3 Quotes from Founding Fathers remind us why we are a constitutional republic (not a democracy)

By Seth Griffin | The Daily Signal

We have all heard the common talking point from the left that conservatives are destroying democracy. The response to this claim is the same time and time again: “We’re not a democracy, we’re a constitutional republic!” This leads us to ask an important question: Are there any differences between the two, and if so, why do they matter?

The answer is simple: There are profound differences between a democracy and a constitutional republic that are crucial to every aspect of American life. These three quotes from the Founding Fathers that remind us to defend our constitutional republic with all our might.

Alexander Hamilton stated, “Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments”

Hamilton recognized the first of three harms of a real democracy. Democracy excludes the minority’s rights. It reminds me of the classic saying, “Democracy is like two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch, but a republic is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

Public domain

This painting by John Trumbull, “Declaration of Independence,” shows the drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress. The original, painted in 1819, hangs on in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

In recent months, we’ve seen attacks waged on two important aspects of our republic: the Electoral College and the filibuster. Those who argue against these things see both as a threat to democracy. After all, they argue, a candidate should not win the presidency unless he wins the popular vote!

The issue with these claims is they exclude the minority. Hamilton rightly saw that in a democracy, the majority have the right to take away the rights of the minority simply by being the majority.

Take past issues like slavery or indentured servitude, or present issues like gun rights or religious liberty. In all these areas, the majority has the ability to seize the rights of the minority because democracy does not balance power.

The Founders saw the horrific consequences of letting the majority have total power, so they instituted a system that ensured that everyone’s opinion mattered.

The Electoral College ensures the interest of every state will be considered in our federal elections.

The filibuster guarantees that the party who is not in power still has a say in policy. Every aspect of our republic has been carefully crafted so that the minority and their rights will not be stripped away at the behest of the majority

Thomas Jefferson is our second Founder to see profound issues with democracy. Jefferson said, “The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.”

Jefferson recognized the secret war that occurs under a democracy, a war for power and control. The secret war is fought in many political systems. There is a reason Plato said, “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy.”

The Founders knew of this secret war well and set out to erase it from America. They achieved this by the separation of powers. If you remember your 10th-grade government class, there are three branches of government—legislative, judicial, and executive. Each of these branches has been given a distinct role and each role differs for each branch. The quest for absolute power is voided when there is no absolute power to achieve.

John Adams saw the harm of democracy when he said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

Adams knew that democracy is hard and often fraught with human error. Because of this, democracy often leads to a government takeover of the people, organized by the people.

Take the classic tale of the French Revolution, for example. After the working class had overthrown the monarchy in a quest for democracy, the majority immediately established a new man to rule over them: Napoleon Bonaparte. Democracy is hard to organize and often leads to political suicide.

Democracy never lasts long before someone new becomes appointed to rule over the masses. For this reason, the Founders formed our republic in a way that the people are both heard and represented. Representative democracy became their wise solution to this complex issue. In this way, the majority and the minority can have their voice heard by representatives who pursue legislation for those they represent.

Yes, a democracy and a constitutional republic are very different, and those differences have a profound impact.

For those who still choose democracy over a constitutional republic, I just have one question. Why have more and more countries followed the lead of the U.S. by creating a constitution and separating the powers of government? Is our constitutional republic that much worse than democracy?

The Founders were explicit about their views on democracy, and for that reason, they looked hard, and found solutions that led to what we now call a constitutional republic. Our system may not be perfect, but it is one in which every voice can be heard.

Image courtesy of Public domain
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22 thoughts on “3 Quotes from Founding Fathers remind us why we are a constitutional republic (not a democracy)

  1. TNR readers: Please be respectful of others and stay on topic using brief comments. Some of you are getting off topic and attacking each other. Please use the comments section to post on-topic comments, and please consider using your email for personal disputes. Thanks.

  2. Interesting video from an ultra Liberal who you know. And his notations. A reality?

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr. “People in Authority Lie”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-5gm0kUXCw&feature=emb_logo (2:10)
    “My father told me when I was a child: people in authority lie.
    If we are going to continue to live in a democracy we need to understand that people in authority lie.
    People in authority will abuse every power that we relinquish to them and right now we are giving them the power to micro-manage every bit of our lives, 24 hours a day.
    They’re going to know where we are, they’re going to know the money that we spend, they’re going to have access to our children. They’re going to have the right to compel unwanted medical interventions on us. You know, the NAZIs did that in the camps, in World War 2—they tested the vaccines on Gypsies and Jews.
    And the world was so horrified after the war that we signed the Nuremburg Charter and we all pledged when we do that, we would never again impose unwanted medical interventions on human beings without informed consent. And yet in two years all of that conviction has suddenly disappeared, and people are walking around in masks where the science has not been explained to them—they are doing what they’re told.

  3. It is heartwarming to see the renewed interest and attention on how our Republic works and the rights, including freedom of speech, enshrined in our Constitution. Respect for the rule of law and appreciation for what we have, including the electoral college system of choosing the President, can not be over stated.

    • ‘Renewed’ interest and attention?? Please explain. Or is this just another pathologic false dilemma, implying that TNR commenters somehow lost their way over the years and have only now come to see the light?

      Nonetheless, let me take this opportunity to welcome your ‘renewed interest and attention’ to the workings of our Republic.

