If you remember much from your high school history classes about the founding of this countrywrites Chip Wood,
you know there was a great deal of controversy about what type of government the newly independent states should create.
The first effort, the Articles of Confederation, was generally regarded as a failure. But what should replace them? Each state sent a group of representatives to meet in Philadelphia and hammer out a new agreement. The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended, eager to learn what had been produced behind those closed doors.
As the delegates left the building, a Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got?”
With no hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Not a democracy, not a democratic republic. But “a republic, if you can keep it.”
… I loved to tell [high school students] about the differences between a republic and a democracy.
“A lynch mob is democracy in action,” I would say. “While if you believe someone is innocent until proven guilty, that they deserve their day in court and that a jury of their peers should decide their fate, then you believe in a nation of laws, not just the whims of a mob.”
Another line I used a lot was, “Democracy is five wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch. If you were the sheep, which would you rather live in—a republic or a democracy?”
I told them about the importance of “binding men down with the chains of a Constitution.” That this was the only sure way to protect their freedom. And that anyone who wanted to change this republic into a democracy was an enemy of liberty.
A century or two earlier there would have been no need to give such a talk—and no interest if one did. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, every American who could read and write (and probably most of those who couldn’t), knew we were a republic. The campaign to brainwash us into believing we were a democracy didn’t begin until 100 years ago. Today, if you take a poll of high school or college students, the overwhelming majority will tell you that we are a democracy.
Please don’t dismiss this as a mere quarrel over semantics. Understanding the difference between the two systems of government is absolutely vital. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that our very liberties depend on getting more Americans to realize the importance of this seemingly arcane dispute.