US is a Republic not a Democracy

The “Republic and/or Democracy” question came up again over in the current Florida recount thread. At first I merely shook my head at Shodan but as I continued to read the contrast of “Will of the People” and “Rule of Law” got me to rethinking the question. I now believe that a valuable distinction can be made. While America is theoretically a democracy in reality it is the manipulation of the rules that matter rather than the desires of a majority. If you are unfamiliar with the background check out Liberalism Resurgent.

First off, a republic is not a form of representative democracy.
There are 2 main definitions of “republic” as a government given by Merriam-Webster:

The first type I think of as a “simple republic”. Any dictator can call his nation a republic; that doesn’t make it a democracy. The 2nd I think of as a “constitutional republic”. This fails the test of democracy unless the franchise is nearly universal; that is, the “body of citizens entitled to vote” can be considered “The People”. If the people in general don’t wield ultimate political authority then you don’t have a democracy. If only green-eyed southpaws vote for representatives then that nation is a republic but not a democracy.

I do agree that our franchise is just close enough to universal to consider eligible voters “The People”. Reluctantly. I’m concerned about the disenfranchisement of former felons and various other limitations; I couldn’t in good conscience take the oath required to register to vote in Alabama. In Florida what mattered was not the will of the voters but the law and how it could be applied. I’d say that America is a democracy in theory but in practice we are a republic. We are not truely a democracy because We The People didn’t really establish our government. The American citizens have never affirmed our constitution with a vote. We can not vote on amending it. We elect representatives that can do so but the process is deliberately designed to restrict the will of a majority. We are trapped in a system that we neither agreed to and can’t change.
The People are not sovereign and thus we have no true ( representative ) democracy.

Coincidentally, after I started composing this B&N called to notify me they had received a copy The Velvet Coup, the latest work of my favorite political philosopher. On the ninth page there is this quote:

Bright guy.

Just my 2sense

So yes, it is a democracy. However, it’s more specifically a republic, a sub-class of democracy, so to speak.

But we never delegated nor do we ever renew the authority to act in Our name.
How then can it come from Us?

Just my 2sense

I don’t have any idea what you mean, 2sense–maybe I’m just tired. FWIW, it seems to me that the Republican Party is cursed by a faction of anti-democracy patricians, who opposed motor-voter for years, and continue to oppose campaign-finance reform. If the Democrats had their way, voting wouldn’t be such a pain in the ass—why isn’t election day on a weekend?

We elect representatives. We elect congressmen. That seems pretty “delegated” to me.

For obvious reasons, we can’t really get in to this without first defining our terms. Dictionary definitions won’t do: they disagree with each other and with themselves (putting forth multiple definitions that, to some extent, are mutually exclusive). So, 2sense, how would you define these two terms?

. . . to say nothing of the fact that, even when the Constitution was voted upon, only a portion of the nation’s land-owning white male adults participated. On the other hand, so what? A thing’s origin can be separated from it’s nature. If King George himself had written the U.S. Constitution and handed it to James Madison, would that then make our government a monarchy? Of course not.

Why does our authorization have to be explicit and formal? I’d just assume keep the constitution we have now, and in that respect have authorized the government to legitimately (in my opinion) wield power. Am I unable to do this without writing it down on a ballot?

We should also distinguish between the instrument of government (the Constitution) and the government itself. It is possible for the spirit of the document to be elitist while, in practice, the government is quite egalitarian (and vice versa, of course).

Furthermore, even if we do conclude that the national government of the U.S. is more like a “republic” than a “democracy,” we still have a whole mess of federalism issues to consider. The various state constitutions are hardly uniform, and most (I would conjecture) interaction between people and government will be done at the state level.

– Jer

Give it up, folks. 2sense will NEVER accept that the Constitution is a valid and legal document nor that our form of government is a representative republican* democracy.

*does not mean republican party, but republican as in “republic.”

All emphasis in the following quotes will be mine.

The Constitution of the United States of America, Article IV, Section 4:

Note that the constitution does not contain either of the words “democracy” or “democratic”.

The Pledge of Allegiance:

The US is, and was intended by the authors of the Constitution to be, a republic.

re: the OP – your point being?
Are you saying a republic is an insufficiently democratic form of government? Do you have a model for a better one? (Not saying you could not, by any means, but you aren’t describing one).

Or are you saying pretentions to democracy are ludicrous and harmful because what we have is a republic which is as it should be? (Why, what’s wrong with democracy?)

Actually, I’d ask the same questions of most of the folks who have replied here.

Yes, we can. Check out Art. V of the Constitution.


BTW, 2sense, I would like to state my appreciation for bringing this vital and never-before-addressed issue to our attention.


There’s no debate here… by definition, we’re a republic and a democracy.

From the OP:

That’s a blatent lie. The law and how it is applied mattered because the will of the voters was unclear. Had the will of the voters been unambiguous, the law would have had nothing to say in the matter. Your statement is like saying that the athletic abilities of the Redskins and Cowboys did not matter in their most recent game because the game was decided by a crucial referee call. If the Redskins or Cowboys had been better players, that call would not have been crucial, so clearly their abilities did matter.

As VarlosZ said, the matter of how this country was established is irrelevant to what this country is.

Yes we have. We do it every election day. If we didn’t want this system of government, all we would have to do is vote for people committed to eliminating it.

