Republics and Democracies by Hal Shurtleff

This spring, I purchased a gas driven lawnmower which came with an owner’s manual.  The manual gives me all the information I need to operate and service the mower.  It lists the type of gas and oil I need to run it, when to change the oil, and, how to run the mower safely, and effectively.  It is specific and if it wasn’t, I would soon have problems with the device and my lawn would turn into a hayfield.  The Framers of the U.S. Constitution wrote an owner’s manual for the United States–The U.S. Constitution, and in it they listed the things we needed to do to run a free country and prevent it from becoming an anarchistic hayfield.

Article 4, Section 4 of that “manual” states that ‘” The United States shall guarantee to every state in this Union a Republican Form of Government…”  Nowhere in this owner’s manual do we see the word “democracy.”   A Democracy literally means government by the people in Greek, and the word “republic” stems from Latin res publica, the public thing or public affair.

Since so many people on both sides of the ideological and political spectrum use the word “democracy” to describe our form of government, maybe the words are synonyms.  So, let’s see what the Framers though about the terms.

“A Republic if you can keep it” was the reply to Benjamin Franklin gave to Mrs.  Elizabeth Powel when asked what type of government the Framers gave us

James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution.” wrote in Federalist 10:

A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and 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…”

Elbridge Gerry, where we get the word Gerrymander, a delegate from Massachusetts”

“The evils we experience from the excess of democracy.”

Alexander Hamilton:

“It has been observed by an honorable gentleman, that a pure democracy, if it were practicable, would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved, that no position in politics is more false than this. The ancient democracies, in which the people themselves deliberated, never possessed one feature of good government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”

Edmund Randolph speaking about the reason the Constitutional Convention:

“That in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and trials of democracy.”

In 1928, the U.S. Army published  The United States War Department’s Training Manual No 2000-25 which  defines democracy as “A government of the masses. Authority toward property is communistic—negating property rights.  Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether it be based upon deliberation or governed by passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences.  Results in demagogism, license, agitation, discontent, anarchy.”   But In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt ordered that all copies the manual be removed from all Army posts, SUPPRESSED and DESTROYED.  In 1952, the Department of the Army published “The Soldiers Guide FM 21-13.  In Chapter 3 we find this:

“Meaning of Democracy:  Because the United States is a democracy, the majority of the people decide how our government will be organized and run…”

From 1943 to 1945, Percy Graves served as research director for the Republican Party.  He once explained that one of his duties was to set any Republican who referred to the U.S. as a democracy straight.  However, he resigned after he was told to cease and desist by members of the Republican hierarchy.

It looks like there has been a concerted effort by some people to redefine the form of government we have.  Thankfully, many Americans are starting to catch on, that words have meaning, and definitions are important.  To quote a 1960s bumper sticker; We are a Republic. Not a Democracy Let’s keep it That Way

Camp Constitution has reprinted the 1928 Army Manual and may be ordered from our on-line shop:  h