Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Republic v. Democracy
WallBuilders ^ | David Barton

Posted on 11/08/2004 1:34:10 PM PST by Conservative Coulter Fan

We have grown accustomed to hearing that we are a democracy; such was never the intent. The form of government entrusted to us by our Founders was a republic, not a democracy.1 Our Founders had an opportunity to establish a democracy in America and chose not to. In fact, the Founders made clear that we were not, and were never to become, a democracy:

[D]emocracies 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 have been violent in their deaths.2 James Madison

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.3 John Adams

A democracy is a volcano which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction. These will produce an eruption and carry desolation in their way.4 The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness [excessive license] which the ambitious call, and ignorant believe to be liberty.5 Fisher Ames, Author of the House Language for the First Amendment

We have seen the tumult of democracy terminate . . . as [it has] everywhere terminated, in despotism. . . . Democracy! savage and wild. Thou who wouldst bring down the virtuous and wise to thy level of folly and guilt.6 Gouverneur Morris, Signer and Penman of the Constitution

[T]he experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived.7 John Quincy Adams

A simple democracy . . . is one of the greatest of evils.8 Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration

In democracy . . . there are commonly tumults and disorders. . . . Therefore a pure democracy is generally a very bad government. It is often the most tyrannical government on earth.9 Noah Webster

Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state, it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.10 John Witherspoon, Signer of the Declaration

It may generally be remarked that the more a government resembles a pure democracy the more they abound with disorder and confusion.11 Zephaniah Swift, Author of America's First Legal Text

Many Americans today seem to be unable to define the difference between the two, but there is a difference, a big difference. That difference rests in the source of authority.

A pure democracy operates by direct majority vote of the people. When an issue is to be decided, the entire population votes on it; the majority wins and rules. A republic differs in that the general population elects representatives who then pass laws to govern the nation. A democracy is the rule by majority feeling (what the Founders described as a "mobocracy" 12); a republic is rule by law. If the source of law for a democracy is the popular feeling of the people, then what is the source of law for the American republic? According to Founder Noah Webster:

[O]ur citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament, or the Christian religion.13

The transcendent values of Biblical natural law were the foundation of the American republic. Consider the stability this provides: in our republic, murder will always be a crime, for it is always a crime according to the Word of God. however, in a democracy, if majority of the people decide that murder is no longer a crime, murder will no longer be a crime.

America's immutable principles of right and wrong were not based on the rapidly fluctuating feelings and emotions of the people but rather on what Montesquieu identified as the "principles that do not change."14 Benjamin Rush similarly observed:

[W]here there is no law, there is no liberty; and nothing deserves the name of law but that which is certain and universal in its operation upon all the members of the community.15

In the American republic, the "principles which did not change" and which were "certain and universal in their operation upon all the members of the community" were the principles of Biblical natural law. In fact, so firmly were these principles ensconced in the American republic that early law books taught that government was free to set its own policy only if God had not ruled in an area. For example, Blackstone's Commentaries explained:

To instance in the case of murder: this is expressly forbidden by the Divine. . . . If any human law should allow or enjoin us to commit it we are bound to transgress that human law. . . . But, with regard to matters that are . . . not commanded or forbidden by those superior laws such, for instance, as exporting of wool into foreign countries; here the . . . legislature has scope and opportunity to interpose.16

The Founders echoed that theme:

All [laws], however, may be arranged in two different classes. 1) Divine. 2) Human. . . . But it should always be remembered that this law, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same Divine source: it is the law of God. . . . Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is Divine.17 James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution; U. S. Supreme Court Justice

[T]he law . . . dictated by God Himself is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this.18 Alexander Hamilton, Signer of the Constitution

[T]he . . . law established by the Creator . . . extends over the whole globe, is everywhere and at all times binding upon mankind. . . . [This] is the law of God by which he makes his way known to man and is paramount to all human control.19 Rufus King, Signer of the Constitution

The Founders understood that Biblical values formed the basis of the republic and that the republic would be destroyed if the people's knowledge of those values should ever be lost.

A republic is the highest form of government devised by man, but it also requires the greatest amount of human care and maintenance. If neglected, it can deteriorate into a variety of lesser forms, including a democracy (a government conducted by popular feeling); anarchy (a system in which each person determines his own rules and standards); oligarchy (a government run by a small council or a group of elite individuals): or dictatorship (a government run by a single individual). As John Adams explained:

[D]emocracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy; such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man's life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit, and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will, and the execrable [abominable] cruelty of one or a very few.20

Understanding the foundation of the American republic is a vital key toward protecting it.


1. An example of this is demonstrated in the anecdote where, having concluded their work on the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin walked outside and seated himself on a public bench. A woman approached him and inquired, "Well, Dr. Franklin, what have you done for us?" Franklin quickly responded, "My dear lady, we have given to you a republic--if you can keep it." Taken from "America's Bill of Rights at 200 Years," by former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, printed in Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. XXI, No. 3, Summer 1991, p. 457. This anecdote appears in numerous other works as well.

2. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison, The Federalist on the New Constitution (Philadelphia: Benjamin Warner, 1818), p. 53, #10, James Madison.

3. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1850), Vol. VI, p. 484, to John Taylor on April 15, 1814.

4. Fisher Ames, Works of Fisher Ames (Boston: T. B. Wait & Co., 1809), p. 24, Speech on Biennial Elections, delivered January, 1788.

5. Ames, Works, p. 384, "The Dangers of American Liberty," February 1805.

6. Gouverneur Morris, An Oration Delivered on Wednesday, June 29, 1814, at the Request of a Number of Citizens of New-York, in Celebration of the Recent Deliverance of Europe from the Yoke of Military Despotism (New York: Van Winkle and Wiley, 1814), pp. 10, 22.

7. John Quincy Adams, The Jubilee of the Constitution. A Discourse Delivered at the Request of the New York Historical Society, in the City of New York on Tuesday, the 30th of April 1839; Being the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States, on Thursday, the 30th of April, 1789 (New York: Samuel Colman, 1839), p. 53.

8. Benjamin Rush, The Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Butterfield, editor (Princeton: Princeton University Press for the American Philosophical Society, 1951), Vol. I, p. 523, to John Adams on July 21, 1789.

9. Noah Webster, The American Spelling Book: Containing an Easy Standard of Pronunciation: Being the First Part of a Grammatical Institute of the English Language, To Which is Added, an Appendix, Containing a Moral Catechism and a Federal Catechism (Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Ebenezer T. Andrews, 1801), pp. 103-104.

10. John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon (Edinburgh: J. Ogle, 1815), Vol. VII, p. 101, Lecture 12 on Civil Society.

11. Zephaniah Swift, A System of the Laws of the State of Connecticut (Windham: John Byrne, 1795), Vol. I, p. 19.

12. See, for example, Benjamin Rush, Letters, Vol. I, p. 498, to John Adams on January 22, 1789.

13. Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832), p. 6.

14. George Bancroft, History of the United States from the Discovery of the American Continent (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1859), Vol. V, p. 24. See Baron Charles Secondat de Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws (Philadelphia: Isaiah Thomas, 1802), Vol. I, pp. 17-23, and ad passim.

15. Rush, Letters, Vol. I, p. 454, to David Ramsay, March or April 1788.

16. Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Philadelphia: Robert Bell, 1771), Vol. I, pp. 42-43.

17. James Wilson, The Works of the Honorable James Wilson, Bird Wilson, editor (Philadelphia: Lorenzo Press, 1804), Vol. I, pp. 103-105, "Of the General Principles of Law and Obligation."

18. Alexander Hamilton, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Harold C. Syrett, editor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), Vol. I, p. 87, February 23, 1775, quoting William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Philadelphia: Robert Bell, 1771), Vol. I, p. 41.

19. Rufus King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, Charles R. King, editor (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1900), Vol. VI, p. 276, to C. Gore on February 17, 1820.

20. John Adams, The Papers of John Adams, Robert J. Taylor, editor (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1977), Vol. I, p. 83, from "An Essay on Man's Lust for Power, with the Author's Comment in 1807," written on August 29, 1763, but first published by John Adams in 1807.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial; Government; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: democracy; foundingfathers; republic
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-35 last
To: Conservative Coulter Fan
The Declaration and the Constitution: Their Christian Roots

The Theology of the United States

God in the Temples of Government

21 posted on 11/08/2004 2:02:50 PM PST by Tailgunner Joe (Born and raised in Jesusland!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: cwb

FDR is most directly responsible for the cultivation of this myth that the General Welfare Clause was a blank check for the Federal Government and that the limitations on the Federal Government were essentially null and void because of a general summary of the specific powers and areas of the Federal Government (enumerated powers).

22 posted on 11/08/2004 2:03:02 PM PST by Conservative Coulter Fan (BURN IN HELL, MICHAEL MOORE!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 20 | View Replies]

To: Conservative Coulter Fan

Well, ok, but we are a democratic republic.
All of our political chief executives are chosen by the popular vote, as are all of our legislators and many of our judges. We also have direct ballot initiative processes in about 23 states. We are not a democracy in the Athenian sense, of course, but there's no particular reason to cede to the ancient Greeks the definition of "democracy". Our system was democratic even before it was a republic. Take a look at American colonial governance. It was representative in some parts, town meeting style in New England, and quite democratic.

And our republic doesn't look much like the Roman Republic, where class limitations applied to what offices one could hold.

We aren't a classical democracy, and we're not a classical republic. We're a democratic republic, or a republican democracy, and always have been. really. There aren't any historical precedents for what we've done here: we broke the mold.

