The “RE” of Government: REpublic; REsponsibility; REason
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
With the approaching July 4th holiday, I have received several questions as to the difference between a republic and a democracy. My first thought was I need someone more qualified than myself to answer. But soon after, my husband and I watched a movie on the Constitutional Convention of 1787 which was convened to create our system of government. It reminded me of the thought process behind why we are set up as a republic and not a democracy. It also reminded me that as a citizen of a republic, I have a role to play. With simplistic and broad-brush strokes, we will attempt to dive into this topic. (*)
REpublic: “The main difference between a democracy and a republic is the extent to which the people control the process of making laws.”-thoughtco.com. The United States would best be described as a republic, or a representative democracy. In a pure democracy, citizens vote directly on most issues as opposed to a representative casting a vote on their behalf. In a democracy, policy and laws are controlled by the majority, even if those laws infringe on the natural rights of other citizens. This can leave the rights of the minority unprotected. In a republic, the majority does not have the right to force the minority to violate their natural rights. We protect these rights, for the majority and the minority, by way of a constitution.
What are natural rights? “Any right that exists by virtue of natural law.” -dictionary.com. “Natural rights are rights granted to all people by nature or God that cannot be denied or restricted by any government or individual. Natural rights are often said to be granted to people by ‘natural law.’”-thoughtco.com. “These rights are the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. A key aspect…is…natural rights are not created by government but exist (ahead of) governments and (governments) are in fact created to ‘secure these rights.’” -Online Library of Liberty.
Early Americans lived under the tyranny of a monarch that was indifferent to the natural rights of its citizens. The U.S. was created in a way that would make single authoritative rule almost impossible. “We, the people” chose not to be ruled by a king; we would govern ourselves. We were established as a republic, protected by a constitution. We were not set up as a democracy, which meant governed by majority rule.
Why does this matter? In a democracy, if the majority of people decide they want to ban the eating of beans on Mondays, this would be put to a vote of the people (not the representatives); it would pass (because this was the majority feeling at the moment); and a law would be created making the consumption of beans on Mondays illegal. My rights as a bean-lover would be ignored, simply because I was not in the majority. In a republic governed by a constitution to protect the rights of the majority AND minority, this type of policy would not go into law. Even if it was what the majority wished. Why? Because the constitution would protect the rights of each individual to be free from laws that tread on their natural rights. One of my natural rights is the pursuit of happiness and eating beans on Mondays makes me happy! 😊
In a republic, we choose representatives to represent us. Elected officials, not citizens, vote on laws, but these laws must comply with the constitution. It is the constitution that protects the natural rights of the people. People choose their representatives. The representatives pass new laws. If a law is passed that infringes on our natural rights, then the law is challenged and overturned if found to violate the constitution. The process is a circle affect used as checks and balances, for the protection of all citizens. (The above is an overly simplistic explanation. It is for talking points only. Please take this for what it is, a general education for basic understanding.)
As men and women, we are imperfect. This means, whether controlled by a king or governed by “we, the people,” we will make mistakes that must be corrected. We will sin and hurt our neighbors. No government ever has been, or ever will be, perfect, because governments are controlled by people. As people, we are flawed. I thank God every day I live under his grace of forgiveness; that I serve a God that gives my repentant heart a second chance (a 3rd, 4th, 5th chance).
Simple visual showing the difference in a democracy and republic:
Information from thoughtco.com
When our son was growing up, every election cycle I took him with me to our polling location to vote. He loved walking into the room, seeing all the people, being allowed to cast his choice for candidates (with Mom’s guidance, of course). My husband and I felt it was important he learn he had an obligation as a citizen of a republic. That the freedoms he experienced were not actually free, and to be a responsible member of society, he had an assignment, and that assignment was to vote.
