We have grown accustomed to hearing that we are a democracy; such was never the
intent. The form of government entrusted to us by our Founders was a republic,
not a democracy.1 Our Founders had an opportunity to establish a democracy
in America and chose not to. In fact, the Founders made clear that we were not,
and were never to become, a democracy:
[D]emocracies 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.2 James Madison
Many Americans today seem to be unable to define the difference between the two,
but there is a difference, a big difference. That difference rests in the source
Remember, democracy never lasts long.
It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet
that did not commit suicide.3 John Adams
A democracy is a volcano
which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction. These will produce
an eruption and carry desolation in their way.4 The known propensity
of a democracy is to licentiousness [excessive license] which the ambitious
call, and ignorant believe to be liberty.5 Fisher Ames, Author of
the House Language for the First Amendment
We have seen the tumult of democracy
terminate . . . as [it has] everywhere terminated, in despotism. . . . Democracy!
savage and wild. Thou who wouldst bring down the virtuous and wise to thy level
of folly and guilt.6 Gouverneur Morris, Signer and Penman of the
[T]he experience of all former ages had shown that of all human
governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived.7
John Quincy Adams
A simple democracy . . . is one of the greatest of evils.8
Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration
In democracy . . . there are commonly
tumults and disorders. . . . Therefore a pure democracy is generally a very
bad government. It is often the most tyrannical government on earth.9
Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the
departments of state, it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular
rage.10 John Witherspoon, Signer of the Declaration
It may generally
be remarked that the more a government resembles a pure democracy the more they
abound with disorder and confusion.11 Zephaniah Swift, Author of
America's First Legal Text
A pure democracy operates by direct majority vote of the people.
When an issue is to be decided, the entire population votes on it; the majority
wins and rules. A republic differs in that the general population elects representatives
who then pass laws to govern the nation. A democracy is the rule by majority feeling
(what the Founders described as a "mobocracy" 12); a republic is rule
by law. If the source of law for a democracy is the popular feeling of the people,
then what is the source of law for the American republic? According to Founder
[O]ur citizens should early understand that the genuine source of
correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament,
or the Christian religion.13
The transcendent values of Biblical natural law were the foundation of the American
republic. Consider the stability this provides: in our republic, murder will always
be a crime, for it is always a crime according to the Word of God. however, in
a democracy, if majority of the people decide that murder is no longer a crime,
murder will no longer be a crime.
America's immutable principles of right and
wrong were not based on the rapidly fluctuating feelings and emotions of the people
but rather on what Montesquieu identified as the "principles that do not change."14
Benjamin Rush similarly observed:
[W]here there is no law, there is no liberty; and nothing deserves
the name of law but that which is certain and universal in its operation upon
all the members of the community.15
In the American republic, the "principles which did not change" and which were
"certain and universal in their operation upon all the members of the community"
were the principles of Biblical natural law. In fact, so firmly were these principles
ensconced in the American republic that early law books taught that government
was free to set its own policy only if God had not ruled in an area. For example,
Blackstone's Commentaries explained:
To instance in the case of murder: this is expressly forbidden by
the Divine. . . . If any human law should allow or enjoin us to commit it we
are bound to transgress that human law. . . . But, with regard to matters that
are . . . not commanded or forbidden by those superior laws such, for instance,
as exporting of wool into foreign countries; here the . . . legislature has
scope and opportunity to interpose.16
The Founders echoed that theme:
All [laws], however, may be arranged in two different classes. 1)
Divine. 2) Human. . . . But it should always be remembered that this law, natural
or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same Divine source:
it is the law of God. . . . Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon
the authority of that law which is Divine.17 James Wilson, Signer
of the Constitution; U. S. Supreme Court Justice
[T]he law . . . dictated by God Himself is, of course, superior in
obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries,
and at all times. No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this.18
Alexander Hamilton, Signer of the Constitution
[T]he . . . law established by the Creator . . . extends over the
whole globe, is everywhere and at all times binding upon mankind. . . . [This]
is the law of God by which he makes his way known to man and is paramount to
all human control.19 Rufus King, Signer of the Constitution
The Founders understood that Biblical values formed the basis of the republic
and that the republic would be destroyed if the people's knowledge of those values
should ever be lost.
