Are we really a Democracy?

Posted on May 11, 2011

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The Myth

The government of the United States is a Democracy.

The Truth

The government created by our Constitution is a Republic, not a Democracy. The framers of the Constitution feared Democracies so intensely they created a brand new form of government called a Constitutional Republic.

The Facts

Before writing the Constitution our founding fathers and the framers of the Constitution studied governments of all types in great detail. Through this careful study of governments they realized that Democracies were nothing more than mob rule where the majority tramples on the rights of the minorities.  Democracies often die very violent deaths.

The purest form of Democracy occurs when all inhabitants of community gather together and vote on laws and other important issues. Whatever the majority decides becomes the law of the land without any limits, The will of the majority completely trumps the will of the minority, The majority body as a whole is the sovereign body of the land. Rights for minorities do not exist neither does individual rights. Very often the majority realizes it can place whatever taxes on the minority or confiscate any of their property so property rights do not exist. All property often becomes the property of the majority. This pure form of Democracy is only practical for towns.

As the population grows it becomes impossible to assemble the entire population together to conduct normal business. The people then elect a smaller number of representatives that meet together as one or more legislative bodies that form a parliament. The parliament makes the decisions for the rest of the population. There are no limits placed on the authority of the parliament. Whatever the majority of parliament decides becomes the law of the land. This form of government is called a Representative Democracy and it suffers from all of the problems of a Pure Democracy. Most European countries are Representative Democracies.

The form of Republic created by the Constitution resembles a Representative Democracy in many ways because the framers used that form of government as the basic building block for their Republic. However they added numerous protections that they believed would prevent our Republic from degenerating into a Democracy.

We elect representatives into legislative bodies through the democratic process however the Constitution places strict limits on the powers of the United States Congress and the rest of the US Government.  Our Constitution limits the powers of congress to only those that are clearly spelled out or enumerated in the Constitution.

Our Constitution also separates the functions of government into three co-equal branches; the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches. Each branch has separate and distinct powers that are clearly spelled out in the Constitution. Each branch is given the ability to check usurpations of powers by the other two branches.

The Prime Minister of a Parliamentary Democracy fills the role of the executive branch but is not separate nor equal. The person holding the office has no power to check usurpations because that person is elected directly by Parliament and can be recalled by parliament.  Also the Judiciary is not a separate branch because it does not have the power to rule laws unconstitutional and there is seldom a formal written constitution

All political power of Parliamentary Democracies is concentrated in a central government. Subdivisions of the country such as provinces or states are completely subservient to the central government. Provincial governments are mainly administrative with small amounts of legal and political authority.

When the States ratified the Constitution they transferred only a small amount of their legal and political powers to the central government retaining those they did not transfer. The States were intended to be mainly sovereign entities, responsible for all decisions that affected the lives of their citizens. Only those powers that concern the defense of the nation as a whole, relations with other countries, and relations between the states were transferred to the central government. The framers of the Constitution feared concentration of power in a central government. When they wrote the Constitution they set it up so the States would play a critical role as checks on this concentration of power.

The Parliament in a Parliamentary Democracy is the sovereign power for the entire country. Whatever laws they pass are the supreme law of the land. There is no formal constitution that limits their authority to specific defined areas.

In the Constitutional Republic created by our founding fathers the people are the ultimate sovereign power. The framers wrote into our Constitution so many different limits on the power of the central government that they hoped it would never become a threat to the sovereign power of the people. To preserve these crucial limits on the power of the central government the framers set the Constitution as the absolute law of the land. No law passed by the US Congress or the States can violate the Constitution and be a valid law that is legally binding. The will of the people is sovereign over the Constitution because there is a formal process to change the Constitution that ends with all changes being ratified by the people.

It is correct to call our form of government a Democratic Republic because democracy is the tool the people use to elect their representatives. Because of the separation of powers, checks and balances, sovereignty of the states, Constitutional limits on the powers of government, and ultimate power remaining with we the people; our national government is a Constitutional Republic, or Republic for short, not a Democracy.

Unfortunately the progressives are using the myth that we are a Democracy to turn us into one. They are distorting the original meaning of the Constitution and the intent of the framers to weaken the limits placed on government in the effort to turn us into a Parliamentary Democracy.

The Proof

In Federalist Paper number 10 James Madison discusses the dangers Democracies in great detail along with the benefits of the Republic created by our Constitution.

In Federalist Paper number 39 James Madison discusses the Principles of Republican Government in great detail.

“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 have been violent in their deaths.”  –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.” –John Adams

“The people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived. “–James Madison

I am convinced that the republican is the only form of government, which is not at open or secret warfare with the rights of mankind –Thomas Jefferson

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