What was the Founding Fathers' position on direct democracy?
The Founding Fathers realized that direct democracy could not
work on such a large scale as the population of the newly formed
nation. Hence, the whole idea of a "democracy" and a "republic"
were very frightening at the time, for many worried that the
country would be unstable and falter to despots and corruption,
like they saw happen in Rome during the time of Cicero leading to
Julius Casear, Marc Antony, and Augustus Caesar. Therefore, several
founders, such as Alexander Hamilton, advocated for a strong
central government and even a monarch (with George Washington as
King, something which he rejected with passion).
Today, we look back at this and scorn such anti-democracy ideas,
but it is important to understand the context in which people like
Hamilton were coming from. The idea of a democracy was completely
radical and hard to fathom actually working. Although, technically,
England had experienced a democratic revolution in their Civil War,
the British still kept their monarch and formed a constitutional
monarcy instead. Therefore, the English Civil War is never really
seen as the Revolution it was. Moreover, there was fear of the
anarchy that was happening in France, as the French Revolution
entered the Reign of Terror Period.
Thus, while the Founding Fathers believed that direct democracy
worked well in small populations, like the Greek city-states, they
knew it would be impossible to have such an institution with such a
massive population (at the time). The Founding generation hoped to
establish a republic, but there were still plenty of concerns over
how successful the new and radical government would be.
I have to disagree somewhat with the first reply to this answer.
The reason there was no "direct democracy" espoused by the founders
was largely because they believed pure democracy, i.e., the
majority of people are always correct, to be contemptible.
Obviously, there are certain laws that should not be disregarded
simply by the will of the people; else imagine what a large-spread
but temporary panic could do to a democracy. The system of checks
and balances instituted into our government was not put there
merely because of a difficulty in speedy communication; it was put
there to bound the will of the people.
In today's age of praise for "democracy," people often assume
that things such as representation (as opposed to legislation
through direct voting by the people, etc.) and checks &
balances are out-dated relics. The founders knew that direct
democracy would never work because human nature never changes, and
people are often mislead, often misinformed, often selfish, and
pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and
to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
In the Pledge of Allegiance we all pledge allegiance to our
Republic, not to a democracy. "Republic" is the proper description
of our government, not "democracy." I invite you to join me in
raising public awareness regarding that distinction.
The distinction between our Republic and a democracy is not an
idle one. It has great legal significance.
The Constitution guarantees to every state a Republican form of
government (Art. 4, Sec. 4). No state may join the United States
unless it is a Republic. Our Republic is one dedicated to "liberty
and justice for all." Minority individual rights are the priority.
The people have natural rights instead of civil rights. The people
are protected by the Bill of Rights from the majority. One vote in
a jury can stop all of the majority from depriving any one of the
people of his rights; this would not be so if the United States
were a democracy. (see People's rights vs Citizens' rights)
In a pure democracy 51 beats 49[%]. In a democracy there is no
such thing as a significant minority: there are no minority rights
except civil rights (privileges) granted by a condescending
majority. Only five of the U.S. Constitution's first ten amendments
apply to Citizens of the United States. Simply stated, a democracy
is a dictatorship of the majority. Socrates was executed by a
democracy: though he harmed no one, the majority found him
SOME DICTIONARY DEFINITIONS
Government. ....the government is but an agency of the state,
distinguished as it must be in accurate thought from its scheme and
machinery of government. ....In a colloquial sense, the United
States or its representatives, considered as the prosecutor in a
criminal action; as in the phrase, "the government objects to the
witness." [Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition, p. 625]
Government; Republican government. One in which the powers of
sovereignty are vested in the people and are exercised by the
people, either directly, or through representatives chosen by the
people, to whom those powers are specially delegated. In re Duncan,
139 U.S. 449, 11 S.Ct. 573, 35 L.Ed. 219; Minor v. Happersett, 88
U.S. (21 Wall.) 162, 22 L.Ed. 627. [Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth
Edition, p. 626]
Democracy. That form of government in which the sovereign power
resides in and is exercised by the whole body of free citizens
directly or indirectly through a system of representation, as
distinguished from a monarchy, aristocracy, or oligarchy. Black's
Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition, pp. 388-389.
Note: Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition, can be found in any
law library and most law offices.
Notice that in a Democracy, the sovereignty is in the whole body
of the free citizens. The sovereignty is not divided to smaller
units such as individual citizens. To solve a problem, only the
whole body politic is authorized to act. Also, being citizens,
individuals have duties and obligations to the government. The
government's only obligations to the citizens are those
legislatively pre-defined for it by the whole body politic.
In a Republic, the sovereignty resides in the people themselves,
whether one or many. In a Republic, one may act on his own or
through his representatives as he chooses to solve a problem.
