There have been times when some people have said that America is a democracy. This is a common misconception. The United States is a republic, not a democracy. In fact, when Benjamin Franklin was once asked if America was a republic or a monarchy, he replied “a republic, if you can keep it.”
To further clarify this matter, I will point out the differences between a republic and a democracy.
A democracy means “rule by the people.” A more elaborate definition would be any society (e.g. state, city, nation) that has a system of rule by the people, defined by the existence of popular sovereignty, political equality, and political liberty. In addition, a democracy consists of the following ideals: 1) government is based on popular consent; 2) rule by the people may be direct or indirect; 3) the term people is broadly defined; 4) elected representatives act as delegates (i.e. act as instructed by the people or accurately reflect the wishes of the people; 5) majority rule prevails; 6) government does what the people want it to; and 7) government safeguards rights and liberties; with no special emphasis on property rights.
Athens was a democracy, and of course various democracies exist today (e.g. various European nations).
It should be noted that democracy can be a direct democracy (a form of political decision making in which the public business is decided by all citizens meeting in small assemblies) or a representative democracy (an indirect democracy, in which the people rule through elected representatives).
A republic refers to any society (e.g. state, nation) in which the supreme power rests in all the citizens eligible to vote (i.e. the electorate), and is exercised by representatives elected by such citizens and thus are accountable to them. A republic’s ideals consist of the following: 1) government is based on popular consent; 2) rule by the people is indirect via representatives; 3) the term “people” is narrowly defined (e.g. education, property ownership, social standing); 4) elected representatives act as trustees (i.e. act on their own to know the common good); 5) barriers to majority rule exist; 6) government is strictly limited in function; and 7) government safeguards rights and liberties, with a special emphasis on property rights.
Rome was one of the best known republics. The Netherlands was a republic at one time, as was Venice. And of course, the United States is one of several republics in today’s world, as are France, Germany, and Russia (just to name a few).
So there you have it. America is a republic. Hopefully the American people can keep it that way.