A republic works only if the people stay involved. When citizens stay home, remain uninformed, and do not vote, the power of the country is concentrated in too few hands. When we do not vote, we are allowing someone else to speak on our behalf. We are allowing others to have power over us. There are roughly 328,000,000 people in the U.S. If only one person voted that one person would be the voice of the 328,000,000. If only 2 people voted, those two would have the voice (and power) of approximately 164,000,000 million people. This is a simplistic example, but we need to understand the consequences of not voting. I dislike sounding cynical, but if only 2 people voted, who do you think the politicians would listen to when it came time to pass legislation? They will listen to those that care enough to stay engaged. The two people who voted would have the power for one simple reason. They are the only two that chose to make their voices heard. Obviously, our government is not set up where two people can elect our officials, but I am making the case that the smaller the number of voters, the more power is concentrated into fewer hands.
Does my vote really matter? Yes! Even if your candidate does not win, the percentage of people that vote for a specific person will sway the behavior of the elected official that wins. If that politician realizes his constituents are very divided on an issue, he/she will usually listen more carefully to both sides. On the other hand, if the politician walks away with 80% of the vote, the odds they truly listen to the other 20% become slim. Whether your candidate wins or loses, your vote matters, because it registers your opinion.
There are endless examples throughout history where politicians have been elected by extremely small margins. Just to mention two. In 2008 there was a representative that kept a seat in his state legislature by one vote. In 2014 there was a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives that was won by just 10 votes.
You might be saying, “Yes, but I only care about national elections. I don’t really care what happens at the state level.” My answer, you should! Each state is different, but most state legislatures exert control over U.S. congressional redistricting, which occurs every 10 years. Whoever has control over the state legislature, controls how U.S. congressional lines are drawn.
To use a hypothetical example. Say the 2008 race mentioned above tipped the balance of power in that state house, giving one political side, or the other, the majority. That majority would have control over congressional re-districting for their state when the time came around. And the congressional redistricting could potentially change the balance of power at the U.S. congressional level. All because an election was decided…by ONE vote!
We may think we are immune to what happens in other states, but we are not. If the balance of power is switched (regardless of which side you lean toward), the laws passed affect all of us. State politics affects national politics! In fact, if I had to choose where to volunteer or work, I would be involved at the state level. I believe a citizen has greater influence in this area.
Why do you need to be involved? As has already been stated because we have a responsibility. I think a few quotes from history will serve us well to help solidify the reason.
“By voting, we add our voice to the chorus that forms opinions and the basis for actions.”-Jens Stoltenberg
“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.”-George Jean Nathan
"One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors."-Plato
“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”-Pericles
“The ignorance of one voter…impairs the security of all.”-John F. Kennedy
As people of faith, we are called to be informed. “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.”-Proverbs 19:2. Desire (how we feel) without knowledge (facts), is not good.
The United States government was set up to protect the rights of all people by way of a constitution. A republic can only survive if maintained by the citizens. We will not continue to live in a republic if we do not participate in the process. This means we stay informed. We educate ourselves. We fight for what is true and right through healthy debate with our fellow Christians. We vote!
When the Constitutional Convention was convened to form a national government, the creators knew we would face future trials and tribulation. We would stumble, fall, and we would endure pain when we made bad decisions. No government is perfect because it is run by imperfect people. The choice was a monarchy, where all citizens would be controlled by one. A democracy, where the minority could have their rights taken away by a majority, or a republic, where natural rights were protected through a constitution. A republic was the greatest way forward in the continued search for freedom, even though they knew obtaining and keeping that freedom through the years would come at a high price for many. They also understood by establishing a republic, future generations would have a duty hoisted upon them to preserve what they had been given.
During the Continental Convention, a woman anxious to know what type of government had been created, confronted Benjamin Franklin, a member of the assembly, and asked him, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation, Franklin responded, “A republic…if you can keep it.”
Together with you,
* At Lisa Lou’s we seek to impart truth and facts. We will not become political and dive into policy issues. Our job is to give you the tools so you can make your own decisions.