We are a Republic
As an American, that is, a citizen of the state in which you reside, and of the United States, you are legally sovereign (supreme ruler). This is completely the opposite of the rest of the world, which is why foreigners have such a hard time understanding America and our Constitution. Our system of government, unlike all others, starts with the people- individually, not collectively. The Declaration of Independence states that we the people are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable (unable to be taken away) rights and that among these rights are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Later, in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, these rights were further defined. Remember, according to the founding fathers, these rights have nothing whatsoever to do with government- they come directly from our Creator to each individual citizen, they are not 'granted' by government, by courts, by a King, or by Congress- they come directly from God. They are merely recognized and respected by government, and courts. Likewise, each citizen is independent and has not only rights, but sovereign political power, and from time to time, groups of citizens band together to form what we know as governments, in order to secure those divine rights, exactly as the Declaration of Independence explains. Legitimate governments are created only from the will of the people, based on common needs, not by edict or dictate or by force.
Government, therefore, ultimately has only one legitimate purpose. It's job is to protect the rights of it's citizens- from each other or from outside forces. Period. In our American form of government, the founders wrote the Constitution to create a federal system, in which a national federal government was created with very limited and specific powers, with all other powers being left to people or to the states. The founders clearly recognized that decentralization and local power is best and most responsive to the citizens. The last thing they wanted was an all-powerful national government- as that's exactly what they fought against during the Revolutionary War, so the Constitution specifically limits the power of the federal government in Article 1 Section 8. Our government was created in the form of republic for a reason, which is that it recognizes the only legitimate reason for government to exist is to protect the rights of it's citizens. Therefore, unlike a democracy, the will of the majority does not trump the rights of the individual in a republic.
Just after the signing of the Constitution, when Benjamin Franklin was approached by a woman who asked what kind of government they had created, he replied "A Republic, if you can keep it." A Republic is representative government ruled by law- the Constitution. A democracy is direct government ruled by the majority, i.e. mob rule. A Republic recognizes the inalienable rights of individuals while democracies are only concerned with group wants or needs, i.e. the public or collective good. Thomas Jefferson warned us that "if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." In that vein, let's work together to dispel this ignorance and instead spread freedom.
In a democracy, the will of the majority is supreme, and always prevails. The minority is completely at the mercy of the majority. A common saying is that "a democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner." This simple saying illustrates the problems with a democracy and why our founding fathers did not institute this form of government. Democracies, without exception, have always self-destructed when, in time, the non-productive majority realizes that it can vote itself hand-outs from the productive minority. The majority votes into power those who use government force (taxation) to steal from the minority (productive citizens) in order to provide for the majority (unproductive citizens). As taxes increase, incentive to produce decreases, causing many of the once productive to stop producing and join the non-productive to get their hand-outs and, consequently, become completely dependent upon the government for their existence, which is music to the ears of many politicians who seek total power. When there are no longer enough producers to fund the desires of the majority, the democracy will collapse, typically into a dictatorship. James Madison said that "Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths..."
Conversely, a republic is a government in which the individual, not the group, retains sovereignty, and individual rights. In other words, individuals have rights that cannot be trampled by the majority, and in a republic, the rule of law, in our case as defined by our Constitution, reigns supreme- not the rule of the majority. The United States was setup such that individuals have a number of safeguards within the legal system, following the right to vote, to protect them from the unjust will of the majority:
- Constitutional limits on the power of the federal government (Article 1 Section 8) thereby ensuring that the bulk of power remains at the state and local levels where an individual has more power and say.
- State and local nullification (or making null and void) unconstitutional laws. States, localities, and individuals have just as much right to interpret the Constitution (and all laws pursuant thereof) as the federal government does.
- Jury nullification, which is the ability of a single juror to find a law unconstitutional and refuse to convict the defendant.
- The Bill of Rights which recognizes the inalienable God-given rights of individuals, including, ultimately, the use of the Second Amendment to protect one's rights.
Sadly, it's obvious from his statements that not even President Obama understands what form of government we have in the United States. Barack Obama said "You hear some of these quotes, 'I need a gun to protect myself from the government.' 'We can't do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away.' [Pause] The government is us. These officials are elected by you. I am elected by you ... They are constrained ... So surely we can have a debate that's not based on the notion that somehow your elected representatives are trying to do something to you other than potentially prevent another group of families from grieving..." That statement shows the massive disconnect in Obama's understanding of how our government works. He mistakenly believes that we have a democracy, not a republic, and that the will of the majority magically invalidates the rights of the minority. When people say they need guns to protect themselves from the government, it's the same as saying they need guns to protect themselves from the tyranny of the majority [wolves] - for the government, in our current system, is nothing more than brute force representing the majority, or as far often is the case, simply those in power. Sadly, the majority appears to be growing increasingly ignorant and more easily manipulated in the United States. In Obama's mind, if the majority wishes it, it's somehow right and good and therefore takes precedence over the rights of the minority. He also clearly doesn't understand the 'constraint' placed upon him. He says "they are constrained" but his implication is that the only constraint is by the will of the majority, not the most important constraint- the Constitution of the United States. In our Constitutional Republic, the role of the federal government is clearly defined in the Constitution. The Constitution defines how the federal government operates, and what it can and cannot do. Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution defines exactly what powers the federal government has- "The Congress shall have Power:
- To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises
- To pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
- To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
- To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
- To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
- To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
- To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
- To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;
- To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
- To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
- To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;
- To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
- To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
- To provide and maintain a Navy;
- To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
- To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
- To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
- To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And
- To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."
The founders, foreseeing the need to make modifications to the Constitution from time to time, included the provision for amending the Constitution. The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures. Our founding fathers used this process to immediately take the limitation of federal powers to the next level, by enumerating widely recognized inalienable rights, that is rights that are God-given, inherent in every man, and cannot be taken away by government. They called these fist ten amendments the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was designed to provide further protection of the rights of individual citizens and states, and to legally prevent the federal government from attempting to trample on those God-given (not government-granted) rights.Those amendments are:
- First Amendment - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
- Second Amendment - A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
- Third Amendment - No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
- Fourth Amendment - The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
- Fifth Amendment - No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
- Sixth Amendment - In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
- Seventh Amendment - In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
- Eighth Amendment - Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
- Ninth Amendment - The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
- Tenth Amendment - The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
These are individual rights all American citizens retain in our Constitutional Republic. And every American State and citizen are sovereign and subject only to the authority they have chosen to cede, as affirmed in the Tenth Amendment above. It clearly states that "the powers not delegated to the United States (federal government), nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." In our Constitutional Republic, power comes from the individual, and limited powers are granted to the states by each individual, and in turn limited power is granted to the to the federal government by each state.
Our Republic, then, consists of strong individual rights and limitations on government (and thereby the majority), recognized by the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land and the basis of the rule of law under which we operate. That is very different than the mob rule of a democracy which many politicians pretend is our form of government.