The question on everyone’s mind during a presidential election is, “Will we have a Democratic or Republican president?” Of course, that decision is left to the voters — or is it?
If we take a closer look at elections, we can learn some things about the process itself, which yields the far different, fundamental question of, “Will we have a democratic or republican election?”
The Founding Fathers were very clear that the form of government they were instituting was republican — not democratic (notice, these are terms, not party titles). In a speech delivered by Alexander Hamilton at the Constitutional Convention, he declared, “We are now forming a republican government. Ideal liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.”
What’s so wrong with a democracy and why were the Founders so nervous about it?
A democracy is direct rule by the people. “But that’s what America is all about!” you may contend.
However, many of the Founders, including John Adams, shared a low opinion of democracy. He stated, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
Why is that so? Because the passions of the masses don’t lead to ordered civilization or to calm, reasoned arguments about the best way forward. Democracy leads to mobocracy, where a simple majority is the final — indeed the only — determining factor.
In a democracy, redheads, whom the majority hate and want to kill, can be legally disposed of, as long as 51 percent of the crowd want it so. In a republic, or a rule of law, all such redheads get their day in court, where laws determine their fate.
In a republic, reason and justice prevail. In a democracy, emotion reigns supreme.
It’s not that the Founders didn’t trust the common man. What they trusted was that it was a common folly among all men — no matter their rank or birth — to be overly swayed by their passions and to act in ways that lead to injustice.
They needed a system that was by, for and of the power of the people, but one that checked the human nature tendency of people to abuse such power.
They settled on a representative constitutional republic; a system where people chose representatives to do their work so as to provide a buffer between the issues and the people; a system where the necessary amount of time and effort to arrive at the right decision was built in, instead of being held hostage by an overzealous individual or group who insisted things be done their way and that they be done immediately.
It is no different when it comes to our Electoral College system, which elects the most powerful governmental office in the world. And, contrary to popular opinion and populist arguments, such a system is not corrupt, it is not archaic and it is not inferior to a system that would employ modern technology to provide for a direct national election. This is because republicanism is based on principles, and principles don’t change.
Consider that nearly everyone in America is fed up with empty campaign promises, catchy slogans, robocalls and mudslinging, etc. Would direct election of our president cause those unfavorable elements to increase or to decrease? Would direct election make campaign finance a bigger or smaller issue? Would direct election reward reason and logic, or would it instead reward impassioned demagoguery on special interest platitudes?
A representative system demands that popularity yields to principles.
The 10th Amendment offers interesting insight into this issue. It declares, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
Clearly, each state can decide how it votes (as is evident in the Electoral College process, where states get to decide how to bind their Electoral College delegates), and the people get to decide for themselves how to choose their nominees (as is evident in the ability of political parties — private entities — to choose between primary and caucus systems, each of which has its own pros and cons in relation to the question of direct election.)
In short, our republican system applied to elections favors those who get involved and stay involved in being an informed and active member of the electorate. A newcomer who has sat back and kept his distance from the political process has a hard time making a huge influence over presidential election results, whereas an individual who has worked hard to stay informed and involved will find that she understands the system and knows what to do and how to do it in order to be influential.
Some might call that type of system “rigged.” The Founders would call it “republican.”
• Jeff Hymas is the founder and president of In the Constitution, an organization dedicated to teaching the true principles of freedom found in the U.S. Constitution. Its first national, online Constitution Bee was completed in April with 725 participants in 42 states.