The Essential Elements of and Conditions for a “Democratic Republic”: The View Prevalent at the Founding and in Early American History
Appeared in Fall 1992, Vol. XVIII, No. 3
The author wishes to acknowledge and thank the Wilbur and Earhart Foundations for grants during the summers of 1985 and 1986 respectively, which aided the researching and writing of this article.
Martin diamond, Winston Mills Fisk, and Herbert Garfinkle entitled their American government textbook of some years ago The Democratic Republic, stating that this was the best designation to give to the American political order because it implies both of the major political principles it was intended by our Founding Fathers to embody. It is “democratic” – in the representative, not pure, sense – because the majority rules; it is “republican” because it is supposed to demonstrate such characteristics as restraint, sobriety, competence, and liberty, “the very qualities democratic government needs to be its best self.”1 This essay adopts their term “democratic republic” and the understanding they have of it. It turns to important sources from the era of our founding and in early American history generally in order to determine what our founders, the political tradition they emerged from, and the political society of early America regarded as the elements and characteristics the political order had to embody and the social conditions which had to prevail in order to maintain a democratic republic. The following sources will be examined to determine this: the political philosophers John Locke and Baron de Montesquieu, selected early state constitutions and bills of rights, the writings of the Founding Fathers, and the situation prevailing at their time, the debates of the First Congress (which framed the bill of rights), and Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.
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