Some people prefer to say the U.S.A. is a republic. They are correct. According to James McHenry, one of Maryland’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
In the late 1700s, when the U.S. Constitution was written, a republic was thought of as a system in which the government of the country is considered a “public matter.” This idea stands in contrast to the many absolute (or near absolute) monarchs of their day who saw countries as their private concern or property.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the modern concept of a republic is a state in which the people and their elected representatives hold supreme power, and which has an elected president, or a president or prime minister nominated by an elected parliament, rather than an active monarch.
This definition of a republic requires a separation of the powers to make the laws (legislating) and to put the laws into practice (executing). In a republic, only an elected executive (president, prime minister, governor, or mayor) may direct a bureaucracy to execute the laws.
All republics are representative democracies – because they have elected legislators – but a representative democracy is a republic only if it also has an elected executive chosen by the people or by an elected legislature.
The U.S.A can therefore be portrayed accurately as a republic, a republican democracy, and a representative democracy.
- You can learn more about republics and other forms of government in this short course.