History shows forefathers created republic — not a democracy - WBOY - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

History shows forefathers created republic — not a democracy

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On Sept. 17, 1787, 39 of the 45 delegates of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia voted to adopt the basis of American government — the Constitution.

The four-page document contains 4,440 words and not only structures the operational function of American government, but also sheds light on what kind of government the signers imparted.

As Benjamin Franklin left the Pennsylvania Statehouse after the final meeting of the Constitutional Convention, the wife of Philadelphia's mayor approached, curious as to what the new government would be.

Franklin's response — “A republic, madam. If you can keep it.”

As election season nears and campaign messages are rising to a crescendo, a history lesson of how government was formed could come in handy.

Evolution of the republic

Since our republic's inception some 227 years ago, “democracy” has appeared to become the new word attributed to the American form of government.

So “democracy” incorrectly describes American government and, according to John Poffenbarger, assistant professor of political science at Wheeling Jesuit University, there is “no true democracy.”

When describing America's newfound government, the Founding Fathers specifically warned against the dangers of a democracy, with James Madison saying democracies have “in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Interestingly, not once does the Constitution mention the word “democracy.”

Once the structural function of a “republic” and “democracy” are compared, the differences become glaringly apparent.

A republic is a representative government governed by law, i.e. the Constitution. The citizens elect representatives to act on their behalf rather than participating directly in governmental operations and rule-making. According to Poffenbarger, “in our system, we are supposed to be able to hold our representatives personally responsible.”

Looking at the differences

However, a democracy, in its truest form, operates in the completely opposite manner. There are no elected representatives acting on the peoples' behalf, but rather every single citizen participates directly, leading to a literal “majority rule” or “mobacrocy” and “tyranny-by-majority.”

Hamilton Abert Long, author of “The American Ideal of 1776: The Twelve Basic American Principles,” argues that in a direct, as well as a representative democracy, “there can be no legal system which protects the individual or the minority (any or all minorities) against unlimited tyranny by the majority.”

To illustrate his point, Long examines the representative democracy of Great Britain where “unlimited government power is possessed by the House of Lords, under an Act of Parliament of 1949 — indeed (the House of Lords) has the power to abolish anything and everything governmental in Great Britain.”

In a reversal of roles, Long states that the purpose of a republic is to “control the majority strictly, as well as all others among the people, primarily to protect the individual's God-given, unalienable rights and therefore for the protection of the rights of the minority, of all minorities and the liberties of people in general.”

Unlike a representative democracy, our representative form of government is constitutionally limited. What is the basis for our constitutionally limited government? The Constitution itself, adopted by the people and with both the expressed and limited powers divided between the legislative, executive and judicial branches, Long said.

Thomas Jefferson also pointed out the potential problems a democracy focused on the “good of the public,” and not the rights of the individual, could create.

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51 percent of the people may take away the rights of the other 49,” he said.

According to John Adams, “there was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

The purpose of a republic

In Michael Keehn's essay “Republican Form of Government,” who holds the sovereign power, or ultimate power within the country, and how that power is utilized and applied, was discussed in detail.

In a republic, Keehn explains, the individual is the holder of sovereign power, rather than the organized whole of a democracy. Unlike in a democracy, a republic prohibits mob rule from confiscating the property of an individual for the “common good.”

Next, Keehn tackles the paragraph in the Declaration of Independence that states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

Keehn identifies “rights” as powers and authorities and says rights, i.e. power and authority, are granted by the “creator,” i.e. God, as stated in the document.

“As can be seen, we the sovereign people (the individuals who hold ultimate power), conferred upon government some very limited powers and authorities within the very document that established the central government, the constitution,” he said. “Important to notice is the fact that we did not confer any power or authority that we do not possess. If we were to attempt to confer a power or authority that we do not have, it would corrupt (pervert) the system of justice that we are trying to establish.

“For example, if I as an individual sovereign, do not have the power or authority to go into the wallet of another individual sovereign, take out a hundred dollars and give it to whomever I feel is needy, then I cannot confer that power or authority upon government. If I did so it would corrupt our system of justice.”

In a republic, Keehn describes unalienable rights as rights conferred upon an individual that cannot be lost, sold or transferred, while explaining the difference between civil rights and unalienable rights.

“Civil rights are created by law, regulated by law and taken away by law,” he said. “Unalienable rights are given by God and man may not (take or transfer) them.”

According to the Founding Fathers, some of those unalienable rights are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

So what law are unalienable rights granted in a republic founded in? Keehn says the answer is common law, a biblical law and the law found in a true republic.

And our Founding Fathers appear to agree, as evident by acknowledging in the Declaration of Independence that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

In order to highlight the relationship between the unalienable rights of an individual grounded in common or republican law, Keehn gives an example.

“If it could be proved in a court of law than an individual has broken his covenant with God to ‘not murder' another, then this individual forfeits his unalienable right to life and may be lawfully executed,” he said. “It is the concept of ‘an eye for an eye.' You might notice that I said murder, not kill. In God's commandments he did not say ‘thou shalt not kill,' he said ‘thou shalt not murder.'''

So what is the importance of understanding the operational structure of a republic, who holds sovereign power, what unalienable rights are and by whom they are given?

According to Keehn, it's to avoid being ignorant and thereby “at fault by virtue of our unwillingness to be responsible for the behavior of our creation ... government.”

Also, as stated in Article 4, Section 4 of the United States Constitution, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”

 

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