Over the last several years, there has been much discussion on conservative blogs about the difference between a republic and a democracy, and its implications for us in the USA. As you all know, we live in a republic. We pledge allegiance to the flag, “and to the Republic for which stands.” Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution of the United States, oddly enough, ever calls the USA a republic, but the Constitution does state, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government …” So, it is obvious that a republic was the intended form of government. So, what is a republic?
Well, there is more than one definition of a republic. This is because the term republic has been used over history for more than one variety of representative government. But, in the USA, our understanding of the term republic comes from James Madison, and that is the understanding we need to use.
In common parlance a republic is a state that does not practice direct democracy but rather has a government indirectly controlled by the people. This understanding of the term was originally developed by James Madison, and notably employed in Federalist Paper No. 10. This meaning was widely adopted early in the history of the United States, including in Noah Webster’s dictionary of 1828. It was a novel meaning to the term; representative democracy was not an idea mentioned by Machiavelli and did not exist in the classical republics.
James Madison, later President, was concerned about oppression by the majority. In other words, in a pure and direct democracy, 50% plus 1 votes is sufficient to enact any law, regardless of what the minority thinks. Madison was concerned that this could all too easily lead to the dictatorship of the majority, something which he wished to avoid. So, he wrote:
A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union.
The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended. …
In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government. And according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of Federalists.
If you really want to find out what he says, then read his entire argument in the Federalist Papers No. 10. But, what it boils down to is that he believes that the American form of a republic preserves a form of government in which the minority is protected from the excesses of the majority. This is the argument that is used by modern gun rights activists, and other conservatives, in support of various of their contentions.
In other words, part of the role of the American Republic is to ensure a form of government in which the rights of the minorities are protected from the excesses of the majority. Why is this important? Well, from ethnic minorities to religious minorities, this concept is extremely important for you.
===MORE TO COME===