Further, the people have no obligation to the government; instead,
the government being hired by the people, is obliged to its owner,
The people own the government agencies. The government agencies
own the citizens. In the United States we have a three-tiered cast
system consisting of people ---> government agencies ---> and
The people did "ordain and establish this Constitution," not for
themselves, but "for the United States of America." In delegating
powers to the government agencies the people gave up none of their
own. (See Preamble of U.S. Constitution). This adoption of this
concept is why the U.S. has been called the "Great Experiment in
self government." The People govern themselves, while their agents
(government agencies) perform tasks listed in the Preamble for the
benefit of the People. The experiment is to answer the question,
"Can self-governing people coexist and prevail over government
agencies that have no authority over the People?"
The citizens of the United States are totally subject to the
laws of the United States (See 14th Amendment of U.S.
Constitution). NOTE: U.S. citizenship did not exist until July 28,
Actually, the United States is a mixture of the two systems of
government (Republican under Common Law, and democratic under
statutory law). The People enjoy their God-given natural rights in
the Republic. In a democracy, the Citizens enjoy only government
granted privileges (also known as civil rights).
There was a great political division between two major
philosophers, Hobbes and Locke. Hobbes was on the side of
government. He believed that sovereignty was vested in the state.
Locke was on the side of the People. He believed that the fountain
of sovereignty was the People of the state. Statists prefer Hobbes.
Populists choose Locke. In California, the Government Code sides
with Locke. Sections 11120 and 54950 both say, "The people of this
State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve
them." The preambles of the U.S. and California Constitutions also
affirm the choice of Locke by the People.
It is my hope that the U.S. will always remain a Republic,
because I value individual freedom.
Thomas Jefferson said that liberty and ignorance cannot
coexist.* Will you help to preserve minority rights by fulfilling
the promise in the Pledge of Allegiance to support the Republic?
Will you help by raising public awareness of the difference between
the Republic and a democracy?
- "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of
it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson,
Just after the completion and signing of the Constitution, in
reply to a woman's inquiry as to the type of government the
Founders had created, Benjamin Franklin said, "A Republic, if you
can keep it."
A Republic is representative government ruled by law (the
Constitution). A democracy is direct government ruled by the
majority (mob rule). A Republic recognizes the inalienable rights
of individuals while democracies are only concerned with group
wants or needs (the public good).
Democracies always self-destruct when the non-productive
majority realizes that it can vote itself handouts from the
productive minority by electing the candidate promising the most
benefits from the public treasury. To maintain their power, these
candidates must adopt an ever-increasing tax and spend policy to
satisfy the ever-increasing desires of the majority. As taxes
increase, incentive to produce decreases, causing many of the once
productive to drop out and join the non-productive. When there are
no longer enough producers to fund the legitimate functions of
government and the socialist programs, the democracy will collapse,
always to be followed by a Dictatorship.
Even though nearly every politician, teacher, journalist and
citizen believes that our Founders created a democracy, it is
absolutely not true. The Founders knew full well the differences
between a Republic and a Democracy and they repeatedly and
emphatically said that they had founded a republic.
Article IV Section 4, of the Constitution "guarantees to every
state in this union a Republican form of government"....
Conversely, the word Democracy is not mentioned even once in the
Constitution. Madison warned us of the dangers of democracies with
"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
"We may define a republic to be ... a government which derives
all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the
people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during
pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior. It is
essential to such a government that it be derived from the great
body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion or a
favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles,
exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might
aspire to the rank of republicans and claim for their government
the honorable title of republic." James Madison, Federalist No. 10,
"A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor
wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but
little virtue in the action of masses of men." Henry David Thoreau
Our military training manuals used to contain the correct
definitions of Democracy and Republic. The following comes from
Training Manual No. 2000-25 published by the War Department,
November 30, 1928.
A government of the masses. Authority derived through mass
meeting or any other form of "direct" expression. Results in
mobocracy. Attitude toward property is communistic--negating
property rights. Attitude toward law is that the will of the
majority shall regulate, whether is be based upon deliberation or
governed by passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or
regard to consequences. Results in demogogism, license, agitation,
discontent, anarchy. REPUBLIC:
Authority is derived through the election by the people of
public officials best fitted to represent them. Attitude toward law
is the administration of justice in accord with fixed principles
and established evidence, with a strict regard to consequences. A
greater number of citizens and extent of territory may be brought
within its compass. Avoids the dangerous extreme of either tyranny
or mobocracy. Results in statesmanship, liberty, reason, justice,
contentment, and progress. Is the "standard form" of government
throughout the world. (Angelo Cobrasci, Founder ~ Defenders of