Is the U.S. a democracy or a republic? [edited title]

Excuse me? I was reading about the ownership of the Federal Reserve Bank and came across this little gem - “One may make the argument that we need the Fed because we’re a democracy.”

I got ten bucks here that says you can not come up with any proof that the United States of America is a democracy.

How in heck am I supposed to put any credence in any of your other responses when you can’t even get something simple as our system of government?

I’ve got ten bucks that says you’ve never looked up the word “democracy” in a reputable dictionary.

Y’know, you’re expected to post a link to the Article.

And in any case this usage would be in the everyday sense of “a democracy”, meaning a state, with a representative-participative government responsible to an electorate, that abides by human rights and rule of law. Cecil has proven to be patient, though not infinitely so, with nit-pickers.

Definition #2 sure sounds like the United States to me, on my reading of the Constitution. Do you have some evidence that it’s not?

(I’m new here, and don’t know all the protocals. Bear with me.)

A few quotes from our Founding Fathers:

After the Constitutional Convention in 1787 a Mrs. Powel asked Benjamin Franklin about the form of government set up by the conventioneers. Ben’s response to the question was “A republic, if you can keep it.”

The basic difference between the two systems is that in a democracy the loudest group gets its way, whereas in a republic we have trusted representatives who make laws that guide us.

From Constitutional Conventioneer Edmund Randolph, this statement of the purpose of the Convention: “to provide a cure for the evils under which the United States labored; that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and trials of democracy…”

From Samuel Adams: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.” “There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

Alexander Hamilton, at the Convention: “We are a Republican Government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of Democracy.”

Alexander Hamilton, in a 1788 speech during which he urged ratification of the Constitution: “It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”

James Madison, in The Federalist: “… 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 are violent in their deaths.”

George Washington, in his 1789 inaugural address, said he would dedicate himself to “the preservation of the republican model of government.”

Fisher Ames, a US Congressman during Washington’s tenure, called democracy “a government by the passions of the multitude, or, no less correctly, according to the vices and ambitions of their leaders.” He also called democracy, as in majority rule, one of “the intermediate stages towards tyranny.”

My favorite statement from old Fish: “Democracy, in its best state, is but the politics of Bedlam; while kept chained, its thoughts are frantic, but when it breaks loose, it kills the keeper, fires the building, and perishes.”

Fisher again, on the intent of our Founding Fathers, in his essay “The Mire of Democracy”, they “intended our government should be a republic, which differs more widely from a democracy than a democracy from a despotism.”

And from the Constitution of the United States of America: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government.”

JWK - you can mail the ten bucks to me, or use Paypal. Send me a PM for payment instructions.

From John Marshall, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, 1801 to 1835: “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”

From James R. Lowell, American poet: “democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.”

From Ralph Waldo Emerson: “democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.”

From British statesman Thomas B. Macauly: “I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty or civilization, or both.”

Lord Acton, another Briton: “The one prevailing evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.”

From the United States War Department’s 1928 “Training Manual No. 2000-25” we have this little gem of a definition of democracy: A government of the masses. Authority derived through mass meeting or any other form of “direct expression.” Results in mobocracy. Attitude toward property is communistic negating property rights. Attitude of the law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether it be based upon deliberation or governed by passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences. Results in demagogism, license, agitation, discontent, anarchy.

The training manual also stated that the Founding Fathers “made a very marked distinction between a republic and a democracy and said repeatedly and emphatically that they had formed a republic.”

Somewhere between the late 1920’s and the early 1950’s the press had contorted the meanings of “republic” and "democracy, and we soon had this Orwellian twist of truth, printed in the US Army Field Manual 21-13, The Soldier’s Guide: “Because the United States is a democracy, the majority of the people decide how our Government will be organized and run…”

This is inherently false. We elect representatives to make laws that guide us in our actions. We are ruled by law, not by the whims of a majority.

England’s Duke of Northumberland, in 1931: “The adoption of Democracy as a form of Government by all European nations is fatal to good Government, to liberty, to law and order, to respect for authority, and to religion, and must eventually produce a state of chaos from which a new world tyranny will arise.”

