Pop Quiz: 1 or 52?

Trick Question: Is the United States a Republic?  Answer: No, it is 52 republics! Or more!

What is a republic? The modern concept of a republic is a state in which the people and their elected representatives hold supreme power and has an elected president, a president, or prime minister nominated by an elected parliament rather than an active monarch. 

What’s so special about republics? The definition of a republic requires a separation of the powers to make the laws (legislating) and to put the laws into practice (executing).  Only an elected executive (president, prime minister, governor, or mayor) may direct a bureaucracy to execute the laws in a republic.

The U.S. Constitution created the federal government exactly that way (with a president).  So that’s one.  The District of Columbia has a legislative branch (a council) and an elected president (a mayor).  That makes two.  Article 4, Section 4 of the Constitution says, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” That’s fifty more for a total of 52!  You could probably add most county and municipal governments too – but their structures are ultimately subject to state law, so we are stopping at the state level.

Here’s another question: are you one of those people who like to proclaim that the U.S. is a republic, not a democracy?

If that’s you, then you must support elections for representatives, senators, governors, and presidents – implying, in turn, that you would not support anyone who deliberately makes voting more difficult, who manipulates the vote count, or who refuses to accept the result of free and fair elections.

You also accept and expect that only legislators should make laws – implying you would not support any governor or president who ignored laws they didn’t like or who made their own laws by executive order.

That’s what you are thinking of when you say “we are a republic, not a democracy,” right?

What about the threat posed by mob rule under direct democracy?  Fifty-one percent of the population could impose its will on the other forty-nine percent.

Even with a division of powers, republics do not offer guaranteed protection against tyranny by a majority.  The history of slavery and Jim Crow is proof enough of that.  Even in modern times, one party can control the executive and both legislative houses (a trifecta) and, sometimes, even the judicial branch.  According to Ballotpedia, this year, there are 37 state governments under the control of one party.  In such cases, tyranny by one party is all too possible.  Corruption is also a risk: who will tell them “no?”

What protects us from the tyranny of one-party rule?  That protection comes from the liberal (liberty-preserving) rights in the U.S. Constitution and its Amendments, and in each state constitution – prohibitions against government infringements on our liberties – backed constitutional courts.

So, if you are concerned about mob rule, you must be in favor of political and civil rights for everyone – because if rights are only for some people, then that is tyranny – and you have to insist on competent and impartial constitutional courts – because if they are not, then that risks tyranny yet again.

Now you know some real advantages of living in a constitutionally liberal republic.

If you want to explore this topic more, please check out our short course, “America: Republic or Democracy.”

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