I frequently hear the claim, often by modern day politicians from both parties, that our nation is a democracy.
The word "democracy" doesn't appear in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, the two most basic of our founding documents. However, Article IV, Section 4, guarantees "to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government." It's also noteworthy that our pledge of allegiance doesn't say, "the democracy for which it stands," but rather says, "the republic for which it stands". Nor do we sing "The Battle Hymn of the Democracy," but rather, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic".
The founding fathers, in their wisdom, knew that a democracy would ultimately lead to the same kind of tyranny that the colonies suffered under King George III. John Adams said, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." James Madison said that in a pure democracy, "there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual."
What is the difference between democratic and republican forms of government?
In a democracy, the majority has unchecked power, either directly or through popularly elected officials. The law is whatever the government determines it to be and any restraint is upon the individual instead of the government. Rights are viewed as privileges and are granted by the government. Therefore, they can be terminated by the government.
John Adams perhaps best communicated the difference between the two when he said, "You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe." Nowhere in our founding documents does it suggest that our rights come from the government. Rather, they are given to us by God and therefore, man cannot take (or vote) them away. This is a crucial difference.
In a republican form of government, all citizens and government officials are subject to the same laws. Government power is limited through a series of checks and balances. Government is not the giver of rights, but is the protector of rights, protecting it's citizens against fraud and force, but not intervening in peaceable, voluntary exchange.
Chief Justice John Marshall noted, "Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos."
Do Americans still hold the republican principles intended by our nation's founders? Do most Americans know or care about the difference between a democracy and a republic? Or, do we now prefer the type of tyranny that our framer's warned against, the type of tyranny where Congress can do anything that they desire, as long as they can drum up a majority vote?
This article is also published at The Freedom Post: http://www.myfreedompost.com