The Founders could have chosen among any number of forms of government. There were quite a variety of governing philosophies and worldviews floating around at the time of America’s founding. However, the Founders deliberately chose a government they believed would best insure the preservation of the core, unchanging standards of liberty.
If asked, most people will say America was founded as a democracy. And, in truth, that is the way we typically refer to our nation—as “a democracy.” It is crucial to understand, however, that America was—and is—a constitutional republic, not a democracy. A pure democracy would actually be bad news. Unfortunately, we are sliding quickly that way and are reaping the consequences. Let me explain.
Many think of “a democracy” and “a constitutional republic” as interchangeable terms. In his book The Church at the End of the 20th Century, the late Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer called democracy “the dictatorship of the 51 percent.”
And in a U.S. War Department Training Manual published in 1928, we find the U.S. government’s telling definition of a democracy: “A government of the masses. Authority derived through mass meeting or any other form of ‘direct’ expression. Results in mobocracy [mob rule]. Attitude toward property is communistic-negating property rights. Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether it be based upon deliberation or governed passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences. Results in demagogism [trying to stir up people by appeals to emotion or prejudice in a attempt to establish a new leader], license, agitation, discontent, anarchy.” (Footnote #21)
The Founders spent countless hours studying various forms of government from all over the world and deliberately chose not to establish a democracy. In fact, the framers of the U.S. Constitution believed so strongly in the dangers of democracy that they included a provision in the Constitution requiring that “each State maintain a republican form of government.” (Footnote #22)
The Dangers of a Democracy
In a pure democracy, the majority rules—and has its way—on everything. The Founders characterized the dangers of such a government in no uncertain terms.
• Fisher Ames said, “A democracy is a volcano which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction. These will produce an eruption, and carry desolation in their way.” (Footnote #23)
• Benjamin Rush said, “A simple democracy is the devil’s own government.” (Footnote #24)
• John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” (Footnote #25)
• Noah Webster said, “In democracy . . . there are commonly tumults and disorders. . . . Therefore a pure democracy is generally a very bad government. It is often the most tyrannical government on earth.” (Footnote #26)
• John Witherspoon said, “Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state—it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.” (Footnote #27)
So if a democracy is so bad and America—thankfully—is not one, then what exactly is a “constitutional republic”?
Turning back to our 1928 U.S. War Department Training Manual, we read the following about a republic:
Authority is derived through the election by the people of public officials best fitted to represent them.
Attitude toward property is respect for laws and individual rights and a sensible economic procedure.
Attitude toward law is the administration of justice in accord with fixed principles and established evidence, with a strict regard to consequences. A greater number of citizens and extent of territory may be brought within its compass.
Avoids the dangerous extreme of either tyranny or monocracy——results in statesmanship, liberty, reason, justice, contentment, and progress. . . . Our Constitutional fathers, familiar with the strength and weakness of both autocracy and democracy, with fixed principles definitely in mind, defined a representative form of government. They made a very marked distinction between a republic and a democracy and said repeatedly and emphatically that they had founded a republic. (Footnote #28)
Noah Webster told us the firm foundation and fixed principles of this republic must be that, “[O]ur citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament, or the Christian religion.” (Footnote #29)
The Differences between a Republic and a Democracy
John Adams said, “The very definition of a republic is ‘an empire of laws and not of men.’” (Footnote #31) The Founders chose a constitutional republic because they understood the heart of man was evil, and left to our own desires and intents people, over time, would naturally choose to do that which is wrong. The Bible clearly tells us that every way of a man is right in his own eyes (Prov. 21:2), that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9), and that evil men and seducers shall become worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim. 3:13).
Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist poses the question and answers why we have government to begin with: “Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint. . . . [T]he infamy of a bad action is to be divided among a number, than . . . to fall singly upon one.” (Footnote #31)
America’s Blueprint for the Law
So just what was the constraint the Founders considered to be the foundation of this republic? It is overwhelmingly documented that the base was the Bible, in which we find the principles and standards for every area of life. The foremost legal authority of the Founders’ day was William Blackstone. Blackstone’s Commentaries on the laws was introduced in 1766, and it became the law book of the Founding Fathers. In fact, Blackstone’s Commentaries formed the basis of American law until 1920. Reflecting on our need to keep our laws consistent with God’s laws, Blackstone’s Commentaries states, “To instance in the case of murder: this is expressly forbidden by the Divine. . . . If any human law should allow or enjoin us to commit it, we are bound to transgress that human law. . . . But, with regard to matters that are . . . not commanded or forbidden by those superior laws such for instance, as exporting wool into foreign countries; here the . . . legislature has scope and opportunity to interpose.”