      • Happy to explain, Mr. Eshelman. I was just expressing my appreciating for recent events like John Klar’s Free Speech gathering at the statehouse in Montpelier and plans for four follow-up events highlighting our liberties as well as this column.

        My late mother taught civics and I have always felt that the de-emphasis on civics and understanding our unique form of government has been a real loss as has the change to Presidents Day vs. celebrating George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. Guess I am a little old fashioned. Glad to give my thanks and support whenever there are signs of renewed interest in this important part of our living heritage.

        • Again, restating your personal appreciation doesn’t answer my question.

          Why did you presume that the interest in ‘The Republic’ was ‘renewed’?

          • Mr. Eshleman, no need to get hung up on a word. Fact is that it is not everyday or every year for that matter that there there are demonstrations in appreciation of Free Speech and to have four more on our cherished liberties planned before the legislative session begins is a positive development.
            Likewise anytime there are articles on why we are a constitutional republic or others that delve into the founding of our Republic, is a welcome occurrence in my book and can not happen enough. This was the thrust of my comment. Hopefully, whether one considers this a renewal of interest or simply, as it is for many, an ongoing passion is not as important than having many more such articles and events in the future

          • Perhaps you might have allowed as you how you should have said:

            It is heartwarming to see the ‘ongoing passion’ on how our Republic works and the rights, including freedom of speech, enshrined in our Constitution.

            But alas, “…that’s not as important”…to you. Instead, you, hubristically, chose to imply that you were a patriot before TNR editors and readers came to their senses.

            Words matter.

        • As if you ever truly cared about our republican government and the Constitution that is intended to limit its reach, Freitag. You’ve made it patently obvious in past comments how little respect you have for the liberties with which God has endowed us. In my experience, it’s easier for a zebra to change its stripes than a slick totalitarian to become a lover of true freedom.

    • It would be much more heartwarming if our constitution and republic form of government were being taught in our American schools. Since the left has taken over the public education and the NEA has implemented it’s revised history and domination in the education of students, the constitution has been ignored in most cases and when taught has been slanted to ideological beliefs and propaganda. How is it even possible to comprehend that our educational system does such a poor job of teaching about the American system of laws, rights and responsibilities enshrined in our constitution? Your heartwarming renewed interest has never needed renewal in my presence and we should all be forcing our educators to inform not indoctrinate our students. The constitution is the only text book required.

  4. One of the best essays recently. Go back and read it again.
    Huge thanks to our Founding “Fathers”
    And a huge thanks for those today who remind us of How and Why we so far remained individually free.

    But, we are giving up on personal freedom, and hoping to elect those politicians who will push us
    where we think we want to be – and those Politicians are our biggest danger.

    • Doug, couldn’t agree more but here’s the rub. If you are walking around with your face covered because it’s been unconstitutionally ordered by a governor who ignores our constitution then you are not free to be an individual. I do not remember the legislation passed to make any such law. And, even if they had voted on it, the constitutional rights in America are not suspended because of an emergency or pandemic. If people are waiting around for a politician to save them, well I think we all know about that disappointment. Since no one enforces our rights, especially politicians after they take an oath to defend it as written, who does that leave to ensure our rights remain strong? The founding fathers also addressed that problem. All we need to do to answer that question is go look in the mirror.

  5. Our founding Fathers, young men with wisdom and common sense,
    to write such a document that has stood the test of time !!

    Wisdom and common sense something missing in today’s liberal political
    class, trying to destroy and remove our Constitution from our country……..pathetic.

    Every student should be mandated to read and understand what’s in our
    Constitution and why it is still relevant today !!

    Our founding Fathers understood politics and what it could bring……………….

  6. And to think that Alexander Hamilton was but 21 years old when the 33 year old elder statesman, Thomas Jefferson, penned the Declaration of Independence.

    So much for the student performance in today’s public education monopoly. Is it any wonder it distorts our history?

    • “Remember our 10th grade Civics Class”? Not any more!!

      Those classes on prosperity and self determination, and financial success are LONG GONE!
      Replace by the modern Victimhood indoctrinations which are destroying our youth and
      our Treasured heritage.

    • The men who penned our Declaration of Independence and crafted our Constitution and Bill of Rights, were better men then we have today.
      The students in today’s public education system haven’t got a clue…

      • Here’s another conundrum, the students today have been willing addicted to being dumbed down by their smart phones. That technological wonder was the beginning of the idiot apocalypse we seem to be experiencing now. Constitutional studies should be mandated in all American schools from 5th grade through high school with increasing depth into the subject matter in the higher grades. This is just one persons opinion!

          • The text book is the constitution. I studied constitutional law in college, study materials are already out there. If constitutional studies were mandated teachers would learn the material just like any other subject matter. If they can learn gender assignment studies they can learn constitutional studies. They take their marching orders from the unions not the people and that needs to be changed also. What kind of a question are you posing? Are we to ignore that the youth of our country has been purposely dumbed down?

          • I bought each of my grand children a copy of “The Constitution of the United States”, with amendments and the declaration of independence for $1.00 US… Whats the problem?

            The hard part is to get them away from their “ism” studies and to read and study my $1.00 gift… I am old enough to have had Civics in jr. high school and high school. Since they have not, I do not know what they will teach their grand children?

  7. I would boil in oil and stick a sprig of holly in the heart of Leftist’s of either party,who utter Our Democracy,seasonal pun intended.Leftist news flash,America is a Constitutional Republic.

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