December 11, 2000
A Republic, Not a Democracy
Throughout the presidential election controversy, we have been bombarded with references to our sacred "democracy." Television and radio shows have been inundated with politicians worried about the "will of the people" being thwarted by the courts. Solemn warnings have been issued concerning the legitimacy of the presidency and the effects on our "democratic system" if the eventual winner did not receive the most popular votes. "I'm really in love with our democracy," one presidential candidate gushed to a reporter. Apparently, the United States at some point become a stealth democracy at the behest of news directors and politicians.
The problem, of course, is that our country is not a democracy. Our nation was founded as a constitutionally limited republic, as any grammar school child knew just a few decades ago (remember the Pledge of Allegiance: "and to the Republic for which it stands"...?). The Founding Fathers were concerned with liberty, not democracy. In fact, the word democracy does not appear in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. On the contrary, Article IV, section 4 of the Constitution is quite clear: "The United States shall guarantee to every state in this Union a Republican Form of Government (emphasis added). The emphasis on democracy in our modern political discourse has no historical or constitutional basis.
In fact, the Constitution is replete with undemocratic mechanisms. The electoral college is an obvious example. Small states are represented in national elections with greater electoral power than their populations would warrant in a purely democratic system. Similarly, sparsely populated Wyoming has the same number of senators as heavily populated New York. The result is not democratic, but the Founders knew that smaller states had to be protected against overreaching federal power. The Bill of Rights provides individuals with similar protections against the majority. The First Amendment, for example, is utterly undemocratic. It was designed to protect unpopular speech against democratic fervor. Would the same politicians so enamored with democracy be willing to give up freedom of speech if the majority chose to do so?
Our Founders instituted a republican system to protect individual rights and property rights from tyranny, regardless of whether the tyrant was a king, a monarchy, a congress, or an unelected mob. They believed that a representative government, restrained by the Bill of Rights and divided into three power sharing branches, would balance the competing interests of the population. They also knew that unbridled democracy would lead to the same kind of tyranny suffered by the colonies under King George. In other words, the Founders had no illusions about democracy. Democracy represented unlimited rule by an omnipotent majority, while a constitutionally limited republic was seen as the best system to preserve liberty. Inalienable individual liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights would be threatened by the "excesses of democracy."
Last week I introduced a resolution in Congress which reaffirms our nation's republican form of government. H.Con Res 443 serves as a response to recent calls for the abolition of the electoral college. The collectivist liberals want popular national elections (rather than the electoral college system) because they know their constituencies are concentrated in certain heavily populated states. They want to nullify the voting power of the smaller, pro-liberty states. Supporters of my resolution in Congress can send a strong message that every state still matters, and that liberty is more important than shifting majority sentiment.