On Republic vs. Democracy
by Pat Baska

Many people are under the false impression our form of government is a democracy, or representative democracy. This is a complete falsehood. The Founders were extremely well educated in this area and feared democracy as much as monarchy. James Madison (the acknowledged Father of the Constitution) said in the Federalist #10:

... there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such 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.

The members of the Constitutional Convention understood that the only entity that can take away the people's freedom is their own government, either by being too weak to protect them from external threats or by becoming too powerful and taking over every aspect of life. The debates raged long and hard on how to structure a government strong enough to protect us, without it being too powerful to control, and we wound up with a Constitutional Republic.

A Constitutional Republic is similar to democracy in that it uses democratic processes to elect representatives and pass new laws, etc. The critical difference lies in the fact that a Constitutional Republic has a Constitution that limits the powers of the government. It also spells out how the government is structured, creating checks on its power and balancing power between different branches. The idea was to hold the entire government in check by utilizing the jealousies of the people in each branch over their own areas.

It is also limited to certain specific areas. These are contained in Article 1, Section 8, and range from the power to coin money and regulate its value, to establishing a post office and roads. A lot of bad legislation has been passed using the supposed "general welfare" clause. Once again we go to the Federalist Papers, this time #41. James Madison again clarifies the original intent with this:

It has been urged and echoed, that the power "to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States," amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. ... For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power?

As you can see, they gave Congress this directive, here is what we want you to do, and these are the powers you have to accomplish it, hence the so-called general welfare clause is only half-cited, as the rest of it limits the powers of Congress.

While majority rule sounds good on the surface, only our Constitutional Republic protects each individual's rights without regard to social or economic circumstances.

This article was posted to the APFN message board on 2003-09-25
and published the same day on

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