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February 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-2


A Commentary on the American Founding


Part 12



Almost all of the foregoing discussion was aimed at showing just how import the principle of a republic as the form of government was to our Founders.  Both the central government and the states were free to form any type of government they themselves desired.  They all voluntarily chose to have a republican form of government.  In fact, the very entry into the Union of any and all new states was predicated on the fact that it was to be a republic.  The Union would not accept a state with any other type of governmental structure into the association (federation).  And the Union was pledged to maintain the form of government as a republic.  As stated in the Pledge of Allegiance, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”  (Emphasis added).


Can it be comprehended as even possible that the people who wrote and spoke all of the aforementioned words, and predicated their actions on them, didn’t fully comprehend what they were doing?  Why didn’t they refer to our form of government as a democracy?  I propose it is because they perceived a very distinct difference between the two forms of government and that they also had a very distinct preference for one over the other.  Although we use the terms “republic” and “democracy” interchangeably today by not fully understanding the distinction perceived by our Founders, we do so at our own peril.  What’s the difference in these two forms of government?


Democracy is majority rule.  On the surface, it sounds fair and most people find this principle of government quite appealing.  It allows them, as an individual, to have “a direct say” in the actions of government.  But when majority rule becomes the overriding principle of government, it also becomes a monster.  I believe it was George Washington who said, “Democracy is like fire, a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”  Democracy is merely the brute will of the majority.  Whatever tickles the fancy of a simple majority at any given moment becomes enforceable public policy, the key word being “force.”


Thus, if you have a society consisting of coyotes and sheep, with the coyotes being in the majority, and they take a vote to be determined by the majority on what to have for lunch , , , the outcome is predictable.  I’ve got ten bucks that says at some point they’re going to have rack of lamb.  If a bully is stronger than you are, he can physically compel you to bow to his demands.  When majority rule is the overriding principle on which a government is established, it invariably becomes a bully, and tyranny by the majority is sure to follow.  And a tyranny enforced by a majority is no more pleasing than the tyranny enforced by a single tyrant:


The one prevailing evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that success by force or fraud, in carrying elections . . . Demo-cracy inevitably takes the tone of the lower portions of society, and, if there are great diversities, degrades the higher.  Slavery is the only protection that has ever been known against this tendency, and it is so far true that slavery is essential to democracy.  (Lord Acton).


Our Founders were all too familiar with the workings of democracy, and they feared it.  Their concern was to protect the rights of the minority as securely as those of the majority.  Their response to the danger presented by unrestrained democracy was a constitutional republic.  It was to be the “great experiment in self-government.”  What on this green earth were our Founders talking about?  There was nothing new about a republic per se.  Republics had been around for at least two thousand years.  Rome and Athens (Greece) had both established a republican form of government.  And in loose terms, at least, it is reasonably fair to describe those governments as being constitutional in nature, even though their constitutions may have been unwritten.  How we could then be republican in form and an “experiment in self-government,” is key to understanding the form of government that our Founders bequeathed to us.


When we studied government back in high school, we learned that in our republic we, as individuals, elect another individual from our group to represent the combined interests of our large group of individuals.  Direct democracy, in which each individual registered his own individual vote on a given matter, became rather unwieldy when a society grew to any size or when the populace was geographically dispersed.  At least as I came to understand it, this was the difference between a democracy and a republic.  It was representative.  It is undeniably true that this is a difference between a strict democracy and a republic; but it is hardly the most important difference.  Upon much study of and reflection on some of the most important civilizations in history, one finds a quantitative difference between a democracy and a republic that is exponentially more important than its mere representative nature.


The foundation of a republic is predicated on a set of core principles to guide it, rather than the mere “raw will of the majority.”  It is by these principles that the will of the majority is to be restrained from running roughshod over the minority.  And these principles may not be abridged or amended by either fellow citizens or elected representatives.  When they are, you cease to have the original republic.  A republic may, or may not, remain.  In the case that a republic does remain, it most assuredly is not the same as the original republic.  How different it becomes is in direct proportion to the modification of the original core principles which were used to establish the original republic.  What were the core principles upon which this nation was founded, and where do we search to ascertain them?




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