Monday, July 4, 2011

A Republic, If...

As Benjamin Franklin emerged, after the completion of the writing of the Constitution; a woman asked of him, “Sir, what have you given us?” He responded, “A Republic, ma’am if you can keep it.”

“A Republic…” What is a Republic? Is it the same as a Democracy? If not, how are they different? Which form of government do we the people have for the United States? Is one form of government better than the other?

Those are the questions I had and maybe some of you have wondered the same things. Rarely do you hear that the U.S. is a Republic. Most people refer to it and believe it to be a Democracy. Actually, we may have heard that we are a Republic more than we realize but it has mostly gone unnoticed:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands…"

“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican form of Government…” U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 4.

To begin with, whether we are a Republic or a Democracy has nothing to do with the political parties of the Republicans or Democrats.

A Republic Form of Government:

Republic defined (Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary):
“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 powers of sovereignty in person.”

A Republic is a nation where the people, individually retain the sovereign power. These individuals elect representatives to exercise that power in the operation of government. These representatives are responsible to those people whom they represent and must govern according to and within in the limits of the law.

Key components are that the individuals retain the power and the law restricts the representatives running the government. The government must operate according to the law; and in our case, the supreme law of the land – the Constitution.

A Democracy:

Democracy defined (Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary):
“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.”

A Democracy is a nation where the people, collectively, rule. Note that the definition does not include the word “law”. In a Democracy the majority rules. As the majority changes, so do the rules.

Our Status:

As mentioned above, Benjamin Franklin proclaimed that the Founding Fathers had formed a Republic as the form of government for the United States. They had written a Constitution as the “law” under which this Republic would function. They expressed grave concern over the country letting the Republic slip away into becoming a Democracy. They actually referred to a democracy as a “mobocracy”.

The Founders did not want our country to be controlled by “majority rule”. They wanted the Constitution to be the set of rules which controlled the government and the country.

Some in America do not want to be bound by the restrictions in the Constitution and that is precisely why they promote the idea that the Constitution is a “living document”. The phrase, “living document”, does not sound bad if you mean that the Constitution is alive and well and still keeping watch over zealous politicians. But, that is not what they mean. “Living document” means that it is flowing and ever-changing to meet the current needs and desires of the country. In other words, they do not want the Constitution to impose restrictions on their agenda for America.

“A Republic, if…”

Why was Mr. Franklin and other Founders concerned about the Republic remaining a Republic? In order for society to function under the umbrella of a limited government, there must be a rule of law. This law must be set and difficult to alter. It cannot be that a majority can upset the law on a whim. A civil order is required for the people to exist with the God-given rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Where the current majority of the citizens make all the rules, the rights of the minority will not be protected. Equal rights require steady laws. In his First Inaugural Address (1801), Thomas Jefferson said:  “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable: that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

Within a Republic the individual people retain sovereignty. We, as individuals, exercise our sovereignty as we elect representatives to go to Washington for the purpose of running the government according to the law – Constitution. We expect our representatives to only function in a manner which protects the individual’s natural rights. They are “natural rights” as they were bestowed on us by our Creator. These rights do not come to us from government and were not established by the Constitution. Natural rights predate the Constitution. This document was written to protect those rights and to restrict the government from infringing upon those rights.

With the Constitution being the supreme law of the land and written to limit what government can do, mere logic insists that the Constitution must have a fixed meaning and firm boundaries. If it were otherwise, such as a “living document”, where the very government it seeks to limit, decides where those changing lines will be drawn; it gravitates to a set of flexible rules where those who rule choose the degree of flexibility. In other words, it ceases to protect natural rights and is no longer the law of a Republic. That is why the Constitution was written with a specific list of what the government is permitted to do – enumerated powers.

In a Republic the people are not obligated to the government, but the government is obligated to the people. The people chose to form the government for specific duties and that creation of the people is subject to those creators and must abide within the limits of the Constitution.

In a Democracy, the power lies in the whole body of the citizens and the majority controls power. The citizens become obligated to the government to do as it determines. At any given time, the group that finds itself in a minority position will only have those privileges which the majority grants. Those granted privileges to the minority are referred to as civil rights. They will change as the will of the majority shifts back and forth. There is no line in the sand, no boundaries on government, and no law restricting the rulers from imposing their desires on those in the minority. A Democracy is where the majority rules as a dictator and whatever they decide becomes mandatory. The Founders knew this and this is why they called a Democracy, a “mobocracy”.

In a Republic, the people own the government and its agencies. In a Democracy, the government and its agencies own the people. When the people established the Constitution they did not give up their natural rights. America was founded based on the concept of self-government. We elect representatives to perform specific tasks on our behalf, not to control us and strip us of our rights. The representatives, the government and its agencies were established by the people to act as our agents, on our behalf, for our protection and benefit. They are to represent us, not rule us.

Republic – The People live with and enjoy the natural rights given to us by God.
Democracy – The Citizens live with the civil rights granted to them by their government.

A Republic is a government which functions within the framework of the law (fixed principles), in our case the Constitution. It protects the rights of the individual and respects property rights. This law restricts the government from violating the individual’s rights and prevents the majority from doing the same.

Both forms of government can have voting by the people. The main differences lie in whether sovereignty lies with the individual or with the majority, and whether there is rule by law or rule by majority.

This is the reason We the People require our representatives to take and oath to defend and protect the Constitution. It is too bad that many of those same people, once they have sworn that oath, completely ignore the same. A Republic only continues to function as long as the representatives, elected by the individuals, exercise their duties within the express limits and restrictions spelled out in the Constitution. When the allegiance of the elected is swayed by polls and pleasing the majority in order to win the next election, the Republic dies and the Democracy begins the inevitable slide towards despotism.

The Founders chose to give us a Republic form of government as it was the best, of all of the choices, in securing the rights of the individual and controlling the majority.

Can we keep it? 

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