A republic form of government involves the people democratically voting for their own representatives. The people do not directly govern themselves. A republic is a practical form of government when there is a large population. The people have the ability to choose their leaders and take part in government. Nonetheless, it can result in the people’s wishes not being followed, corruption, and blocking necessary change.
What Is A Republic?
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government
- Art. IV, Sec. 3
Did you say the Pledge of Allegiance today? I know many do not pay close attention to the words. But, there is that bit about “a republic for which it stands.” We live in a republic.
A republic is a type of government where people choose representatives to carry out their will. We do not pass laws. We elect people, such as members of the U.S. Congress, to do it for us. These people represent us. They act in our name, defending our interests.
We live in a republican democracy. There is no king (monarch). The people vote. But, we do not have a direct democracy. We do not practice day-to-day governing.
A republic (from “the people’s thing”) also usually includes respect for the rule of law and basic rights. The U.S. Constitution protects a republican form of government.
Note: A republican form of government is not governed by the Republican Party. The Republican Party is a political party. We are talking small “r” here.
The Pros: The Good Stuff
The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.James Madison
James Madison, sometimes known as the “Father of the Constitution,” helped write a series of essays to encourage people to agree that it is a good idea. Madison argued that a republic form of government was great. It provided the charms of democracy without some of the problems.
A nation our size could not be governed by the people themselves making all the decisions. Maybe, that would work in a small town, but even there people might not show up to those town meetings. A small group of people (members of Congress) would have to be elected to govern.
The people would still be able to choose their leaders. We would vote in elections and be able to vote the bums out when they did a bad job. We could engage (by writing letters, meeting with them, and so on) with our representatives. They would be responsive to our needs.
A mass of people is not a very practical means of governing. They also are not likely to pay attention to day–to–day government. They will be driven by passions and whims.
A republic is different. A small group of people would meet together and be focused on governing. They would be an efficient and productive body promoting the public good.
Additionally, the charm here is that there would be an ability to have a diverse group of people. There will be men and women, people with different backgrounds, and points of view.
No single group (Madison called them “factions,” but we might call them “special interests”) would dominate. A republic encourages moderation and respect for the good of the whole.
The Cons: The Not-So-Good Stuff
If a republican form of government is so great, why do the people have such a low opinion of the people that govern them? The U.S. Congress often is quite unpopular. What is the deal?
Democracy involves the people themselves taking part in government. For instance, I recently was on jury duty. I had to personally go to the courthouse and take part in jury selection.
A republic encourages the people to ignore their civic responsibilities. We vote (if we vote!) and then decide our representatives should do all the work. The public is not engaged.
Elections are also about majority rule. But, that means a large segment of the people is not happy at election time. Legislatures are controlled by the political party in power. The idea of all voices working together often is just that. Special interests continue to have a lot of power.
People often do not make good choices. Their representatives can be corrupt and incompetent. The representatives also must answer to political parties, those who pay money to help them be elected, and (maybe) their voters. Representatives become remote from the people.
A smaller group of people can cause more problems than if the people as a whole had to agree. A republic can become an oligarchy, rule by a few, instead of rule by the many.
There are also various means, such as gerrymandering and denial of voting rights, that result in representatives not truly reflecting the wishes of the population.
There is also a dark side to the careful and deliberate way the legislatures operate in a republic. This system can encourage inaction, including small groups of representatives having the ability to block the majority’s will. It can be a drawn-out, time-consuming process.
This has led to various means of direct democracy, including allowing the people to vote for ballot measures, such as the legalization of marijuana or for and against same-sex marriage.
There is a dark side that has to be weighed to determine if a republican form of government is worth keeping. It need not be perfect. But, we need to decide if it is good enough.
What say you? Is a republic, now that you saw both sides, our best option?