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Monday, July 03, 2006

Republic not a Democracy

230 years ago yesterday, yes that's right yesterday, the Continental Congress voted in the affirmative for Richard Henry Lee's motion of a month earlier calling for Independence. The official vote was taken on July 2nd and a formality vote was taken on July 4th, after they had debated and made slight changes to the Declaration of Independence that had been penned by Thomas Jefferson, and slightly edited by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. The main change to the declaration was the removal of the statement concerning slavery.

A few years later the Constitutional Convention established the frame work for our form of government, a Republic. We are not a democracy, in fact the founders were very careful to not establish a democracy. All of them had a very clear understanding of the instability of a democracy. A republic was the best form of Government. It was the rule of law. Not the rule of the majority, or the rule of a king, or a governing council, but of law.

In fact the Founders understood the proper basis for all human law was natural law. The concept of natural law was even at the time of our Founding very ancient dating back to Aristotle, Plato and other philosophers. From the earliest time period natural law was considered that which was acknowledged as universally right and wrong. It is what we might call conscience. What's important is to understand the Founders view of natural law. Their concept of natural law was derived from an English jurist named Sir William Blackstone. Blackstone had written a commentary on English law that was the standard text of the day in law for both England and the American colonies. In fact just prior to the Revolution there were more copies of Blackstone's commentary being sold in the colonies than in Great Britain. The only book quoted more often by our founders than Blackstone was the Bible.

Blackstone unfolds the concept of natural law. It is all premised upon the fact that there is a creator. The creator governs his creation by laws. It is these laws that are binding in all places at all times. The laws are evident in creation. In the universe, the animal kingdom, and the plant kingdom. All of these areas operate according to the natural law instituted by the Creator. The will of the Creator is natural law. Man also was created within the framework of this natural law, but man was created with a freedom of choice. Because of the fall of man his ability to properly perceive this natural law had been hindered. Because God was merciful to mankind he revealed his will in the Bible. Thus the Bible, as it expresses the will of the Creator is the sum and substance of natural law.

Blackstone explains it thusly, "This has given manifold occasion for the benign interposition of divine providence; which, in compassion to the frailty, the imperfection, and the blindness of human reason, hath been pleased, at sundry times and in divers manners, to discover and enforce it's laws by an immediate and direct revelation. The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the holy scriptures."

Alexander Hamilton expressed it this way, "Hence also, the origin of all civil government, justly established, must be a voluntary compact, between the rulers and the ruled; and must be liable to such limitations, as are necessary for the security of the absolute rights of the latter; for what original title can any man or set of men have, to govern others, except their own consent? To usurp dominion over a people, in their own despite, or to grasp at more extensive power than they are willing to entrust, is to violate that law of nature, which gives every man the right to his personal liberty; and can, therefore, confer no obligation to obedience."

James Wilson who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a framer of the Constitution, and an Associate Justice on the first Supreme Court, wrote, "Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is divine .... Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other."

John Jay who was a co-author of the Federalist Papers and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court bears testimony to the importance of natural law, "[N]o sovereign ought to permit those who are under his Command to violate the precepts of the Law of Nature, which forbids all Injuries ...."


Samuel Adams, Cousin to John Adams and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Identifies the source of common law when he writes, "In the supposed state of nature, all men are equally bound by the laws of nature, or to speak more properly, the laws of the Creator."

These men established a government with an understanding that the foundation of all law was natural law, or more properly put the will of the Creator as revealed in Holy Scripture.

Consequently they established a republic, not a democracy.

"The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind."- Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Hunter, March 11, 1790

"There is no good government but what is republican. That the only valuable part of the British constitution is so; because the true idea of a republic is 'an empire of laws, and not of men.' That, as a republic is the best of governments, so that particular arrangement of the powers of society, or, in other words, that form of government which is best contrived to secure an impartial and exact execution of the law, is the best of republics."- John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776

We are confirmed in the opinion, that the present age would be deficient in their duty to God, their posterity and themselves, if they do not establish an American republic. This is the only form of government we wish to see established; for we can never be willingly subject to any other King than He who, being possessed of infinite wisdom, goodness and rectitude, is alone fit to possess unlimited power. Instructions of Malden, Massachusetts, for a Declaration of Independence, May 27, 1776

Alexander Hamilton said: "We are a Republican Government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of Democracy."

Washington, in his first inaugural address, dedicated himself to "the preservation ... of the republican model of government."

The founders made it a point to avoid democracy.

John Witherspoon, signer - 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.

Zephaniah Swift, author of America's first legal text - It may generally be remarked that the more a government resembles a pure democracy the more they abound with disorder and confusion.

Benjamin Rush, signer - a simple democracy is one of the greatest of evils.

John Quincy Adams - The experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived.

Noah Webster - 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.

James Madison - 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.

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

Fisher Ames, author of the House language for the First Amendment - A democracy is a volcano which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction. These will produce an eruption and carry desolation in their way. The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness, which the ambitious call, and the ignorant believe to be liberty!!

Gouverneur Morris, signer and penman of the Constitution - We have seen the tumult of democracy terminate as [it has] everywhere terminated, in despotism. Democracy! savage and wild. Thou who wouldst bring down the virtuous and wise to the level of folly and guilt.

Samuel Adams - It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.

Fisher Ames, The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness which the ambitious call, and ignorant believe to be liberty. Speech in the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, January 15, 1788

On this July 4th may we all give due reflection and thanksgiving for the blessings of liberty that have been bequeathed to us by our forefathers.

God bless the United States of America.
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