A republic is defined primarily two ways. First, it can simply mean any form of government that is not a monarchy. Second, it can mean a government where the power rests, directly or indirectly, in the citizens. A democratic republic is one in which the citizens elect representatives who act on their behalf.
Our Founders designed our government to be a democratic republic for a reason. They threw off the burden of a monarchy where the king had most to all of the power. Since he wasn’t elected, he was not directly accountable to the people for the use, or misuse, of that power. But they weren’t so desperate for a say in how government power was used that they would create a democracy either. In a true democracy (which may surprise some, the United States is not), everyone who votes has an equal say in all legislation. Fifty-point-oh-one percent is all that is needed to get anything done. The problem with true democracy is that it is nothing more than mob rule. The responsibility is spread too broadly to hold anyone accountable. When stupid laws get passed, you can’t fire (by electing someone else) the clown who passed the law. In a country of 300 million, 150 million and one could vote to make the other 149,999,999 people their slaves, and that would be the law. Such a law would be unjust, stupid and cause all sorts of problems, like civil unrest, but it would still be the law. A quote attributed to Alexander Tytler, Professor of General History at the University of Edinburgh in 1790, and used by Ronald Reagan in a couple of speeches in the 1960s, explains it the best. "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship." Basically, Tytler was saying the same thing. The majority turns the money making minority into their personal cash cow, which leads to civil unrest, which in turn, requires a dictator to rise to power to deal with societal tension.
A democratically elected republic was, and still is, the best way to distribute the power of government and hold those who hold that power accountable. The closer we slip to true democracy, the closer we are to losing our freedoms, simply because imperfect people will make imperfect laws. When you hear an elected politician say the people should decide, it is probably safe to assume what they are really saying is that they do not want to be held accountable for the choices the people elected them to make. Get them out of office as fast possible – they are more interested in remaining in power, that governing rightly. Part of the genius of a representative democratic republic is that the representatives can be held to account for their actions, but they can also keep the majority from making rash decisions. If something is truly the will of the people, their representatives’ votes should reflect that; but when the people are not informed of all the facts, or acting irrationally, a representative’s vote should be in the best interest of the nation, not simply the will of the people. If the Founders had intended that all legislation should reflect the will of the people, they would have created a straight-up democracy. But they didn’t – they instituted a democratic republic to buffer the legislative process from the fickle passions of the masses. They intended that representatives deliberate, and thoughtfully consider and debate, all legislation before passing it. The gargantuan bills that get passed today, in days, rather than months, and that aren’t even read by most legislators before voting is not what they had in mind.
It’s amazing that our government, which was designed to protect rights, and ensure justice and peace, has become the behemoth that it now is with its tentacles in all facets of our lives, in just 234 short years. Dr. James McHenry recorded for us that at the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government they had created for us. His response - “A republic, if you can keep it.” What did he mean by that? I think he knew that although a republic is the best form of government, it is fragile and prone to failure as any other, especially if the citizens do not guard against government encroachment. Alas that too many in this country embrace government intervention and oversight as a means to resolve all of our cultural, social and economic problems. Reagan was so right, when he said in his second inaugural address, that “Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem.” Unfortunately, such a sentiment echoed by a sitting President in 1985, would be enough to label you a right-wing extremist and terrorist suspect in 2009.