More and more I wonder what we are teaching our kids about American government. Sure there are places in New England where some local governments are literally run as democracies. And in some, perhaps misguided, states there are initiative ballot measures. But by and large government at all levels in the United States is not democratic (small "d").
Instead our state government structures, and their political subdivisions follow a republican (small "r") model which is a form of government that is not a monarchy or dictatorship, and is based upon the rule of laws created by a small percentage of the population.
There is a simple reason for this, but you have to have some familiarity with the facts of American history as it pertains to the period when our governmental forms were created pursuant to the American philosophy of government that existed at the time. And you do need to understand the time.
The year 1776 was not much different from the year 76. In both years and eras there were no airplanes, cars, electric lights, radio, telephone, telegraph, television, iPods or iPads. There was no electricity, no steam, no combustion engine, no natural gas power, not even propane. There was no Internet, nor were there railroads, buses, steamships, telephone or telegraph wires and no tall buildings.
Travel was by horse or horse and carriage. It took Jefferson ten days to reach Philadelphia from Monticello and John Adams 7 or 8 from Concord. It took George Washington 8 days to get to his inauguration ceremony in New York from Mt. Vernon.
- Populist Daily
When the Constitution was written, only white male property owners (about 10 to 16 percent of the nation's citizens) were allowed to vote. Yet for some reason many Americans think that when the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written, the white male oligarchy of that time wrote those documents to establish a democracy.
For those who don't know, and any American who got beyond sixth grade shouldn't be in that group, the Federalist Papers were written by the "Founding Fathers" to explain our Constitution and the motives behind it. In the Federalist Paper No.9 Alexander Hamilton explained (emphasis added):
The science of politics, however, like most other sciences, has received great improvement. The efficacy of various principles is now well understood, which were either not known at all, or imperfectly known to the ancients. The regular distribution of power into distinct departments; the introduction of legislative balances and checks; the institution of courts composed of judges holding their offices during good behavior; the representation of the people in the legislature by deputies of their own election: these are wholly new discoveries, or have made their principal progress towards perfection in modern times. They are means, and powerful means, by which the excellences of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided.Following up in Federalist Paper No. 10 James Madison laid out what the "Founding Fathers" hoped to prevent in America through the Constitution - democracy and factions (emphasis added):
By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.In other words, we Americans do not live in a democracy, we live in a republic, created by a landed oligarchy in the late 18th Century, with checks and balances built in to protect the interests of the propertied class.
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.
...Is a law proposed concerning private debts? It is a question to which the creditors are parties on one side and the debtors on the other. Justice ought to hold the balance between them. Yet the parties are, and must be, themselves the judges; and the most numerous party, or, in other words, the most powerful faction must be expected to prevail. Shall domestic manufactures be encouraged, and in what degree, by restrictions on foreign manufactures? are questions which would be differently decided by the landed and the manufacturing classes, and probably by neither with a sole regard to justice and the public good. The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets.
It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.
The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.
...From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy ... who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such 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. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.
A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking....
If you take the highlighted phrases expressing concerns about the masses in Madison's writing...
- A zeal for different opinions concerning religion
- an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions,
- But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property
- Shall domestic manufactures be encouraged, and in what degree, by restrictions on foreign manufactures?
- The apportionment of taxes
Here is the Wikipedia definition of an oligarchy but in which I have crossed out the groups our Founding Fathers indicated in their writings they did not want to have participating in the American oligarchy.
Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people might be distinguished byLet's not get confused. The U.S. Government governing 5,308,483 people in 1800 consisted of:
royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, religious or militarycontrol. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next, but inheritance is not a necessary condition for the application of this term.
- a House of Representatives of 106 members directly elected by the people;
- a Senate of 32 members "chosen" by the legislatures of the 16 states;
- a Vice-President elected by the members of the Electoral College, some of whom were directly elected and some of whom were selected by the legislature of their state;
- a President elected by the members of the Electoral College, some of whom were directly elected and some of whom were selected by the legislature of their state;
- a Supreme Court of six members nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate for life.
Oh, and American democracy fans should know U.S. Senators were chosen by legislatures until Oregon pioneered the direct election of Senators in 1907 with others following resulting in the 17th Amendment in 1913. Regarding the Electoral College that selects the President, the Constitution states:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.This provision in the Constitution has not changed.
But since the Civil War, Electors have been elected by popular vote, more or less. As we know today in most states the winning Presidential candidate gets all the electors (Maine and Nebraska use the "congressional district method", selecting one elector within each congressional district by popular vote and selecting the remaining two electors by a statewide popular vote). Under this system, the candidate getting the most popular votes does not always win under this system. In other words, we don't democratically (small "d") elect our President.
Wring your hands if you want but in the United States we most certainly have never had a "muddled, perverted democracy" because we have never had a democracy. And based on this year's Presidential election, it is my opinion that it's ok that we don't have a democracy.