The Constitution of the United States guarantees the freedom and liberty of all Americans, but the United States is not a democracy. It is a representative republic in which its national officials are elected in a democratic fashion.
Our federal officials serve for prescribed periods of office with the mandate they earned during their election. Provided these officials remain in good standing, break no laws, or misbehave, they are usually free to conduct the people’s business in a manner they believe will maintain the support of the electorate.
Our Founders mistrusted democracy. They observed what they felt was the “rule of the mob” in the chaos of the French Revolution, where no one, noble or republican, was safe from midnight arrests, dungeons, and show trials before a democratically elected, screaming mob.
On the other hand, our founders didn’t trust elected officials either. That mistrust is reflected in both the checks and balances and separation of powers written ingeniously into our Constitution. The genius is that the structure maintains a continuous tension and a jealous protection of prerogatives between all our branches of the federal government. Then they closed the deal with our Bill of Rights.
To repeat — we are not a democracy. Our system of electing our representatives is democratic, but our founders wanted no part of the process already under way in revolutionary France. Many of our founders may have also remembered ancient Greek history where the Athenian assembly — a democracy — ordered Socrates to drink hemlock after they found him guilty of corrupting the youth of Athens.
Our founders gave us an electoral system where only members of the House of Representatives were to be directly elected by the people. Until May 31, 1913, the date of the passage of the 17th Amendment, U.S. Senators were elected by each state legislature. Also, the president and vice president must await the vote of the Electoral College after the state elections determine which candidates won the states’ electoral votes.
So people who complain that the Electoral College is “undemocratic” are partially correct. However, since we are a federal republic where (theoretically, at least) responsibilities are divided between the states and the federal government, the process works as our founders intended:
- It keeps less-populated states in the mix for determining winners and losers.
- It [mostly] prevents deadlocked elections. (There have only been two presidents chosen by the House of Representatives after an inconclusive electoral vote: Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams.)
Finally, there’s the Judicial Branch, in which our founders vested god-like powers with lifetime appointments. Apparently, federal judges never fell into the untrustworthy category James Madison referred to his Federalist Paper #51, when he said:
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
The only restriction federal judges at any level have is that they be appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. Judges can only be removed by their own misconduct. They serve for life and are paid full salary even after they retire.
I’ll end this piece with two morsels for thought:
- Let’s go back and repeal the 17th Amendment and allow the state legislatures to select our U.S. senators. Do that and we’re half way to campaign finance reform and back to where the states call bigger shots in our federal system.
- Let’s do away with lifetime judicial appointments. How about giving federal judges (including Supreme Court justices) one 7-year appointment, one automatic renewal with the consent of the Senate and one final 7-year term based on the results of a popular national or regional elections. Most judges would survive the 21-year cycle, after which time they should be forced to retire.
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At *your* service,
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