One of the interesting parts of the Institute on the Constitution (IOTC) 12 week class on the Constitution is that principle words are examined by the definitions found in the Webster dictionary of 1828. For example, the 1828 definitions of the words republic and democracy are quite different than our current usage which often treat the two words as synonyms. However, at the time of the writing of the Constitution, here are the definitions of these words:
Democracy: Government by the people; a form of government, in which the supreme power is lodged in the hands of the people collectively or, in which the people exercise the powers of legislation. Example: Athens
Republic: A commonwealth; a state in which the exercise of the sovereign power is lodged in representatives elected by the people. In modern usage, it differs from a democracy or democratic state, in which the people exercise the power of sovereignty in person. Yet the democracies of Greece are often called republics.
Distinctly different definitions of Democracy and Republic were also used in the military training manual (No. 2000-25) published by the War Department in November 1928:
–A government of the masses.
–Authority derived through mass meeting or any other form of “direct” expression.
–Results in mobocracy.
–Attitude toward property is communistic-negating property rights.
–Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate.
–Results in demogogism, license, agitation, discontent, anarchy.
–Authority is derived through the election by the people of public officials best fitted to represent them.
–Attitude toward law is the administration of justice in accord with fixed principles and established evidence, with a strict regard to consequences.
–A greater number of citizens and extent of territory may be brought within its compass.
–Avoids the dangerous extreme of either tyranny or mobocracy.
–Results in statesmanship, liberty, reason, justice, contentment, and progress.
–Is the “standard form” of government throughout the world.
The Founding Fathers, after studying the forms of government in history, wisely created a Constitution based on a representative republic with separated branches and checks and balances. The Founders rejected the tyranny of a monarchy, but also democracy, because of the tendency of all “democracies” to end in tyranny. As John Adams wrote, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” James Madison similarly called democracies “…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.” Still ask almost anyone, from legislators and school teachers to journalists and the average voter, and they will refer to our nation as a “democracy” instead of a “republic”. It would come as a surprise to them that no where in the Constitution is the word “democracy” used, but in Article IV, Section 4, it clearly states the “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…”
Why is this misconception so prevalent today? One likely possibility is that the era of Progressive thinking was associated with the Democratic Party, and the word republic, (as in the Republican Party) has been slowly replaced by democracy. Perhaps this is why some would even do away with the Pledge of Allegiance, which says “…and to this Republic for which it stands…”
It is not simply semantics, as those on the left would try to convince, it is two entirely different definitions and words do matter. If We the People ever hope to effectively work toward the return to the original intent of the Constitution, we certainly must first understand that the United States is best defined as a “Constitutional republic”, not a democracy.