Historian Charles beard, in 1939: “At no time, at no place, in solemn convention assembled, through no chosen agents, had the American people officially proclaimed the United States to be a democracy. The Constitution did not contain the word or any word lending countenance to it, except possibly the mention of “We, the People,” in the preamble… When the Constitution was framed no respectable person called himself or herself a democrat.”

From the Dean of Notre Dame’s Law School, Clarence Manion, in the 1950’s: “The honest and serious student of American history will recall that our Founding Fathers managed to write both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution without using the term “democracy” even once. No part of any of the existing state Constitutions contains any reference to the word. [The men] who were most influential in the institution and formulation of our government refer to “democracy” only to distinguish it sharply from the republican form of our American Constitutional system.”

A few notes from the “other side”…

Karl Marx, in the Communist Manifesto: "the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy…: to “abolish private property,” to “wrest, by degrees, capitol from the bourgeoisie,” to “centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state.”

Mao Tse-tung: “Taken as a whole, the Chinese revolutionary movement led by the Communist Party embraces the two stages, i.e., the democratic and the socialist revolutions, which are essentially different revolutionary processes, and the second process can be carried through only after the first has been completed. The democratic revolution is the necessary preparation for the socialist revolution, and the socialist revolution is the inevitable sequel to the democratic revolution. The ultimate aim for which all communists strive is to bring about a socialist and communist society.”

Mikhail Gorbachev: “according to Lenin, socialism and democracy are indivisible… The essence of perestroika lies in the fact that it unites socialism with democracy and revives the Leninist concept… We want more socialism and, therefore, more democracy.”

For JRDelirious:

It is not our place to re-define words. It is not our place to refer to our republican form of government AS STATED IN THE US CONSTITUTION - as a democracy.

It is not our place to refer to our government, which requires us to elect represntatives to make laws to guide us, as a “representative-participative” government.

Your “representative-participative” term is, at the least, a joke, and nowhere near the truth, and at the most, a slap in the faces of our Founding Fathers.

“Nitpicking”??? No attempt at the truth is nitpicking. We live in a republic, not a democracy. Calling a barn a house does not make it a house, and calling our form of government anything other than a republic does not make it different.

For SCSimons:

Read carefully your definitions. Number one states “Government by the people…”

We are not governed by the people. We are governed by a constitution, and laws made according to that constitution.

Definition Number 2 states that in a democracy the power is retained by the people, but indirectly thru a constitutional representative government. I don’t know what kind of twist on the truth THAT little gem is supposed to mean, but the closest I can come to the truth in that statement is that a democracy is a republic. More Orwellian double-speak, maybe?

So no, Number 2 is not the United States. Close, maybe, but not the truth.

Do I have any evidence that it’s not? Well, I do not know if you will call it evidence, but I refer you to my earlier posts above and the writings of the men who founded this country, and wrote its constitution: They took great pains to ensure that we did not get a democracy and its resultant problems. They worked long and hard to ensure that our system of government is “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Don’t argue with me. Argue with James Madison, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, George Washinton… They were serious, not nitpicking.

From Mike Acker:

Look up the word REPUBLIC in most any dictionary. Most likely, you"ll find that a “republic” is a “government of elected representatives”.

This is a deliberate deception.

I have an Enclycopaedia Britannica, 11th edition. This work provides the proper explanation. First it says that the idea that a republic is a government of elected representatives is a “notoriously modern interpretation”. The article continues, explaining that historically, a Republic refered to a government in which the soverign held authority granted by the people and ruled according to law.

Note that this concept checks exactly with our own Declaration of Independence which states that the purpose of government is to protect the rights of the people, and that government derives its just powers from the consent of the people.

You now have the key ideas in hand: First, power is derived from the people, and second the government itself operates within and under the control of the law. In other words: In a REPUBLIC the People are the Masters and the government is subordinate.

When the Founding Fathers set our Constitution for us they based their work on this concept. The Constitution is a grant of authority from We the People to form a government. The government thus authorized is a LIMITED government, operating on authority granted from We the People. In every sense it meets the earlier, historical definition of a Republic.

The Constitution is the grant of authority for the government. The Constitution, then, is the Law of the People for the control of the Government.