Of course we can change it.

I was under the impression that We the People had a number of Constitutional Conventions to vote yea or nay for superceding the Articles of Conferderation with the Constitution. Granted, it was thirteen separate conventions held in each of the several states.

The Ryan

Unsurprisingly, I don’t cotton much to having my integrity questioned. Nonetheless this is GD and this point can be debated. In order to demonstrate that my statement was a lie you need to show not only that it is untrue but also that I knew it to be untrue.

Please support your claim or withdraw it.


Since no one is arguing that we aren’t a republic I think we can live with the definition in the OP. As for “democracy” I am referring to the concept of popular sovereignty: The People being the source of all political authority. In theory The People created the Constitution so theoretically we are a democracy. We agree that in reality this never happened. If the Constitution didn’t come from The People then it’s authority can’t be based on popular sovereignty. Thus the system built up around it isn’t a democracy.

Authorization has to be explicit and formal because otherwise it is uncertain. Perhaps we are being date-raped. You are happy with the status quo. We don’t know how many would agree because we never ask.

As for the state governments, some of them at least faced popular ratification and continue to do so periodically. I would have to examine all of them individually to see if they pass my litmus test. Even if they all did what we would then have is the statement that “The US of A are democracies”.

Hopefully this clears up some things for leroy_the_mule and SPOOFE. I’d be interested in the later’s opinion. Last I heard he was in the “Republic not a Democracy” camp.


My point is that our government isn’t a democracy.
Personally I think that’s a bad thing but we needn’t debate that. I have no intention of proposing alternatives at this time. Admittedly it is a minor point but as Sua notes it does come up every so often.

( More to follow - time constraints )

Just my 2sense

:confused: Let me repeat: :confused:

You entitle your thread “US is a Republic not a Democracy.” You post your thread in Great Debates. You then state “admittedly this is a minor point.” While I agree that the topic is a minor point that has been done to death, you (re-)started this stupidity. If your thread title isn’t the subject of your thread, what is?

Snookums, if you want, we can debate at great length whether and how democracy in America can be improved. I would participate eagerly in such a debate and would probably agree with you to some extent. But this stupid and inaccurate insistence on drawing an artificial distinction between “America=Republic” and “America=Democracy” detracts from whatever it is you are trying to say.

My suggestion - from this point forward, we refer to the American system of government as “Mugwumpery.” Let us now debate how to make America a more perfect Mugwumpery.


  1. We may just have a vocabulary problem here. To say that “the People” are the source of political authority is not necessarily the same thing as saying that the people created the political system in question. A “source” is not always the same thing as a “beginning.” We’re a democracy because “the People” perpetuate, not create, the government through their consent.

  2. Why not? Compared to the present condition of the document and popular sentiment surrounding it, it’s origins are insignificant. Say, for the sake of argument, that the Constitution had been voted on by everybody but that it was kept in place today only by a repressive police state. Would we call that governemnt a Democracy simply because the instrument of government had been created in a Democratic fashion over 200 years before? If a democratic origin does not necessarily mean a state will always be a democracy, why then does a non-democratic origin preclude us from considering the U.S. a democracy?

States may not put it on the ballot, but the question is asked. According to one poll, 89% of respondents were “proud” of the U.S. Constitution. In another, there were more than twice as many respondants who would vote “for” the Constitution as there are who would vote against (from the second link, but that particular poll strikes me as poorly conducted, and that particular question [as asked] had a rider about federal programs not explicitly permitted by the Constitution).

[li] I am familiar with the the fifth article of our constitution. I have no idea why you would believe that it contains a provision for us regular citizens to vote on amendment. Perhaps you should read either the amendment clause or my post again.[/li][li]Minor point? Yes. Undebatable? Certainly not. Hence Great Debates. Clear?[/li][li]The title of this thread is “US is a Republic not a Democracy”. You quote me as saying that “My point is that our government isn’t a democracy.” The only difference is the assertion that America is a republic. As long as we all accept that fact, and as I noted in that same post- so far we all do, there is no contradiction between the 2. So how is it exactly that you are confused about the subject of this thread?[/li][li] In light of your confusion about what it is that I’m trying to say don’t you think it might a smart move to refrain from giving advice as to how I should say it?[/li][li] As for beating this topic to death, I will be happy to concede this point if you can show me one, just one, example here of someone arguing that the US government isn’t a democracy because it is set above the public without our consent.[/li]-----
Just my 2sense


How exactly do we demonstrate our consent? As I have noted there is no mechanism to do so. If it is not on a ballot then what good is it? A majority of us have disapproved of the Electoral College for over half a century yet it’s not going anywhere. I agree that popular sovereignty, or lack thereof, in the past doesn’t guarantee democracy or a lack of democracy today. The problem is that we, The People, have no avenue to ratify or dismiss the current system. The amendment process provided for in Article V is designed to stymie democracy. Our only way around this is necessarily extra-constitutional.

Though I share your concerns about it I have more confidence in the Portrait of America poll. I couldn’t find any information on how the National Constitution Center got their numbers.


Noted historian Charles Beard concludes that “…it is highly probable that not more than one-fourth or one-fifth of the adult white males took part in the election of delegates to the state conventions.” Obviously a much lower percentage of other groups took part. The National Archives maintains an informative page concerning the ratification of the Constitution.

Just my 2sense