Why Our Founders Feared Democracy

The word Republic has all but disappeared from our political lexicon.  It has erroneously been replaced by Democracy.  The Founders must be turning over in their graves.  They had nothing but contempt for democracy.  They sought to, and did, create a constitutional republic, but not before doing their homework.

Unlike today’s politicians, talking heads, and academics, the Founders had an acute, in-depth, and nuanced understanding of history and political systems.  Prior to the 1787 constitutional convention, James Madison undertook a comprehensive study of every known republic in recorded history to ensure that the Founders didn’t repeat their mistakes.  The Founders as a group were also well studied in democracies.  They knew that every democracy in recorded history disintegrated in a pyre of chaos, tyranny, and mob violence.

The word democracy does not appear in any of the Founding documents: the Declaration, the Articles of Confederation, nor the Constitution.  For good reason: the Founders had no intention of creating a democracy.  They wanted to fashion a mixed republic of constitutionally infused checks and balances which incorporated elements monarchy, aristocracy, and popular consent.  Monarchy would manifest itself in the Office of President, aristocracy the senate, and popular consent, the House of Representatives.  The checks and balances are both vertical and horizontal.  The division of the government into the executive, legislative, and judicial constitutes one form of checks and balances.  The “division of labor” among the federal, state, and local levels of government constitutes the other.  This division of labor was made law in Article 1, Section 8, and the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution.

The Founders drew much of their inspiration and thought from Baron Montesquieu’s “Spirit of the Laws.” Montesquieu (1689-1755), a Frenchman, was a political philosopher and man of letters. He is one of the central figures of the Enlightenment.

Published in 1748, the Spirit of the Laws is a comparative study of three types of government: republic, monarchy, and despotism. Montesquieu held that government powers should be separated and balanced to guarantee individual rights and freedom.  It is considered one of the most influential political studies of all time.  The Founders would agree, and some 40 years later, would incorporate much of Montesquieu’s masterpiece in the founding of our Republic.

I’ll bet very few Americans can cite the differences between a republic and a democracy, or care for that matter.  But even high-level politicians and prime-time political commentators continue to refer to “our democracy” rather than “our republic.” Spread the good word—we don’t live in a democracy; it’s a republic, thank you.

The article below, by O.R. Adams, goes into great detail about this issue.

Why Our Founders Feared a Democracy

By O. R. Adams Jr.

© O. R. Adams Jr., 2008

Our Founders very much feared creating a government that had too many aspects of a pure democracy. They feared the destructiveness that a majority might have in trying to make everyone equal, and in the process taking away property, rights of property, and with it our basic freedoms which they considered “God given Freedoms.” They very much feared the development of the Robin Hood mentality we are seeing today – soak the rich and give to the poor. It is a democratic drift toward socialism. Such a program as the proposed “Universal Healthcare” is a prime example.

The fear had good basis. Our Founders were all knowledgeable people, and all knew and discussed how all prior democracies ended in disastrous failures – one of the most well known being that of Athens, Greece. As stated by Paul Gagnon:

American history reaches way back—to the texts of Judaism and Christianity, to the glory and failure of democracy in Athens, to Rome, Feudal times, and more. To explain our values, history classes need to reach back, too. http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_educator/issues/summer2005/

There has been a historical writing floating around for a number of years on principles that were well known to our founders, which is:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: “From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.” (Emphasis added) http://www.democrats.com/node/807

The above, in the reference shown, is attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler, a Scottish born British lawyer and writer (1747-1813). However, there is some doubt about the original author, although the quotation has been often repeated by knowledgeable people. (See: http://www.lorencollins.net/tytler.html) Certainly, the principle was well known to our Founders, and to informed writers of that period.

One of the greatest of all writers about our American government, and the dangers it faced, was the French writer and historian, Alexis de Tocqueville. He toured all of America in the early 1800s, and after some years wrote the great two volume book, Democracy in America. The University of Virginia has done the great service to America of making this complete two volume works available online at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/toc_indx.html

A good part of Volume II of Democracy in America was on the dangers of a democracy, which was along the same line as the above quoted information. He very much hoped that our Republic form of government could escape those dangers. Some excerpts from the book, in that regard, are:

It frequently happens that the members of the community promote the influence of the central power without intending to. Democratic eras are periods of experiment, innovation, and adventure. There is always a multitude of men engaged in difficult or novel undertakings, which they follow by themselves without shackling themselves to their fellows. Such persons will admit, as a general principle, that the public authority ought not to interfere in private concerns; but, by an exception to that rule, each of them craves its assistance in the particular concern on which he is engaged and seeks to draw upon the influence of the government for his own benefit, although he would restrict it on all other occasions. If a large number of men applies this particular exception to a great variety of different purposes, the sphere of the central power extends itself imperceptibly in all directions, although everyone wishes it to be circumscribed. (Volume 2, Section 4: Chapter III, That the Sentiments of Democratic Nations Accord with Their Opinions in Leading Them to Concentrate Political Power [in] America)

… These powers accumulate there with astonishing rapidity, and the state instantly attains the utmost limits of its strength, while private persons allow themselves to sink as suddenly to the lowest degree of weakness. …

Hence the concentration of power and the subjection of individuals will increase among democratic nations, not only in the same proportion as their equality, but in the same proportion as their ignorance. … (Volume 2, Section 4: Chapter IV, Of Certain Peculiar and Accidental Causes Which Either Lead a People to Complete the Centralization of Government or Divert Them From It)

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. (Volume 2, Section 4: Chapter VI, What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear.)

These things we are seeing in America, today; and worse is proposed. As we get our government benefits, we resist less while it takes away our rights and controls our lives. Even our local governments are getting into the act. They even tell us how to flush our toilets. How long will it be before they regulate how we wipe our behinds?

Well knowing the reasons for the demise of past democracies, our Founders, by our Constitution, created a Republic in an effort to avoid those pitfalls.

In an article, Are We a Republic or a Democracy, Professor Walter E. Williams of George Mason University, explains how our Founders strove to create a Republic instead of a Democracy, and why. The following are some excerpts:

James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 10:

In a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.”

At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Edmund Randolph said, “… that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.”

John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Chief Justice John Marshall observed,

“Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”

In the article, Professor Williams also reflects on the sad situation we have in America today, in that it appears that today Americans seem to want the same kind of tyranny that our Founders tried to guard against.  http://reliableanswers.com/patriot/2005/01/are-we-republic-or-democracy.asp

When our Constitution was adopted the people of our country, against tremendous odds, had just fought and won the revolutionary war against Britain, and had a real sense of freedom and individual responsibility. They also feared the centralized government that a democracy could bring about, and by which their individual freedoms, which they had just gained by blood and sacrifice, could be lost. In Federalist Paper #10, James Madison gave a comprehensive dissertation on how a Republic would guard against such losses of freedom, in an effort to get our proposed Constitution ratified by the people and their states. The following are excerpts from Madison’s paper:

… When a majority is included in the faction, the form of popular government … enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. …

… Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security and the rights of property, and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. …

A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking.

Yale University has made available to the public the entire Federalist Papers at http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/federal/fed.htm

Our founders gave us a republic, with a representative form of government, and I believe that, under our Constitution, we have the best form of government that there has ever been. But an irresponsible people, electing irresponsible representatives, can ruin any government. We are today experiencing that very danger.

We have had so much prosperity and so much ease of living, that we have lost our belief in personal responsibility. With it we have grown to believe in the ability of the government to take care of us, and we have lost our individualism and more importantly, our Faith in God. Instead of considering the good of the country as a whole, candidates promise the people to take care of their every need, including their medical care. And the people, relying on their promises of milk and honey, and equality for everyone, vote for those candidates. They have forgotten about the long term good of the country, the rights and responsibilities of individuals to run their own lives, and are fast making our country a socialized welfare state.

We elect people who want to take away our right to bear arms. This will make it more difficult to ever overthrow our yoke of oppression. This is a necessity to socialist and communist countries.

We elect people that teach us that perversion is commendable, and who want to remove our rights to say otherwise, or to write otherwise. They want to remove the right of those who disagree with them to be on radio or television.

They have no real respect for human life, and particularly the lives of the unborn.

While they remove our rights to significant freedom of speech and freedom of press, they teach us that pornography, obscenity, and perversion are constitutional rights.

The freedom of religion allowed is to the extent that it is only within the walls of the church, and not offensive in any way to the atheists and nonbelievers. Practicing our religion in living our lives, and in conducting our schools and our businesses, is not allowed.

Contrary to the wishes of parents, their children are taught false anti-American history in public schools, and are taught that homosexuality and same-sex marriage are commendable.

These are the great principles of the Democratic Party of today.

Today, all of the leading Democratic candidates are preying on the desires of the people for healthcare and other benefits. The idea of President John F. Kennedy, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” has now been completely reversed. Apparently the Democratic candidates of today think that the person who can get elected is the person who can promise the most government benefits to the people. This is the exact thing that our Founders feared. It leads to a socialized welfare state, the loss of individual freedom and of individual initiative. It will lead to the demise of America as the great bastion of freedom, and to the end of its status as a world power. It will eventually destroy our form of government, as it has in all past democratic experiments.






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