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Explainer: Democracy vs. Republic

Jan 21, 2021, 5:22 PM
Democracy vs. Republic...
(Photo: Adobe Stock / Deseret News)
(Photo: Adobe Stock / Deseret News)

“The United States is a republic, not a democracy.”

That’s a line you often hear when Americans are talking about their government.

But what’s the difference?

Democracy vs. Republic

Under the US Constitution, Article IV, Section 4, it declares: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”

The Pledge of Allegiance states:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Not to “the democracy for which it stands.”

One of the nation’s Founder Fathers, James Madison, made the distinction clear in “Federalist No. 14”:

“In a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.”

Madison referred to a “pure” democracy as one in which people represented themselves; whereas in a republican form of government, people choose their representatives. 

In a “pure” democracy, laws are made directly by the voting majority which leaves the rights of the minority largely unprotected.

In a republic, laws are made by representatives elected by the people; they must comply with a constitution that protects the rights of the minority from the will of the majority.

So, what government does the U.S. have? 

Like most modern nations, the United States is neither a pure republic nor a pure democracy.

The United States is a representative democracy, which means that the U.S. government is elected by citizens.

Their government officials represent the citizens’ ideas and concerns. Voting is one way to participate in democracy.

Citizens can also contact their government officials when they want to support or change a law, which is another way to participate in democracy.

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Explainer: Democracy vs. Republic