You will hear many people say that we are a “democracy”. Such was NOT the original intention. In a democracy, the will of the majority is law. Anything is allowed, provided that the majority approves. There are no checks and balances, and the rights of the individual are not protected.

To reiterate: Calling a barn a house does not make it so. Calling a cat a dog does not make it so. Calling the United States a democracy does not make it a democracy.

As I expected, it’s the same old ignorant propaganda regurgitations, redefining words to mean whatever is convenient (in particular, treating “republic” and “democracy” as mutually exclusive terms), and, as usual, complete and utter ignorance of American constitutional law’s roots in English common law.

For God’s sake, moderators, move this somewhere more appropriate.

John, I suppose we can overlook your complete and utter ignorance, and your attempt to redefine “republic” and “democracy”, but if you will read what the framers of our constitution wrote, you will note that they were very careful to point out the difference between the two terms, and very careful to ensure that we have a republic, and not a democracy.

Call it ignorant propaganda regurgatations if you want, but, as you can see from what Adams, Franklin, Washington, and a host of other signers of our constitution wrote, it’s what it is, and it IS a republic.

Have you even read our US Constitution? Did you see the word “democracy” in there? Have you read your state’s constitution? Any mention of the word “democracy” in there? Can you name even ONE state that has the word “democracy” in its constitution, or anything even close to it?

I, for one, cannot fathom how you cannot see the difference between the two, and cannot understand how you can read what was written in our constitution, and still call our republic a democracy, or call an apple an orange. But then again, as you say, you think that redefining terms, or asking that the truth be hidden from the light of day, is OK.

Would you mind telling me, and all the rest of the world, how this is propaganda:

Alexander Hamilton, at the Convention: “We are a Republican Government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of Democracy.”

Are you saying that Alexander Hamilton was a propaganda-regurgitating ignoramus? Should we purge our history books of this? Hide it so no one will know the truth?

Go read the rest of the quotations above, and then argue with our founding fathers. It’s what THEY wrote. I was merely pointing out the reality of the situation, which is that THEY said we have a republic, and that THEY despised democracy.

By the way, Mister - send me my ten bucks. I have looked up the word in several dictionaries, and in several other places, too.

Pay up, or shut up. :smiley:

You’ve never heard the phrase “democratic republic”, have you?

Doesn’t that phrase usually have the word “People’s” in front of it? :smiley:

Since this topic is only peripherally related to Cecil’s column on the Federal Reserve System, I’ll move this thread to the Great Debates forum. I’ll also change the thread title to make it clear what we’re debating.

moderator CCC

It also never says that the United States is a Republic either.

What the distinguished and learned gentlemen who wrote the Constitution of the US understood by words like “democracy” and “republic” are not the same as those words generally mean today. In addition, though the Constitution of the US is still in force today, it’s been changed in some significant ways (such as ending slavery and giving political rights to women).

As political scientists generally understand the words today, the US is both a democracy and a republic: the terms are not mutually exclusive, though they do mean different things. A democracy is a state where people participate in the government, generally through elected representatives (there are no direct democracies at the state level these days), and there are the political rights that go with that self-government. A republic is one where the head of state is chosen directly or indirectly by the people or legislature, rather than inheriting the position.

To illustrate the difference: Canada and the United Kingdom are democracies, but they are not republics; China and Cuba are republics, but they are not democracies

I’m with Giles. The U.S., Great Britain, Canada, France etc. are too big to be genuine “democracies” as the American Framers would have understood the term. The existence of, and obedience to, a Bill of Rights and an independent judiciary also means that the U.S., for instance, is not a democracy as Washington, Madison, Hamilton et al. would have thought of the term. (Even in Lincoln’s day, the phrase “the Democracy” was used synonymously with “the Democratic Party.”)

The terms “democracy” and “republic” have become conflated in the last half-century or more, probably contrary to their original dictionary definitions, and partisans of each can (and have) find evidence of both. My own view is that the United States is a democratic republic: we have a freely-elected system of representative government, but every citizen does not take part in every decision of that government, which was the Athenian model.

Err - yes, it does.

Article IV, Section 4. “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.”