Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about democracy in America, and it makes me wonder what exactly that means. The fact of the matter is that America is not a democracy, nor has it ever been.
Throughout 1787 and 1788 a series of articles were published in the newspapers of our new nation. These articles were written by three of our nation’s founding fathers: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. The collected publications, now known as The Federalist Papers, argued for the ratification of the US Constitution, and remain an important source for interpretation of that document.
These articles make it clear that our new nation, under the Constitution, would not be a true democracy. They point out numerous flaws the founding fathers saw with the democratic system, including the tyranny of mob rule, and instead proposed that a republic would be a more just form of government that would more able to protect the rights of the citizens.
The founding fathers even set up an Electoral College to elect the president, fearing that the masses would be swayed by charismatic yet corrupt politicians. The success of the Electoral College is, of course, dubious.
Despite the myth of democracy that is perpetuated by our politicians and our public school system, this nation remains a republic. The people do not vote on what laws should be passed, repealed, or amended. Instead, they elect senators and representatives to do this for them.
These congresspersons draft and pass laws that the people themselves, if they had the option, might vote down. Yet the people have no say about whether or not an unpopular law gets passed, and they can’t even repeal it. All they can do is vote a congressperson they’re unhappy with out of office, and replace that politician with another.
Also, as was made clear in the 2000 election, a presidential candidate can lose the popular vote and still win office. There are no presidential recalls –- an individual can only be removed from the highest office by impeachment, and that can only be done if he or she has broken the law.
So America is not a true democracy. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad place. Indeed, I happen to think the Founding Fathers were right to fear the mob-rule of a democracy, and to instead construct a system with checks and balances on power.