Republic or Democracy

Most citizens of the United States, when asked what type of government the United States has, will answer, "a democracy." Is that the right answer? At the same time there are many citizens who would say, "we do not live in a democracy, we live in a republic." What do they mean, and which is it? What is a democracy? What is a republic? Lets take a closer look at these two types of government and find out which is typified by the United States government.

Types of Democracy

Simply defined a Democracy is a "government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system."[1]  Generally speaking there are two types of democracies. The first is a direct democracy, also know as a pure democracy.  This is "a form of democracy in which the laws and policies are made directly by the citizens rather than by representative." [2]  The second type is a representative form of democracy, where the people elect representatives.

In his famous Gettysburg address, President Abraham Lincoln used the phrase "...that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." Clearly President Lincoln believed we lived in a type of democracy.

A Republic

The story is often told of Benjamin Franklin telling a woman that the newly formed government would be “a republic, if you can keep it.” A Republic is "a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them." Those who feel strongly that we are a Republic and not a Democracy often quotes founders of the United States saying negative things about democracies. for example, John Adams once said "Democracy... While it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide."[4]  The founders did have fears concerning Democracies, the same could be said of Republics. For example, James Madison said "In Republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority."[5]  

Our Republic is a Democracy

The United States is a Representative Democracy. The United States is a Republic. We, the people, are vested with the power and authority to elect our representatives.  Upon examination, it is easy to see that a Representative Democracy and a Republic are synonymous. When you are asked the question which type of government does the United States have, a Republic or a Democracy? Feel free to simply say, yes we are a democratic republic.

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