America is almost always described as a democracy in school textbooks, educational programs, and news outlets of every ideological stripe. Likewise, when talking of America, politicians from both sides of the aisle frequently mention “our democracy,” by which they mean American democracy. President George W. Bush did it while reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) did it during her Democratic National Convention speech in August 2008, and President Barack Obama did it in a pre-inaugural speech on January 19, 2009.
Yet America is a republic, not a democracy. Our Founding Fathers instituted a form of government guided by the rule of law rather than the desires of a majority of voters. They understood that a democracy is always in flux and given to “mob rule,” while a republic is fixed and stable, resting on “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Because of the uncertainty of democracy, Benjamin Rush — a signer of the Declaration of Independence — wrote: “A simple democracy is one of the greatest of evils.”
The “evils” Rush saw in democracy are evident when we compare the basis for rights in a democracy with the basis for rights in a republic. In a democracy, rights ultimately flow from the majority, and every right — from keeping and bearing arms to possessing private property — is recallable if the party in the majority so decides. In the constitutional republic that our Founders intended America to be, rights are seen as coming from God and because of this, are unassailable by government (regardless of which party is in the majority). In the Declaration of Independence these unassailable rights were described as “unalienable” and were clearly presented as rights over which the government has no say.
While many of the references to America as a democracy are harmless, being made out of ignorance by people who are just repeating what they were told in grade school or on the evening news, some of the references betray a desire to change the very fabric of the nation. In other words, a great many of the references to democracy in America represent a clear intent to move America further away from the rule of law and closer to the rule of the majority.