Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Republic or Democracy?

A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union.

 --James Madison

A democracy is really a republic as an oak is a tree, or a temple a building

--John Adams

A couple of weeks back at Right Detour, several posts described the philosophy of government as contained in the Declaration of Independence. In the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson asserted that people establish governments to protect their rights, and that these governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. Sometimes such a government is described as popular government, a republic, or a democracy.

Sometimes we conservatives engage in disputatious word games about the difference between republics and democracies. We cringe when someone clumsily refers to the United States as a democracy rather than a republic. As the quotes above illustrate, however, disagreements and ambiguities abound about those terms and always have.

Most people understand that a democracy denotes a system of government in which the people in some sense rule. Specifically, a democracy is a government in which the citizens directly make their laws. Republicanism, however, is much less understood. Most often, people distinguish a republic from a democracy in that the people rule indirectly through representatives.

The term republic derives from the Latin phrase, res publica. This means " a thing of the people" or "a public affair." Historically the word has been translated to mean republic, commonwealth, constitution, government, or state. And throughout history, republic has been applied to all kinds of governments.

In the next few posts, Right Detour will examine just what republic came to mean, and how the Founders of our American regime created a republic like no other in the history of the world.

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