What Kind of Country Are We?

by Diane Dimond on December 8, 2014

Founding Father, Franklin

Founding Father, Franklin

Following my recent column about racial tensions in America I got an e-mail from Gary L. Hoe, of Albuquerque, which made me re-think what our founding fathers had in mind when they established this country.

Hoe reminded me of a quote from Benjamin Franklin, attributed to the statesman as he left the secret confab which hammered out the U.S. Constitution.  Asked by a woman what kind of government had been decided upon – a republic or a monarchy – Franklin replied, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Somewhere in the 227 years since then many Americans have adopted the idea that we are a democracy not a republic. Nothing could be further from the intent expressed at that Constitutional Convention in 1787.    

Have today’s history teachers been remiss in their lessons or has some sinister power oozed into our consciousness to make us believe we are something we were never destined to be?

James Madison Warned Against a Democracy

James Madison Warned Against a Democracy

James Madison, often called “the father of the Constitution” wrote, “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 are violent in their deaths.”

Other writings from the time are full of warnings about how dire a democracy can be on the population, how democracies will, ultimately, cause a nation to crumble.

In the early 1800’s, John Marshall, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote, “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”

You won’t find the word “democracy” in either the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution. The United States of America was established as a Republic – period.

So, what’s the difference between a republic and a democracy? Glad you asked because it is so important to today’s debate about social equality and government involvement in our lives.

A republic is guided by an overarching set of laws — a charter or constitution – which, in our country’s case, explicitly guarantees the individual’s rights against the desires of the majority. Each of us has the indisputable right to think, worship and vote anyway we want.

Want Your House to Look Like This?

Want Your House to Look Like This?

A true democracy, on the other hand, (stay with me on this) allows the majority to rule and to disregard the desires of any individual who doesn’t agree with them. Think of a democracy like this:  If the majority of your neighbors voted to paint all houses bright purple you would be forced to follow suit. Okay with you?

While today’s school kids are often being taught that “majority rule” is the fairest form of government – I think it’s quite the opposite. It destroys individualism and can foster a pack-thought mentality.

It seems that today many citizens operate under the mistaken idea that if they and a majority of their peers want something it should automatically be accepted by all. A government handout, a guilty verdict in spite of a jury’s decision or unfettered citizenship.

Is anyone truly surprised that we have come to a place of such fractiousness and intolerance in this country? Has anyone failed to notice the pervasive and dangerous trend afloat that declares: If others don’t think as we do they must be stupid or, even worse, eliminated?

Demanding Does Not Make It So

Demanding Does Not Make It So

When we left behind the idea that this country is a republic we somehow embraced the idea that cookie-cutter thought trumps all. If Ben Franklin were still with us I think he would step forward to remind that America was ordained to live as a united, law abiding country, tolerant of each other’s differences and content to change laws via an orderly and legal process – not mob rule.

Back to my reader, Mr. Hoe, who believes there is danger in ignoring the destructiveness of all this divisiveness. He interprets Franklin’s long-ago comment this way:  “He was saying …our form of government works only if those being governed behave themselves as though they don’t need a government to keep them in line.”

From Washington to the heartland, we are not behaving well. We’ve become a selfish and myopic melting pot on many levels, working against each other toward narrow goals and not the common good.

Wonder if in 2015 there will be a leader who can get us back to the idea of pledging allegiance to “The United States of America and to the republic for which it stands?”

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:11 am

ABQ Journal Reader Bonnie McKenzie writes:

“Dear Ms Dimond,

I’d like to convey my appreciation to you and Mr. Gary Hoe for your excellent article on the fact that our country is a republic and how that differs from a democracy. It is a reminder that I will ponder for some time.

