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Q: U.S. Government ( Answered,   2 Comments )
Subject: U.S. Government
Category: Relationships and Society
Asked by: weedpatch-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 09 Dec 2004 19:25 PST
Expires: 08 Jan 2005 19:25 PST
Question ID: 440639
Is the U.S. a republic? And if so, what makes it one? What's the
difference betweeen a republic and a democracy?
Subject: Re: U.S. Government
Answered By: efn-ga on 09 Dec 2004 22:44 PST
Hi weedpatch,

The United States is a republic.

The word "republic" has two main meanings, and the United States
qualifies for both.

1.  A government having a head of state who is not a monarch

Wikipedia lists only this definition.

2.  A form of government in which power is explicitly vested in the
people, who in turn exercise their power through elected

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy lists only this meaning.

Most sources list some forms of both definitions 1 and 2 as alternates.

3.  Both of the above.

A couple of sources list both definitions above together as the
definition of a republic.

The word "democracy" also is used with multiple, overlapping meanings.

1.  Government by the people

2.  Government by the people with majority rule

3.  Government by the people, either directly or through elected representatives

4.  Government where every person has an equal right to participate

5.  Government based on belief in freedom and equality

As the numbers of links above indicate, definition 3 seems to be the
commonest.  Writers commonly distinguish between direct democracy,
where the people make all decisions directly, and representative
democracy, where they elect representatives to make decisions. 
Representative democracy is equivalent to the second definition of
"republic" above.

Wikipedia has more details on this distinction.

A web search for the terms "democracy" and "republic" finds many
essays where writers passionately insist that the United States is a
republic and not a democracy.  Since they typically define "democracy"
as either direct democracy only, or direct democracy without law, also
known as "mob rule," their statements are quite true, but the word is
also used with other meanings, which overlap the second definition of

In fact, some sources describe the words as interchangeable.  The New
Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, in the entry cited above, says
"Today, the terms republic and democracy are virtually
interchangeable, but historically the two differed.  Democracy implied
direct rule by the people, all of whom were equal, whereas republic
implied a system of government in which the will of the people was
mediated by representatives, who might be wiser and better educated
than the average person."

Similarly, the Online Learning Center for the textbook "The American
Democracy" by Thomas E. Patterson says "Today, the term republic is
used interchangeably with democracy."

Wikipedia reservedly states "It could be argued that this term
['representative democracy'] is synonymous with 'republic'." in the
article on representative democracy cited above.

In summary, the difference between a republic and a democracy is not
simple, because both words have multiple meanings, some of which
and some of which don't.

I used the metadictionary website OneLook to find dictionary
definitions and encyclopedia articles for this answer.

I hope this is a satisfactory answer to your questions.  If anything
is not clear enough, please ask for a clarification.


Subject: Re: U.S. Government
From: tutuzdad-ga on 09 Dec 2004 19:40 PST
The answer is, a republic.

"When a lady approached Benjamin Franklin at the conclusion of the
convention's proceedings on September 17, 1787, she said, "Dr.
Franklin, what form of government have you given us?"

Franklin didn't answer saying, "A democracy, Madam." His answer was,
"A republic, Madam, if you can keep it."

Let me know if this answers your questions.


Subject: Re: U.S. Government
From: meadowwolf-ga on 09 Dec 2004 20:09 PST
As tutuzdad said above, ?A republic?.

Some people, including legislators, state that the U.S. is a republic,
not a true democracy.   The idea is based on our form of government
(the executive branch, legislative branch, and judicial branch) as
well as the electoral college.  The issue with the electoral college
came up in both the prior and current presidential election.  The
article listed below provides some idea of republic vs. democracy.

(In the United States, under the electoral college system, votes do
not count equally.)  In the prior election, Al Gore won the popular
vote but not the electoral vote.  There was disucssion then that the
popular vote should decide the presidential race.  In the current
election, however, Kerry won neither the popular vote, nor the
electoral college vote.  So now the discussion is on how to modify the
electoral college so that all votes are counted equally).

Lofgren latest to seek Electoral College's end 
Legislator wants all votes to have equal influence

Proponents of the 217-year-old system that has been used in 55
presidential elections say the college reflects the fact that the
United States is a republic, not a pure democracy, . . .
For instance, Wyoming, population 500,000, is guaranteed the minimum
three electoral votes allotted to each state and the District of
Columbia. That equals 1 elector for every 165,000 people.
In contrast, California, with 35 million people and 55 electoral
votes, has 1 elector for every 635,000 people, roughly one-fourth the
vote power of Wyoming.
"It's hard to believe that one American's vote is worth four times as
much as another American's,'' said Lofgren, a Democrat from San Jose
who sits on the House Judiciary Committee


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