“Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” — Of unknown origin, but often attributed to Benjamin Franklin
“Well, Doctor,” Mrs. Powel asked, “what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without batting an eyelash, Benjamin Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Protecting the Little Guy
The idea behind a republic is to keep the people free from government tyranny. Every American is an individual whose rights should always be protected, even when that American is in the minority. America’s Founders recognized that, in a diverse community such as exists in America, we are truly all minorities in one way or another. A republic is based on the notion that all collective rights are based upon individual rights. If it is wrong for one individual to do a thing, then it is wrong for a group of individuals to do it—even if that group of individuals comprises the government. The Founders wrote a constitution based upon the Golden Rule to protect the most basic human rights to which people are entitled by Natural Law. America safeguards the rule of law against change by a capricious majority, by requiring three-fourths of the sovereign states to agree before any important changes are made. These republican principles protect Americans from having their natural rights suddenly abrogated by mob-rule, which is what a pure democracy may become.
Federalism: Empowering States, Counties, and Townships
America is about federalism, by which democratic decision-making is kept as close to the people as possible. This means that the sovereign states—remarkably similar to independent countries in their governance—make the most important decisions affecting their citizens, for it is easier to institute change when the rule-making authority is closer to the citizenry. Problem-solving is handled by the township, and if a municipality cannot find a solution—or finds the necessary fix too expensive—it can appeal to the county for help, and the county can go to the state. But the idea is to keep the decision-making as close to the people as possible.
Making Change Slow & Deliberative
In a republic, the will of the majority is oftentimes thwarted. For example, a man is apprehended by a posse for the crime of murder. “Let’s hang him!” someone shouts. And everyone agrees—everyone, that is, but the sheriff, who overrides the majority-vote by declaring, “You can’t do it, folks! The man has his rights. We have to give him his day in court.” Without due process, the reason the alleged murder took place might never be discovered. Perhaps it was a crime of passion, brought on by the victim’s affair with the killer’s wife; perhaps his gun discharged by accident; or perhaps it was self-defense. The facts in the case are important in deciding how or whether the killer should be punished. A lynch mob that gets its way, in the heat of the moment, while democratic, is anti-republican.
A Republic Requires a Moral People
John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The Judeo-Christian principle of not canceling the rights of the minority requires the rule of law. This is why jurists who legislate from the bench, rather than enforcing the moral agreements—the laws—the people have made, do such harm. They disrespect the rule of law by writing their own, thus rendering constitutional protections inconsistent and, in the end, unworkable. A case in point is the ignoring of Oleg Atbashian’s right of free speech at George Mason University; Atbashian put up posters protesting a pro-jihad organization scheduled to hold an event on campus, and a judge ignored the First Amendment, requiring that he stand trial. This judicial caprice by a magistrate represents anti-republican tyranny. The protection of Atbashian’s right to free speech requires enforcement of the rule of law—equal protection for all—something that immoral judges do not honor.
There are certain laws in a republic that the majority can change only with overwhelming support—such as the right to freedom of speech. Under the rules, it requires approval of three-fourths of the states (currently 38 out of 50) to change any part of the US Constitution. So, even if the government chooses to make a law limiting the speech rights of Americans, it is forbidden for the Executive Branch to enforce that law. And, if the president tries to enforce it, the Judiciary Branch is supposed to correct the matter by condemning the law as un-Constitutional.
If the judiciary fails, a jury can find a defendant not guilty as charged, simply because the jury does not agree with the law. This happened frequently during the years leading up to the American Civil War, when jury after jury found defendants who had rendered aid to escaped slaves not guilty. In a republic, the freedom of the people is protected by layering in multiple opportunities to thwart government tyranny.
The Raison d’Etre of the Electoral College
The Electoral College, too, is a layer of protection added into the Constitution to protect the people of less populous states against the tyranny of the majority in more populous ones. What if, among the many states, a few of the biggest in population vote overwhelmingly for one candidate that has only the interests of those few at heart? Should all the other states be forced to accept a president unacceptable to them, on the basis of his acceptability to the overwhelming majorities of only a few states? The Electoral College, by forcing the selections of candidates that will appeal to a diverse electorate across states, protects rights of the minority from the majority. As a result, significant change requires democratic persuasion to occur first, across many states, leading to stronger consensus among the people.
Mechanics: How the States Choose the President
The number of Electors a state receives in the Electoral College is determined by adding the number of Senators to the number of Representatives in any given state, which works to give the smaller states more power relative to larger ones—an important check against the power of more populous states. On today’s electoral map, this would give Rhode Island 3 electoral votes against California’s 55, instead of having a population-based ratio of 1 to 53—or 5.5% the power of California’s electorate versus only 1.8%. So, the Electoral College gives the little guy a modicum of control, enabling small states to resist the large ones, if the collective agreement among those states is widespread enough. In other words, a presidential candidate cannot win election without campaigning widely among the states and addressing the needs of many who do not necessarily live in urban areas or large states. Thus, the distributive wisdom of the American people must be respected, in order to win. This makes it difficult for a few like-minded areas to simply outvote the diverse majority of American communities.
The 2016 Presidential Election
In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton probably did not, in actuality, win the popular vote, given the likelihood that three million or more of the ballots cast were fraudulent. But, for the sake of argument, let us pretend Clinton’s popular votes are all legitimate; according to the most up-to-date information about the raw vote count, “Donald Trump won an overwhelming 7.5 million popular vote victory in 3,084 of the country’s 3,141 counties or county equivalents in America’s heartland,” while Clinton, on the other hand, “had an 8.2 million vote margin in a narrow band of 52 coastal counties and five ‘county equivalent’ cities stretching from San Diego to Seattle on the West Coast and Northern Virginia to Boston on the East Coast.” Clinton received 70 percent of the 18.4 million votes in these 52 elite counties. Donald Trump only received 25 percent of the votes in these elite counties.
So, should 52 high-population counties of like-minded people choose the president for all Americans? Or is agreement across more communities, representing a more diverse collection of viewpoints, a better way to go? Perhaps having the states choose the president is the wisest course of action. Without a wider consensus among Americans, the like-minded views of a few coastal counties should not be allowed to hold sway over almost the entire geography of the American landscape. This means that the most democratic of processes—persuading a broad base of the American citizenry throughout the land—becomes necessary, before America can be changed, even by a numerical majority.
The Main Point
So, the first principle of republicanism might best be stated as follows: Majority rule is nowhere near as important as protecting the rights of the minority. And this is something America has, arguably, succeeded in doing better than any other country in the world.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com