My regards and thanks,”

Bonnie McKenzie

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:12 am

ABQ Journal Reader Dave writes:

“So that explains why I’ve been so screwed up all my life of 76 years..I was taught that we live in a Democracy…I went and spent a year in Vietnam to help create a democracy..I was taught that the majority rule was right..my Ultra Conservative brother lectured me on the fact that we were not a democracy, but I didn’t believe what he was saying…so now I have to rethink everything…Like prayer before a football game…the Conservatives say we should pray before a fottball game..but, if a player happens to be a Muslim, then he has to participate..but that’s a democratic principle..that he must particiapte and be a part of the majority, but the democrats say he doesn’t have to participate..now I’m really getting confused..somehow, I always thought that if the majority wanted something, then that’s the way it should be..like electing a President..this begs the question..why do we even vote if majority isn’t going to rule?? I think the whole idea of republic vs democracy has been really confused by one single word..POLITICIAN…doesn’t seem to matter what anyone wants if politicians get involved…today’s devisiveness comes from one thing…the desire for power..which is money..and the greed behind it all…I would support anyone who has the true good of the country and its people at heart, and will see that things are done to accomplish that instead of just attaining more power for himself and his party…call it what you wish..I frankly despise the terms Republican and Democrat, and the side titles like Tea Partier, Progressive, Liberal..all of them..I much prefer a single word…AMERICAN….this is America..let’s live and act like it…..Dave”

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:13 am

ABQ Journal Reader Dr. Ben Laime writes:

“Dear Diane: KUDOS for a brilliant piece on what the USA is—a Republic(form of government)and to even clarify this subject anymore it is a Democratic Republic. Yet often times I’ve encountered teachers(mainly at the high school level)either don’t know , or think that a “republic” is some kind of right-wing propaganda. The left-leaning media don’t help the cause. Part of the challenge is really thinking. At age 80 , and an old Marine, I often wonder when someone will do a “popular” piece. Wonder no more, save that I trust your column is either restricted to one paper, or a few. I hope I’m wrong. Again, good job. Dr.R.D.B.(Ben)Laime (a native New Englander who has had many experience with a true democracy when covering town meetings in New England. ). Cheers.”

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:14 am

Reader Mike Lazo writes:

“Well written, truthful for this day and age, all my life I have spoken about the USA Republic, people think it the democrats PARTY , we as citizens of this country need to resuscitate the republic for the people and people of this great country.”

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:14 am

ABQ Journal Reader Sally Scrivner writes:

“Thank you so much for your article in today’s Albuquerque Journal. It is so well written. Like you, I wonder if there will be a leader who can get us back to where we should be. I hope so.”

Sally Scrivner
Socorro, New Mexico

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:16 am

Reader Pete Kelley writes:

“Diane
Excellent article, we need more like this. I usually enjoy your articles even though sometimes I don’t agree, but in the case RIGHT ON THE MARK
Good job”
Pete

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:17 am

ABQ Journal Reader Gary L Hoe writes:

“Exceptionally nice. You have a gift. Judging from the laudatory phone calls I have received this morning, a lot of folks here read your column.

I speak English (and Appalachian, but thet thar’s ‘nuther tale, Miz D), yet was required to take 4 years of it in high school and more in college – but only one semester of civics, which itself was split between the Federal government and that of my home state. Considering how poorly some people express themselves, their understanding of government must be proportionately worse, I fear.

There are so many things in the Constitution for which the reason behind their inclusion has been almost lost:
• The State of the Union speech was designed to inform the incoming Congress of how things had gone during their long absense, tending to their businesses and such. Congress was never intended to be a full-time job, much as many state legislatures meet only a month or two a year.
• The closest approximation to a knee-jerk democracy was the requirement to elect Representatives every two years. That way, they would be more attuned to their constituencies – which is why we call them “representatives.” Senators, on the other hand, were not originally elected by popular vote, but were chosen by their state legislatures, and so presumably had made a reputation for themselves as wise and experienced persons in their state, just the type you need to ratify treaties and approve key Government personnel. Unfortunately, the 17th amendment turned them into representatives with longer terms.
• Same idea behind the Electoral College and the choosing of a President.
I have more, but that’s just Hoe’s opinnion. Next time you’re back in town, I’ll treat you to dinner. Thanks again.”

