The Framers of the Constitution understood “democracy” and “republic” to mean different things. Explain this difference... The Framers of the Constitution understood “democracy” and...

The Framers of the Constitution understood “democracy” and “republic” to mean different things. Explain this difference...

The Framers of the Constitution understood “democracy” and “republic” to mean different things. Explain this difference and identify which concept the Framers favored.

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akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think that the framers envisioned democracy, but also provided a bit of a twist to it.  The primary causation for the Constitutional Convention where the Constitution was drafted in light of the challenges posed to the new and young nation.  Shays' Rebellion, where a group of angry farmers caused a great deal of disorder, cast a major shadow on the Framers.  At the time, they believed that pure democracy would have moved the nation too close to anarchy and disorder.  No doubt the fear caused by Shays' Rebellion made the framers think twice about a political order where all the people had power without any institutional check.  This would be why the notion of the representative democracy put forth by Sherman in the Great Compromise helped encapsulate the idea of "democracy."  Individuals in this setup had a forum for which to air their grievances, but it was on the shoulders of the representatives to voice those sentiments in a way that did not cause a level of disorder and panic  The Framers felt satisfied that this form of representative democracy, taken from the Roman Republic right down to the name of its upper house "Senate," would address the concerns of the people while maintaining a sense of control.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

In those days, "democracy" was sort of a dirty word.  It meant something like "rule by the unenlightened masses."  The Framers were really quite worried about democracy.  They thought it would cause a lot of problems.

Instead, they wanted a republic.  By this, they meant a government where the masses had some say, but which was really ruled more by elites than by the masses.

Not all the Framers wanted this.  The Democratic-Republicans pretty much wanted democracy (this is Jefferson and his bunch) but the Federalists (Washington, Monroe, Madison) wanted a republic.

So, democracy = more power for the regular people.  Republic = less power for them.

The Constitution clearly favored a republic.  It had a House of Representatives elected by the people, but the President was elected by the Electoral College, the Senate by state legislatures, and the Supreme Court selected by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate -- so you can see that the people didn't control the government very directly.  That's what the Framers wanted.

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