This was also the worldview articulated by Alexander Hamilton when he wrote, “[T]he law . . . dictated by God Himself is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this.” (Footnote #33)
Founder Rufus King backed up his friend Alexander Hamilton when he contended, “[T]he . . . law established by the Creator . . . extends over the whole globe, is everywhere and at all times binding upon mankind. . . . [T]his is the law of God by which He makes His way known to man and is paramount to all human control.” (Footnote #34)
Concerning American Christians and their belief in laws based on biblical truth and the need to adhere to and promote such laws, contemporary researcher George Barna writes, in his report Practical Outcomes Replace Biblical Principles as the Moral Standard, “In several instances there is a large gap between what people say is morally acceptable and what they say should be legal. This reflects the shift away from biblical principles and Christian values as the basis of modern law. Increasingly, Americans are looking for the law to reflect their personal preferences and desires rather than a universal set of absolutes based on God’s dictates. If this trend continues then it stands to reason that we will inevitably experience increased instability in our laws, relationships and marketplace experiences.” (Footnote #35)
When asked why this change has occurred, Barna states that religious institutions have failed to present a compelling case for the biblical basis of moral truth: “Most people do not believe there is any source of absolute moral truth. Even [self-professing] born-again individuals are abandoning the notion of law based on scriptural principles. Families, who hold a major responsibility for shaping the moral values and attitudes of children, are ill-equipped to do that job in relation to a Christian worldview or on the basis of a comprehensive and coherent notion of faith-based truth. The result is that busy people, regardless of their faith affiliation, wing it when it comes to moral decisions.” (Footnote #36)
Barna reveals that many Americans do not possess a knowledge of how God desires for us to live and to conduct the affairs of our nation. In another report, Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings, he notes: “The virtual disappearance of this cornerstone of the Christian faith—that is, God has communicated a series of moral principles in the Bible that are meant to be the basis of our thoughts and actions, regardless of our preferences, feelings or situations—is probably the best indicator of the waning strength of the Christian Church in America today.” (Footnote #37) We as a nation are continuing our downward spiral into lawlessness and disorder. The weakening and deterioration of America’s freedoms and liberties will continue because we lack the key component for restoring them—a people who possess the knowledge and understanding of biblical truths necessary to support a republic.
Maintaining a Republic
While many of our Founding Fathers were not Christian, many of them had a respect for the values and virtues represented within Biblical Christianity. Maintaining a republic is hard work and requires the election of individuals who understand the unique nature of our republic. To preserve the republic, we must elect men and women who have an understanding of God’s instructions on how we are to live. This is why I’m so troubled that many pastors refuse to encourage church members to get involved in the political process and to vote in every election, whether local, state, or national. The likely reason is that many of our nation’s pastors are products of liberal universities and seminaries and have bought into the “separation of church and state” myth. It’s astounding that anyone who takes the time to understand the goals and philosophy of a constitutional republic as articulated by our Founders would believe the lie of separation.
The battle to display the Ten Commandments in America’s courtrooms, for instance, is not only a religious battle but a battle to maintain the very foundation of America’s form of government. Without the moral law of the Bible and without a Christian worldview, there is no foundation for the American republic. To separate our biblical worldview from our form of government would mean that we abolish the form of government intended by the Founders. And clearly, just such an abolition is the goal of groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and other socialistic, communistic, or humanistic organizations that oppose the biblical worldview and distort America’s Christian heritage going all the way back to the Colonies.
Education expert and founder Benjamin Rush believed the Bible should be a textbook in America’s schools. A central reason was that the Bible presents the only worldview consistent with perpetuating the form of government chosen by the Founding Fathers. Rush argues, “We profess to be republicans, and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government; that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible. For this Divine Book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and those sober and frugal virtues which constitute the soul of republicanism.” (Footnote #39)
Dr. Jedidiah Morse, another Founding Father who believed Christianity to be the foundational worldview of America’s republic, proclaimed, “Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.” (Footnote #40)
It is clear, then, in order for our constitutional republic to flourish, elected officials must be convinced of the need to preserve our biblical foundation. A key responsibility is to appoint and confirm judges who share the desire to properly protect the republic. Correspondingly, we (the people) should demand the impeachment of elected officials and judges who do not uphold theirs oaths to adhere to our founding documents.
The Founders warned us repeatedly that we could not expect God’s blessing or protection—and could very well face His wrath—if we ever make a practice of violating His principles. Engraved on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., are these words of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and our third president: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
Similarly, George Washington wrote, “We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” (Footnote #41
George Mason, the Father of the Bill of Rights, speaking at the Constitutional Convention, declared, “As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, so they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins by national calamities.” (Footnote #42)
Regardless of what some Americans may want, every law, every piece of legislation, and all public policy must be consistent with the teachings of Scripture, or we are not operating under the rules of a constitutional republic.
Again, let me quote Benjamin Rush, to whom the Founders looked for wisdom regarding passing laws that contradict the laws of God: “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation [the law of nature’s God], depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.” (Footnote #44)
The basis of our freedom lies not in the whims of the majority but in holding the will of the people in check—by holding the will of the people accountable to an unchanging standard and measuring whether that will is just or unjust, good or evil, right or wrong.