Gary

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:18 am

Reader Bob Legge of Lyons, NY writes:

“Diane – Your Dec. 6 column was forwarded to me (and many others,) and I just had to thank you for it. It opened my eyes and clarified my thinking.
Thanks!”

Bob

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:19 am

ABQ Journal Reader Matt Holt writes:

“Diane –

I’m a new fan. Frankly, I had not heard of you until yesterday. I’m from Las Cruces, and your column does not appear in our local paper. But, I was visiting my mother-in-law yesterday, and reading her Albuquerque Journal and discovered your article on the difference between a democracy and a republic.

I teach business law (at an undergraduate level) at NMSU. At the beginning of the semester, I asked my students to research and provide a two paragraph paper on the difference between a democracy and a republic. While some clearly appreciated the difference, a very significant minority of the class (about 40%) did not appreciate the difference.

I’ll use the same exercise next year, but after they turn in their papers, I’ll have them read your article as a ‘debriefing’.

In the meantime, I’ll be over at my mother-in-laws more often, making sure I get to keep reading your column!”

Matt

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:21 am

ABQ Journal Reader James Aragon writes:

” Greetings and thank you for your article “Americans do not pledge allegiance to a democracy” which appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on Saturday, December 6, 2014.

It is an historical and magnificent document; an academic instrument which, I feel, deserves space in the National Archives in Washington, D. C. as well as in all the Presidential Libraries in the country. I am also of the view that every adult of voting age in this country should have the opportunity to read it, and it should be printed in every newspaper throughout the country.

“Democracy is government by the people,” which obviously includes social equality and justice for all. As you have observed, social equality and justice today do not exist in the democracy which, for over two centuries, the people of this country have espoused and in which we have believed.

A Republic is a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives. The United States of America was established as a Republic – period. All of the citizens of the Republic of the United States will dwell extensively on the historical truths which you have written.

Your quote of James Madison, “the father of the Constitution,”
relating to “democracies” is thought provoking and a civics lesson long forgotten by most of us. And, as John Marshall, Chief Justice of
the Supreme court of the Republic of the United States wrote:
“Between a balanced republic and a democracy the difference is like that between order and chaos.”

While those articulated words were written in the early 1800s by the Chief Justice of the Supreme court, at the present time the Republic of the United States, whether accepted as a Republic or democracy, finds itself embroiled in a maelstrom of disruptive turbulence and
disorder which, I fear, will “ultimately cause a nation to crumble.
As history has taught us, all principalities, in time, have reached their own demise.

I am now 87 years of age; served my country in two wars, and have witnessed my share of this country’s recent history, and the words “ultimately cause a nation to crumble” remain undeniable and vividly in my mind.

Lastly: Why do we refer to our country as America and call ourselves Americans? America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere, which includes Canada and others. There is no country named America so, logically, we should desist from calling ourselves Americans. We are a Republic of the United States, in the Northern Hemisphere. Use of the term “America or American” is false and deceitful. We are citizens of the Republic of the United States, according to the Constitution.

All of the countries in the Southern Hemisphere, beginning with all the countries in Central America, extending throughout South America, are known by the name of their country.

With a few exceptions, many countries around the world do not acknowledge Americans.

I am pleased for the opportunity to write to you. I again commend you for your excellent dissertation in our behalf.

My family wishes you and your family a Blessed Christmas.”

“GO IRISH”
James Aragon – Albuquerque

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:22 am

Noozhawk Reader AN50 writes:

“Interesting article. You will find most people who favor “majority rule” or direct democracy fall in the democrat party. And most of those who favor representative governance or a republic, fall in the republican party.”

