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Why The United States isn't a true democracy

I often hear people argue (often quite militantly) that the United States is a republic, not a democracy. But that’s a false dichotomy. A common definition of “republic” is, to quote the American Heritage Dictionary, “A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them” — we are that. A common definition of “democracy” is, “Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives” — we are that, too.

The United States is not a direct democracy, in the sense of a country in which laws (and other government decisions) are made predominantly by majority vote. Some lawmaking is done this way, on the state and local levels, but it’s only a tiny fraction of all lawmaking. But we are a representative democracy, which is a form of democracy.

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And the same two meanings of “democracy” (sometimes direct democracy, sometimes popular self-government more generally) existed at the founding of the republic as well. Some framing-era commentators made arguments that distinguished “democracy” and “republic”; see, for instance, the Federalist (No. 10), as well as other numbers of the Federalist papers. But even in that era, “representative democracy” was understood as a form of democracy, alongside “pure democracy”: John Adams used the term “representative democracy” in 1794; so did Noah Webster in 1785; so did St. George Tucker in his 1803 edition of Blackstone; so did Thomas Jefferson in 1815. Tucker’s Blackstone likewise uses “democracy” to describe a representative democracy, even when the qualifier “representative” is omitted.

Likewise, James Wilson, one of the main drafters of the Constitution and one of the first Supreme Court justices, defended the Constitution in 1787 by speaking of the three forms of government being the “monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical,” and said that in a democracy the sovereign power is “inherent in the people, and is either exercised by themselves or by their representatives.” Chief Justice John Marshall — who helped lead the fight in the 1788 Virginia Convention for ratifying the U.S. Constitution — likewise defended the Constitution in that convention by describing it as implementing “democracy” (as opposed to “despotism”), and without the need to even add the qualifier “representative.”

Sir William Blackstone, who was much read and admired by the framers, likewise used “democracy” to include republics: “Baron Montesquieu lays it down, that luxury is necessary in monarchies, as in France; but ruinous to democracies, as in Holland. With regard therefore to England, whose government is compounded of both species, it may still be a dubious question, how far private luxury is a public evil ….” Holland was of course a republic, and England was compounded of monarchy and government by elected representatives — Blackstone was thus labeling such government by elected representatives as a form of “democrac[y].”


Frequently, politicians, and many ordinary Americans, refer to the United States as a democracy. Others find this aggravating because, unlike in a democracy where citizens vote directly on laws, in the United States, elected representatives do – and, therefore, the U.S. is a republic.

Happily, both are right! Here’s why:

It’s a Republic

“Republic” proponents define “democracy” as it was originally used. Called alternately “direct democracy” or “pure democracy,” in this form of government, rather than having representatives vote on laws and other actions, each citizen gets to vote – and the majority decides it.

Although on the state and local level, referenda (e.g., legalizing marijuana) and ballot initiatives (e.g., bond issues), where citizens vote directly on legislation, are used occasionally, on the whole, few things are decided this way in America – even the President is not chosen by the majority of the vote of the citizens, but rather by the votes of our electoral representatives.

This disdain for pure democracy in America traces back to the founding fathers. Alexander Hamilton didn’t like it: “Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of Democracy.” Nor did Samuel Adams: “Remember, Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself!”

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So what were they worked up about? Besides historical examples, they had seen pure democracy in action across the young nation in the state governments established after the Declaration of Independence but prior to the U.S. Constitution:

The legislatures acted as if they were virtually omnipotent. There were no effective State Constitutions to limit the legislatures because most State governments were operating under mere Acts of their respective legislatures which were mislabeled “Constitutions.” Neither the governors nor the courts of the offending States were able to exercise any substantial and effective restraining influence upon the legislatures in defense of The Individual’s unalienable rights, when violated by legislative infringements.

Thomas Jefferson experienced these infringements first hand in Virginia:

All the powers of government, legislative, executive, judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. 173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one.

Massachusetts’ Elbridge Gerry agreed: “The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy,” as did the former governor of Virginia Edmund Randolph who described his desire for a republic at the Constitutional Convention in 1787:

To provide a cure for the evils under which the United States labored; that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and trials of democracy.

Many saw pure democracy as a form of government that inevitably “degenerate[s] into either anarchy or the tyranny of “mob rule.” This was certainly the observation of James Madison, who wrote to Jefferson: “In Virginia I have seen the bill of rights violated in every instance where it has been opposed to a popular current.”

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A well thought out historical argument about the founding of America and it's Bill of Rights. :)

Feel free to check out this discussion if you feel like it.

You can give your opinion.

I recommend that you go take a look & do your own research. Open up your mind to new conspiracies and new possibilities. Conspiracy theories can become facts when proven.

I recommend that all truth seekers and true-Constitutional Justice warriors debate at this thread:
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Thank god it isn't.   Direct Democracy is very close to anarchy.  In fact the only real difference between the two is that the former would admit to being a form of government.
"Why don't you try speaking in words instead of your damn dirty lies?"
~Louise Belcher
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We are a democratic REPUBLIC...

And to the REPUBLIC for which it stands one nation UNDER GOD, INDIVISIBLE with liberty and justice for ALL.

Think for yourself

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(06-01-2017, 01:23 AM)StanTheMan Wrote: A well thought out historical argument about the founding of America and it's Bill of Rights. :)

I like you more and more with each well thought out sentence you type Stanley. Liked you from your first post.

Glad you joined us.

Think for yourself

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