A democracy is a form of government where every person has a voice. This could be by representation or directly.
Is the United States a democracy or a republic?
The United States of America is defined as a constitutional republic.
Continue reading to find out what the different terms mean.
What Does a Constitutional Republic Mean?
Let’s break it down.
First, the “constitutional” part refers, of course, to the United States Constitution.
Suppose a specific law is believed to go against the United States Constitution. In that case, the Supreme Court’s Justices will decide whether it does or not according to their interpretations of the Constitution.
But What’s a Republic?
A republic is a system in which common people are involved in government affairs. The word “republic” comes from the Latin phrase “res publica,” which literally means “the public thing.”
The Roman republic was defined in contrast to what had existed earlier: monarchy or kings’ rule.
Roman citizens, rich and poor, were involved in their government by voting for representatives who would rule on their behalf.
To sum it up, a republic could be considered a “representative democracy” when individual citizens are not directly exercising legislative authority by voting on laws but delegating that task to the people who win elections.
Republican features put some distance between everyday citizens and their government’s functioning.
The people are involved because they’re putting legislators in power, but that’s more or less where their involvement ends.
Why Is the US a Democracy?
Republican features of America
The government of the United States has many features that highlight its status as a republic.
Citizens vote for representatives
Citizens of states vote for members of the House of Representatives and Senate, who then vote on their behalf.
Representatives represent citizens in voting.
Representatives voting in place of citizens is classic republicanism, where we see “representative democracy.”
Another republican concept is the Electoral College. As mentioned above, republicanism puts some “distance” between everyday people and government functioning, which is what the Electoral College originally intended to do.
There has always been a popular vote where eligible citizens cast their votes for the President of the United States.
The Electoral College was originally meant to deliberate on that vote to ensure a populist or tyrant would not become President.
The Electoral College quickly took on its current form, where all of a state’s electors adhere to that state’s popular vote.
This idea of there needing to be an “elite” deliberative body is, again, classic republicanism – the people have power, but not too much power.
All this means that a presidential candidate can lose the popular vote but win the Electoral College – this is relatively rare but has occurred in 2016, 2000, 1888, 1876, and 1824.
Election of Senators
Another republican feature of America is how Senators used to be elected. Each of the 50 states has two senators. Today, these are voted for directly by the citizens of a state.
However, this wasn’t always the case.
Before the 17th Amendment (ratified in 1913), a state’s legislature decided who would be sent to the United States Senate.
So, say you lived in New York in 1890. You would vote for the New York State Legislature members, just as you might today, but you wouldn’t vote for your two senators.
Rather, the New York State Legislature members who won the election would do this.
Like the Electoral College, this original system entrusted voting power to representatives, removing direct control from the common person.
Is the United States a Democracy?
People often refer to the United States as a democracy and speak of “democratic” ideals.
But is the US a democracy?
This question can spark a lot of debate.
Once again, the United States is – officially – a constitutional republic. This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s not also a democracy.
As noted previously, a republic could be considered a “representative democracy.”
When people say that the United States is “not a democracy but a republic,” this is a half-truth.
The United States is not a direct democracy where everyone votes on specific legislation. Still, any system wherein people cast their votes for members of government is ultimately “democratic” in nature.
Comparing the Constitutional Features of the US to the UK
We can highlight the differences between a republic and a democracy in the modern United Kingdom.
Since the head of state of the United Kingdom, Charles III, has not been democratically elected, we can’t refer to the United Kingdom as a republic. It’s a constitutional monarchy.
As citizens of the UK elect their representatives in Parliament, we can refer to the UK as a democracy.
No monarch or mob rule
In the United States, however, people vote for the head of state, who is the President.
There’s no aristocracy involved, which, for the Founding Fathers, was one of the most important differences between the fledgling republic and Great Britain’s form of government.
The Founding Fathers of the United States did fear “mob rule” or the “tyranny of the majority,” and in this case, spoke of “democracy” negatively while promoting the virtues of a specifically republican government.
This is where the argument “the United States is a republic, not a democracy” often stems from.
However, in a sense, most people understand “democracy” today. The United States is indeed a democratic republic.
Republic vs. Democracy
The answer to the question “Is the US a republic?” is a definite “yes.”
Saying the United States is a “democracy” may get controversial and requires some more diving into detail. Saying the United States is a republic is 100% correct.
It was the first constitutional republic in the world, established when the monarchy was the default form of government.
Whether certain republican features like the Electoral College will change or be abolished remains to be seen.
|Reasons why the United States is a Republic||Reasons why the United States is not a Republic|
|The United States is a representative democracy, where citizens elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf.||The United States has a federal system of government, which means that power is shared between the national government and the state governments.|
|The United States has a written Constitution that outlines the powers and limits of the government, as well as individual rights and freedoms.||The United States has a two-party system, which some argue limits true representation and diversity of ideas.|
|The United States has a system of checks and balances, where the three branches of government – executive, legislative, and judicial – have the power to check and balance each other’s powers.||The United States has an electoral college system, which some argue undermines the principle of “one person, one vote” and the popular will of the people.|
|The United States is founded on the principles of popular sovereignty, where the people are the ultimate source of authority and power in the government.||Some argue that the United States is not a Republic because it has an imperial presidency, where the President has expanded powers beyond what the Constitution grants them.|
|The United States values individual rights and freedoms, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press.||Some argue that the United States is not a Republic because of the influence of money in politics, which can undermine the will of the people and the integrity of the democratic process.|