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:24 am

ABQ Journal Reader Larry German writes:

“RE: Americans do no pledge allegiance to a democracy OP-ED

Ms. Dimond,

I read your column with great interest and found myself in accord …

Allow me to offer the following:

One,
James Madison and other Founding Fathers, as I am sure you know,
realized … the idea of a democracy, with majority rule, would NOT protect the minority. Hence, it became important to amend the Constitution, with the first Ten Amendments, which came to be known as the Bill of Rights.

This allowed them, as you know, to fulfill the definition of our being a republic … through the democratic process and, hence, the difference.

When asked the primary purpose of the Bill of Rights, I find the simplest of answers is … “It protects the rights of the minority, which every democratic process creates.”

Two,
You use the word “pledge” and concluded your article, with a quote from the Pledge of Allegiance. I am wondering if you are fully aware of the history of the Pledge of Allegiance and why author Francis Bellamy removed the word “equality” from the last line of his original draft.

Even if you are, I would like to send you an easily read copy of a recent communique … on the subject of the Pledge of Allegiance and the word “equality,” which I shared with Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Thank You, ”

Lawrence G. “Larry” German
Albuquerque Resident
Former APS Board Member, 1977-81

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 8:27 am

Reader Joe D’Anna writes:

“Your column “Americans do not pledge allegiance to a democracy” was not your best effort. There were a lot of inconsistencies.

We are a constitutional democratic republic, because our officials are elected by the people in accordance with qualifications set forth in the constitution. As defined in Webster’s dictionary, a republic is “a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote [democracy – my comment] and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law”.

It is not unreasonable to expect our democratically-elected officials to act in the best interests of all of the people – as set forth in the preamble of the constitution and in accord with the premise that “all men are created equal” – instead of for special interests.

Let’s face facts, the constitution was a gigantic compromise intended to maintain the status quo. Our constitution would be ideal if we were a perfect nation with perfect laws and a perfect economic system. Unfortunately, we are not perfect and we live in an imperfect world. Consequently, we have been unable to adapt to the global economy or to meet the challenges of climate change – except to benefit corporate interests.

Perhaps, we should decide whether we are a nation by and for the people, or are we 50 little states? Currently, we act like the latter. Unless we decide that there is something greater than “my congressional district” and profits, we will all perish.

You might want to reread the Declaration of Independence, as I recently did. Do you think the signatories would want to create a more functional government today?

We all have our bad writing days, so you might want to clarify what you really meant to say in that column.

Sincerely,
Joe D’Anna
Los Alamo, NM

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Northern Virginia Daily Reader William Pierceall Sr. writes:

“Forcing people to paint their houses purple is Dimond’s “go to” definition of a ‘true’ democracy? Really?

Republic:

Republic, a type of government where the citizens choose the leaders of their country.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic

Federal republic, a federation of states with a republican form of government.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_republic

Constitutional republic, a form a government that is limited by a constitution.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic#Constitutional_republic

Democracy:

Democracy is a form of government in which eligible citizens may participate equally; a political concept or form of government.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy

Liberal democracy is a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of liberalism, i.e. protecting the rights of the individual, which are generally enshrined in law.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_democracy

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 6:24 pm

Twitter pal MsTrishia writes:

“@DiDimond let’s see we started out as a republic then somehow we changed into a democracy and I have no clue what we are now.”

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Facebook Friend Lynne Adrine writes:

” >> It seems that today many citizens operate under the mistaken idea that if they and a majority of their peers want something it should automatically be accepted by all. A government handout, a guilty verdict in spite of a jury’s decision or unfettered citizenship.” << Similar to the idea that if a group of people and the majority of their peers want to discriminate on the basis of race or gender or religion or sexual preference, that group thinks they should have that right.

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Facebook Friend William Drummond writes:

“Oligarchy?”

Reply

Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Noozhawk Reader LouisePalanker writes:

“This is an important conversation. Being a republic assumes that individuals always know what is best. It may not take into account mental illness, corruption and other flaws in human nature.”