We, the Democracy—Dependency and Demise
A democracy makes it possible for the majority to implement national policies that contradict divine laws. It also opens the door to fiscal policy that breeds dependency of the people and the resultant demise of our society. In 1787—roughly the time our original thirteen states adopted the Constitution—Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinborough, had this to say about “The Fall of the Athenian Republic” some two thousand years prior: “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a‑dictatorship.” (Footnote #45) That is why our forefathers founded the United States of America as a republic rather than a democracy.
The average longevity of the world’s greatest civilizations has been about two hundred years. These nations always progressed through the following sequence:
• From bondage to spiritual faith
• From spiritual faith to great courage
• From courage to liberty
• From liberty to abundance
• From abundance to complacency
• From complacency to apathy
• From apathy to dependence
• And from dependence back into bondage.
Keeping that progression in mind, consider several striking observations by Professor Joseph Olson of Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. About the 2000 presidential election, he relates these statistics:
• Population of counties won by: Gore–127 million; Bush–143 million
• Square miles of land won by: Gore–580,000; Bush–2,242,700
• States won by: Gore–19; Bush–29
• Murder rate per 100,000 residents in counties won by: Gore–13.2; Bush–2.1
Professor Olson overlays these facts with this stunning observation: “In aggregate, the map of the territory Bush won was mostly the land owned by the tax-paying citizens of this great country. Gore’s territory mostly encompassed those citizens living in government-owned tenements and living off government welfare.” Olson believes the U.S. is now somewhere between the “complacency and apathy” phase of Professor Tyler’s definition of democracy; with some 40 percent of the nation’s population already having reached the “governmental dependency” phase. (Footnote #46)
Not surprisingly, the 2004 map was virtually identical in the Bush vs. Kerry race for the White House.
Our True Heritage
Armed with this knowledge and respectful of the dangerous trends upon us, we must take ownership of our great responsibility to instruct our children, friends, family members, and fellow Americans in the true heritage of our constitutional republic and to make clear the protection, liberty, prosperity, and blessing that comes from following God’s plan for all areas of our lives and our civil government. It is crucial that we educate as many as possible in the truth of a biblical worldview so they might join in the protection and strengthening of our constitutional republic.
America is the longest-standing constitutional republic in the history of the world. Yet, if Americans continue to allow humanistic liberals to kick God out of our country, the foundation of our freedoms will be destroyed. Our end will be as President Ronald Reagan warned: “If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
21 U.S. War Department, Training Manual No. 2000-25, printed November 30, 1928.
22 U.S. Constitution, Article 4, section 4.
23 Fischer Ames, Works of Fisher Ames (Boston: T. B. Wait & Co., 1809), 24; speech on biennial elections delivered on January 15, 1788.
24 L. H. Butterfield, ed., The Letters of Benjamin Rush, vol. 1 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951), 454; quoting John Joachim Zubly, Presbyterian pastor and delegate to Congress, in a letter to David Ramsay in March or April 1788.
25 John Adams, “Discourses on Davila; A Series of Papers on Political History,” The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, vol. 6 (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), 484.
26 Noah Webster, The American Spelling Book: Containing an Easy Standard of Pronunciation: Being the First Part of a Grammatical Institute of the English Language, to Which Is Added an Appendix, Containing a Moral Catechism and a Federal Catechism (Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Ebenezer T. Andrews, 1801), 103–104.
27 John Witherspoon, “Lecture 12 on Civil Society,” Works, vol. 7 (1815), 101.
28 U.S. War Department, Training Manual No. 2000-25, printed November 30, 1928.
29 Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832), 6.
31 John Adams, “Thoughts on Government,” quoted in John R. Howe Jr., The Changing Political Thought of John Adams (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966).
32 Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers, 80, Federalist #15.
33 Alexander Hamilton, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Harold C. Syrett, ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 87; quoting William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Robert Bell, 1771), 41.
34 Rufus King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, Charles R. King, ed., vol. 6 (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900), 276, to C. Gore on February 17, 1820.
35 Found at www.barna.org.
39 Benjamin Rush, “A Defense of the Use of the Bible as a School Book,” Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical (Philadelphia: Thomas and Samuel F. Bradford, 1798), 93–113; addressed to the Rev. Jeremy Belknap of Boston.
40 Jedidiah Morse, “A Sermon, Exhibiting the Present Dangers and Consequent Duties of the Citizens of the United States of America,” delivered at Charlestown, April 25, 1799, the Day of the National Fast (MA: Printed by Samuel Etheridge, 1799), 11.
41 The Daily Advertiser (New York), May 1, 1789, 2.
42 Henry Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison, vol. 3 (Washington: Langtree and O’Sullivan, 1840),1391.