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Opinion Letters Are we a democracy or a republic?

I want to talk a little bit about politics and government.

I want to talk about whether our form of government is or should be a republic.

In a nutshell, democratic government is rule by the majority, while republican government is rule by a majority of minorities.

The ancient democracies had each citizen vote on each piece of legislation. If direct voting is taken as the definition of democracy, then democracy is not yet practical in polities larger than towns. A characteristic of a republic is that representatives selected by the citizens, vote on the pieces of legislation. If representative government is taken as a sufficient definition of republicanism, then the U. S. is a republic.

But let us look closer at what has traditionally constituted a republic and compare that with what we have today.

France, at one time had legislative bodies known as estates. There was one estate each for the nobility, the clergy, and, I think, the middle-class (don’t quote me on that). Agreement, whether of two or all three of these, I am not sure, and of the king, was necessary to enact legislation. Then for over a hundred years, the French kings did not call a meeting of the estates. When finally the condition of national finances forced King Louis whichever (XVI, I think) to assemble the estates, all hullabaloo broke loose. The French people had been for so long uneducated, either by schooling or experience or observation, in the characteristics of a free government (relatively free; none is wholly free), that a tyranny was quickly able to install itself

But to the point: The government of France, before meetings of the estates were suspended, was not a pure monarchy; it was a mixed monarchy with aspects of republicanism, which is to say rule by a majority of minorities; in their case, I think, a majority of each minority that was represented in the estates — nobles, clergy, and middle- class, and the king.

England had her House of Lords which represented the nobility, her House of Commons which represented the communities, and her monarch. For the government to rule England required the agreement of each of these minorities. King Charles I followed by Protector Cromwell tried to thwart the system, but the English people put it back in place. Today, the approval of neither the House of Lords nor of the monarch is required for most legislation. Is that an improvement?

Under our own Articles of Confederation, each of 13 minorities had a delegation in the Confederation Congress. Agreement of all 13 was required for passage of legislation on any matter, which may have been a bit much for some matters.

The Confederation government was a republican government; the other two, mixed republican and monarchical.

The Confederation government had some problems, hence the Constitution of 1787. In repairing some of the problems of the Articles of Confederation, the pendulum swung a bit past reasonableness and justness. Whether due to conniving and self-interested people or to honest misjudgements has been debated for over 200 years. (And then there are those who insist the system is perfect, but look with your own eyes, don’t be told what to think.)

I will venture to suggest that the U. S. Senate should have kept the form of the Confederation Congress, one-state, onevote, with the senators selected by the state governments and serving at the will of the state governments. Each state has its own unique set of problems and issues due to different climate, different geography, different soils, different local legislation, and a host of other causes; each state needs a voice in Congress that will represent its uniqueness. With senators elected by direct vote, their loyalty to the party that put them into power often out-weight their loyalty to their state. With each senator casting his or her own vote, rather than one-state, one-vote, too often the two senators from a state cancel each other so that the uniqueness of each state is left without voice in Congress.

The members of both the U. S. House and the U. S. Senate are presently elected by districts with the candidate who receives the most votes taking the seat in Congress. Nationwide, the majority of voters in the majority of Congressional Districts are of the same constituency: middle-class suburbanites dependent upon or integrated with corporate big business. Voting on legislation in each Congressional chamber is by simple majority. In the Senate, it could be by states; in the House it could be by parties; but it is not.

The result of the characteristics, the form, the constitution of the two chambers of our Congress is that America is not ruled by a majority of minorities, but by a mass majority. There is no meaningful representation in our government of anybody except that mass majority.

You may quibble over whether or not our form of government is a democracy, but ladies and gentlemen, it ain’t no republic.

George Crockett — Franklin, N.C.


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