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Noozhawk Reader AN50 writes again:

“AN50 Diane Dimond • a day ago
I see a growing popularity, particularly with young people, in direct democracy, fueled by modern technology in communications. What people still fail to realize is having information at your finger tips and being able to communicate instantly does not mean people are any smarter than humans were 3000 years ago. The proof is in how really stupid people are about politics, given our advanced tools. It doesn’t help that most politicians take their cues from mass marketing polls.

Our modern self indulgent, self absorbed narcissism usually dictates we elect those who tell us what we want to hear and modern politicians are all too eager to lie to us so we get the right message.

I believe the republic our founders had in mind was one where we the people were humble enough to realize our limitations and elect leaders who were educated and moral enough to tell us what we needed to hear. That requires politicians with vision, altruism and integrity at their core. Seen one like that lately?

Anyway, good article. Words have meaning and our dumb down society rarely has a clue what words really mean. Its important to point those definitions out every now and then for us dummies. Thanks.”

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Diane Dimond December 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Russell Bell writes:

“Ms Dimond:

Thanks for this article. I read it in Saturday’s ‘Albuquerque Journal’.
The alleged quote from Benjamin Franklin first appeared in ‘The American Historical Review’ of 1906 (volume 11, page 618,
http://ahr.oxfordjournals.org/content/11/3/595.full.pdf) in the personal notes of Dr. James McHenry, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention (and the man for whom Fort McHenry was named). He wrote, ‘A lady asked Dr. Franklin Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy. A republic replied the Doctor if you can keep it.’
[punctuation as in original] Democracy wasn’t one of the choices.

You mis-defined ‘republic’. Webster’s 3rd reads, ‘A state in which the sovereign power resides in the whole body of the people, and is exercised by representatives elected by them; a commonwealth.’ It comes from Latin ‘res publica’, ‘public thing’. It contrasts countries ruled for private interests: monarchies, which a monarch governs in his/her interest (‘L’etat, c’est moi!’ – ‘The state, it’s me!’ – said Louis 14); theocracies, such as the Vatican and the former Papal States, Iran now, the former Caliphate, Israel as it was before Romans conquered it, which the Church/Ayatollah/Caliph/Sanhedrin
rule(d) in the interest of their religions (they knew/know the will of God after all); colonies, which conquerors ruled in their interest because they were so much better than the indigenes (taking up the ‘White Man’s Burden’).
The Russians have a republic now; so do the Chinese and Pakistanis. They are ‘guided by an overarching set of laws – a charter or constitution’. Republic does not necessarily mean good.
Popular will isn’t always good either, but that doesn’t make it worse than republicanism.
Thanks for your attention.”

russell bell

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John McDermott December 9, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Ms. Dimond:
This is a wonderful article and should be required reading in every High School in this country. You can be justly proud.
I’m wondering if you’ve ever had the opportunity to view the ten-minute superb video on this topic at: http://www.wimp.com/thegovernment/
If you haven’t, it will be a worthy investment of your precious and valuable time.
Again, thank you for an excellent read.
Best regards,
John McDermott

Reply

Diane Dimond December 10, 2014 at 9:43 am

Reader Sid Guiterrez writes:

“Diane,
I think your column explaining how the United States was founded as a republic not a democracy is perfect. It should be required reading for every high school student and every voter.
I am a retired Air Force fighter pilot and I noted how members of the military swear an oath – not to defend the United States, the government of the United States, the President of the United States, or even the people of the United States – but the Constitution of the United States.
In high school I was fortunate enough to have the parents of a classmate explained to me how arbitrary enforcement of the law is the mark of tyranny.
I have thought a lot about that. I explain it to others by asking if they would like to participate in a game where the rules are less than perfect, but don’t change or a game where the rules are great, but change constantly and are unpredictable. “Sorry, last play that was allowed, but we changed it to a penalty on this play, but it may be something else on the next play.”
Now suppose your freedom, lively hood, success all depend on that game. The answer is obvious.”
Thank you,
Sid

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