More than a democracy
Most people would refer to the United States of America as simply a democracy, but this is not perfectly accurate.
While it is true that democracies are characterized by the power of the people to influence the government through votes, direct democracy would be managed by the people themselves. This is more akin to some local governments within the United States, especially in rural areas where townspeople will sometimes come together to discuss issues and vote on actions.
In those instances, the people act as both the voters and the governing body.
On a state and federal level, though, such a process would be impossibly cumbersome, so instead of participating in debates themselves, citizens vote to elect representatives to speak on their behalf.
What is a republic?
A government that is run by elected officials is called a republic. The United States consists of both republican and democratic characteristics throughout its multiple levels of government, so America is considered a republic democracy or a democratic republic.
The purpose of a democratic republic
The story of the American Revolution and the subsequent drafting of the constitution shows how carefully crafted the new system of government was. After the Articles of Confederation failed to serve as a sustainable model, the founding fathers reconvened to set things right, and the result formed the basis of what we have today.
Checks and Balances
One of the main concepts that guided their decision-making was that of checks and balances. They thought back to the colonial days, in which the people of the colonies had no say over the decisions of the British Parliament.
The idea behind the Articles of Confederation was that the people should have power, but the execution demonstrated the opposite extreme. The federal government was not powerful enough.
They were helpless when it came to resolving the disunity between states. Clearly, the country needed a balance between a tyrannical government and a powerless one to avoid both problems.
The people and the government needed protocols to check both themselves and each other, preventing either from obtaining too much power.
Balance Between the People and the Government
Elected officials serving as voices for the people is one of the main ways the government and citizens keep each other in check. The people are not at the whims of a disconnected government because they are able to choose who they want to grant power, and the government avoids the chaos of the masses having total control by only allowing elected officials to take direct action.
The founding fathers had a notion that most people were largely uneducated, uninformed, and unfit to hold office, which is why they only wanted the people’s elected officials, who would ideally be more capable, to have any complex role in the government. That is also why the electoral college determines the winner of each presidential election.
The electors, chosen by the people, were considered more understanding and knowledgeable average individuals. Therefore, their votes have the final say.
Today, some people find the electoral college to be an unnecessary intermediary and believe that the popular vote of the people should always determine the next president.
After all, people today have much better access to the education and information they need to cast meaningful votes.
On the other hand, some people argue that there are other reasons the electoral college should remain valid, such as that it forces candidates to appeal to people from all states, many of which have different lives and needs than others, instead of just focusing on the most populated areas. This is an ongoing debate over a system that is nearly two hundred fifty years old.
Evidently, creating a system of government that pleases everyone is a monumental task, so the founding fathers put much thought into coming up with something that would prevent disaster.
Checks within the government
Just as the people and government balance each other, the government has to keep itself in check.
The most obvious way this occurs is by the division of power within state and federal governments.
The legislative branch of government makes laws, the executive branch enforces them, and the judicial branch interprets them.
These branches are allowed to interact with and contest each other, but their existence ensures that no small group of people has the power to do everything.
On the federal level, someone could propose a law, but if Congress does not vote in favor of it, the law does not get passed. Congress even balances itself through its structure.
Back when the system was created, the founding fathers were not sure whether the states should get equal or proportional representation in Congress, so their solution was a bicameral legislature, a two-house legislative body.
In the Senate, the states get two senators each; in the House of Representatives, states’ representation depends on their respective populations. Both houses have to pass a law for it to take effect, and even when that happens, the Supreme Court could deem the law unconstitutional and revoke it because, at the end of the day, the Constitution rules supreme.
The supreme law of the land
The Constitution can override anything the government might decide to do.
This ensures that basic human rights may not be violated and that the foundational structure of the government cannot be radically altered.
The founding fathers designed the constitution to be an undying law, more powerful than any group of people; however, they understood that as times change, it might need additions. This is allowed, and it has happened several times in the past.
No matter what, though, the original document and the first ten amendments (also called the Bill of Rights), which outline the system of government and rights of humans respectively, cannot be changed or repealed. The nature of the Constitution provides security and confidence in the United States of America, established for the people and built to last.