A republic is the highest form of government devised by man,
but it also requires the greatest amount of human care and maintenance. If neglected,
it can deteriorate into a variety of lesser forms, including a democracy (a government
conducted by popular feeling); anarchy (a system in which each person determines
his own rules and standards); oligarchy (a government run by a small council or
a group of elite individuals): or dictatorship (a government run by a single individual).
As John Adams explained:
[D]emocracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy; such an anarchy
that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man's life or property
or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould
itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual
abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit, and science, to the wanton
pleasures, the capricious will, and the execrable [abominable] cruelty of one
or a very few.20
Understanding the foundation of the American republic is a vital key toward protecting
1. An example of this is demonstrated in the anecdote where, having concluded
their work on the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin walked outside and seated himself
on a public bench. A woman approached him and inquired, "Well, Dr. Franklin, what
have you done for us?" Franklin quickly responded, "My dear lady, we have given
to you a republic--if you can keep it." Taken from "America's Bill of Rights at
200 Years," by former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, printed in Presidential
Studies Quarterly, Vol. XXI, No. 3, Summer 1991, p. 457. This anecdote appears
in numerous other works as well.
2. Alexander Hamilton, John
Jay, James Madison, The Federalist on the New Constitution (Philadelphia:
Benjamin Warner, 1818), p. 53, #10, James Madison.
3. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States,
Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1850),
Vol. VI, p. 484, to John Taylor on April 15, 1814.
4. Fisher Ames, Works of Fisher Ames (Boston: T. B. Wait & Co., 1809),
p. 24, Speech on Biennial Elections, delivered January, 1788.
5. Ames, Works, p. 384, "The Dangers of American Liberty," February 1805.
6. Gouverneur Morris, An Oration Delivered on Wednesday, June 29, 1814, at
the Request of a Number of Citizens of New-York, in Celebration of the Recent
Deliverance of Europe from the Yoke of Military Despotism (New York: Van Winkle
and Wiley, 1814), pp. 10, 22.
7. John Quincy Adams, The Jubilee of the Constitution. A Discourse Delivered
at the Request of the New York Historical Society, in the City of New York on
Tuesday, the 30th of April 1839; Being the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Inauguration
of George Washington as President of the United States, on Thursday, the 30th
of April, 1789 (New York: Samuel Colman, 1839), p. 53.
8. Benjamin Rush, The Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Butterfield, editor
(Princeton: Princeton University Press for the American Philosophical Society,
1951), Vol. I, p. 523, to John Adams on July 21, 1789.
9. Noah Webster, The American Spelling Book: Containing an Easy Standard of
Pronunciation: Being the First Part of a Grammatical Institute of the English
Language, To Which is Added, an Appendix, Containing a Moral Catechism and a Federal
Catechism (Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Ebenezer T. Andrews, 1801), pp. 103-104.
10. John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon (Edinburgh: J. Ogle,
1815), Vol. VII, p. 101, Lecture 12 on Civil Society.
11. Zephaniah Swift, A System of the Laws of the State of Connecticut (Windham:
John Byrne, 1795), Vol. I, p. 19.
12. See, for example, Benjamin Rush, Letters, Vol. I, p. 498, to John Adams
on January 22, 1789.
13. Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie & Peck,
1832), p. 6.
14. George Bancroft, History of the United States from the Discovery of the
American Continent (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1859), Vol. V, p. 24; see
Baron Charles Secondat de Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws (Philadelphia:
Isaiah Thomas, 1802), Vol. I, pp. 17-23, and ad passim.
15. Rush, Letters, Vol. I, p. 454, to David Ramsay, March or April 1788.
16. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Philadelphia:
Robert Bell, 1771), Vol. I, pp. 42-43.
17. James Wilson, The Works of the Honorable James Wilson, Bird Wilson,
editor (Philadelphia: Lorenzo Press, 1804), Vol. I, pp. 103-105, "Of the General
Principles of Law and Obligation."
18. Alexander Hamilton, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Harold C. Syrett,
editor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), Vol. I, p. 87, February 23,
1775, quoting William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Philadelphia:
Robert Bell, 1771), Vol. I, p. 41.
19. Rufus King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, Charles R. King,
editor (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1900), Vol. VI, p. 276, to C. Gore on February
20. John Adams, The Papers of John Adams, Robert J. Taylor, editor (Cambridge:
Belknap Press, 1977), Vol. I, p. 83, from "An Essay on Man's Lust for Power, with
the Author's Comment in 1807," written on August 29, 1763, but first published
by John Adams in 1807.