomplishment? I believe Ben Franklin said it best:

“I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence that I can hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance … should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler in whom all inferior spirits live and move and have their being.”

Day One: Why Did America Need a Constitution?

Day Three: Checks and Balances

Day Four: Qualifications of Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court

Day Five: The Bill of Rights

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