I have been bemused by the ongoing debate in the social media whether America is a “Democracy” or a “Republic”?
Naturally, “Democrats” argue for a “Democracy,” and “Republicans” argue for a “Republic.” “I pledge allegiance … to the Republic for which is stands.”
Both sides are right, and both sides are wrong.
America is neither a direct democracy nor a classic republic. America is a “DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC,” a “REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY.”
Madison’s Brilliant Creation of Checks and Balances
Throughout the spring and summer of 1786, James Madison “barricaded” himself in his second story library in Montpellier. There, he devoted thousands of hours to an exhaustive study of government and political philosophy, ancient and modern.
He devoured hundreds of books. He wedded his theoretical scholarship with his practical experience.
He reached several brilliant conclusions. First and foremost, is that governmental power must be limited and kept in check. “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Therefore, the government must be based on a series of “checks and balances.” For instance, the three branches of government are separate and co-equal, forming checks and balances. For example, the federal government and the states “check” each other via the Supremacy Clause and the Tenth Amendment.
America is not a democracy like ancient Greece
Madison was worried about a direct democracy, like ancient Greece. There, everything was decided by the vote of the majority. Madison called this “excessive democracy.”
The electorate is often uninformed. Public opinion is easily swayed. Public opinion is also fickle. Plus, the majority sometimes tramples on the rights of the minority. “Majority rule” can turn into “mob rule.”
Therefore, the new nation should not be democracy.
America is not a republic like ancient Rome
Madison was also concerned about a republic, like ancient Rome. There, the representatives were appointed or elected, sometimes for life, by the wealthy and powerful.
The common folk had no input and no influence. They had no representation or say. Their rights were often ignored. The plebes were “lorded over,” and the peons were “enslaved.”
Therefore, the new nation should not be a republic.
Madison’s proposed a “democratic republic” or “representative democracy”
In order to avoid the abuses of either a democracy or a republic, Madison decided to create the check and balance of a “democratic republic” or “representative democracy.”
Like a republic, the leaders would be representatives. They had the time and resources to better educate themselves on the issues. This also prevented “mob rule,” and it avoided the hysteria of fickle public opinion.
However, unlike a classic republic, representatives would be democratically elected by the general public. This “checked” the representatives from “lording over” or “enslaving” the common folk. The people could vote their representatives out of office.
Thus, America is a “democratic republic” or a “representative democracy.”
The easy way to remember what type of government Madison and the Framers established is by combining the names of both major political parties.
“Democrat” points to a “Democracy,” and “Republican” points to a “Republic.” Together, they point to a “Democratic Republic” or “Representative Democracy.” Those are the best two-word descriptions of the American government.