23 posted on 11/08/2004 2:04:08 PM PST by Vicomte13 (Auta i Lome!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Conservative Coulter Fan


24 posted on 11/08/2004 2:11:00 PM PST by lilmsdangrus
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Conservative Coulter Fan


25 posted on 11/08/2004 2:12:11 PM PST by The Ghost of FReepers Past (Legislatures are so outdated. If you want real political victory, take your issue to court.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Conservative Coulter Fan

From post: ""oligarchy (a government run by a small council or a group of elite individuals)": "

With a couple of others - our government has gotten close to this form - Considering how many laws they have passed to protect themselves - And how they cover for each other when one with "power or money" gets into trouble - Some Reps. and people, like S.B. - can break laws even - and not be made to pay -

Our government is ripe with people who work to corrupt it even more - A sad state - and some citizens are to blame - plus add in what has happened to the major media - and it will be hard to get back to where it all started - Perhaps one way would be to make these papers required reading in all schools - colleges even -

In some respect - some changes are needed - also because of the current situation. How officials are chosen(local level on up) - especially from "new" citizens - and who can become a citizen -

The part where anyone born here(even if the foreign parents leave after) becomes a citizen - needs a second look - What once was - is no longer a safe practice for this nation - in my opinion - citizens must see this and move to head off one of the opening that would/could lead to the possible defeat of this nation from within -

Foreigners in the past came here to join in - to become an American because they had a high regard for the nation - This no longer is the fact for many new foreigners coming here. We should recognize this and deal with it - in some manner that still allows this nation to grow but limits the danger from any new citizen intent on doing harm -

just my thoughts -

26 posted on 11/08/2004 2:15:34 PM PST by Pastnowfuturealpha
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Vicomte13

The Roman Empire, you meant that surely.

27 posted on 11/08/2004 2:20:31 PM PST by Conservative Coulter Fan (BURN IN HELL, MICHAEL MOORE!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 23 | View Replies]

To: cwb
"I'll have to go back through my notes...but it was FDR who shortly after the Bank Holiday, ordered the Government Printing Office to remove from the Army Training Manual the definitions of a Republic and Democracy. This definition was used routinely in both the military and academia as the official description for these two types of goverment...and the distinction was obvious. Since that removal (sometime around 1932), liberals have intentionally misrepresented what type of government we are."

I think you will find the path to this in either HR1491 or USCS12 Part 95B. FDR, in HR1491, gained Emergency Powers and made the citizens enemies of the state by revising the 1917 Trading With the Enimies Act - in order to make way for the ensuing gold confiscation.

Every second of recorded time since March 9th of 1933, we have lived in under extra-constitutional rule; due to the War and Emergency Powers Act.
28 posted on 11/08/2004 2:21:21 PM PST by Dalite (... Comment to all)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 20 | View Replies]

To: Conservative Coulter Fan

Always good...

29 posted on 11/08/2004 2:31:04 PM PST by joesnuffy ("The merit of our Constitution was, not that it promotes democracy, but checks it." Horatio Seymour)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Conservative Coulter Fan
"I wouldn’t say that a republic exalts such actions."

Forty five million babies would tend to disagree with you.

30 posted on 11/08/2004 2:39:04 PM PST by TheCrusader ("the frenzy of the Mohammedans has devastated the Churches of God" - Pope Urban II, 1097 A.D.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 18 | View Replies]

To: Conservative Coulter Fan

No, I meant the Roman Republic, during all those centuries before the Caesar and the Civil War turned it into an empire.
Rome was the original republic, and it worked pretty well at making for a powerful large state with a largely committed citizenry; better than Greece with its petty little quasi-democratic states that imploded pretty quickly (Athens' democratic "Golden Age" lasted only about 50 years); better than the petty despotism that substituted for government in most other places; a little bit better than monarchy in places like Egypt, although to be fair, monarchy gave the republic a better run than anything else, because there is a religious component to monarchy that commands loyalty of most of the people, quite unlike despotism or even democracy if you happen to be in the out-of-power party.

Republican Rome is probably the best ancient parallel to us, but it's not all that good a parallel. Certainly Britain's not much of a parallel, or wasn't. The American Colonies were seriously democratic places; England didn't become democratic in any real sense until the Reform Act of 1832.

31 posted on 11/08/2004 3:03:19 PM PST by Vicomte13 (Auta i Lome!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 27 | View Replies]

To: GarySpFc


32 posted on 11/08/2004 3:06:25 PM PST by GarySpFc (Sneakypete, De Oppresso Liber)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 25 | View Replies]

To: Conservative Coulter Fan


33 posted on 11/08/2004 3:27:22 PM PST by EdReform (Free Republic - helping to keep our country a free republic. Thank you for your financial support!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Conservative Coulter Fan
OMGosh- I have said this at least one hundred times in the last week! Thanks for posting.
34 posted on 11/08/2004 6:24:48 PM PST by Diva Betsy Ross (God bless the Swift Boat Vets!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TheCrusader

I don't believe emphasis on the republic removes my absolute opposition to abortion, which I've argued should be a criminal offense [Premeditated Homicide].

35 posted on 11/10/2004 2:31:49 PM PST by Conservative Coulter Fan (BURN IN HELL, MICHAEL MOORE!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 30 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-35 last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson