As one example out of a myriad, consider that politicians and others routinely refer to “our democracy.” Yet the Founders were adamant in their insistence that they established a republic—not a democracy. These wise men had combed through the annals of world history and examined the governments that preceded them. They concluded that a republic is the best form of government, particularly since it goes hand in hand with the general doctrines of Christianity. They were forceful in their disdain for democracies. Consider a few examples from the pens of quintessential Founders:
- Declaration signer John Witherspoon stated: “Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state—it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.”1
- Declaration signer and second President John Adams stated: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”2
- In a letter to John Adams on July 21, 1789, Declaration signer and physician Benjamin Rush called a democracy “one of the greatest evils.”3
- Noah Webster explained: “In democracy…there are commonly tumults and disorders…. Therefore a pure democracy is generally a very bad government. It is often the most tyrannical government on earth.”4
- Constitution signer and two-term President of the U.S. James Madison insisted that, “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.”
Such statements could be multiplied.
But why the vehement disdain for a “democracy”? One must understand the Founder’s distinction between a democracy and a republic. A democracy is rule by the majority. If the majority of the citizens oppose slavery, homosexuality, polygamy, or abortion, then those behaviors will be illegal. If, on the other hand, the population shifts and a majority of the citizens endorse those behaviors, then those behaviors will be legalized, practiced, and promoted. In a democracy, the fickle feelings and subjective opinions of the people become law.
A republic, on the other hand, is representative rule based on unchanging moral principles that transcend human opinions and feelings. These unchanging moral principles are derived from and based upon the unchanging laws of God—what the Founders called “natural law.” As Constitutionsigner and U.S. Supreme Court Justice James Wilson expressed: “Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is Divine.”6 Or as Constitutionsigner Alexander Hamilton insisted: “The law…dictated by God Himself is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this.”