Are we a democracy or a republic?

Posted: Sunday, February 29, 2004

Kadashan by Bertrand J. Adams Sr.

A couple of weeks ago I was flying home from Anchorage. I overheard an individual in the seat behind me explaining the difference between a democracy and a republic. Needless to say, I was very enlightened with his understanding of how government should function.

OK, so when we place our hands across our heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and we come to that part "and to the ________ for which it stands," what do we say? It's obvious the answer is "republic."

So what is a democracy and a republic? Many people I have talked to agree that the founding fathers of this nation were very wise and, if anything else, extremely clever. Having gone through the experience of building this new nation they indeed had an appreciation of great nations that have come and gone, not to mention the fact that they had been dealing with a king who had practically done everything bad that a bad king could do to his subjects.

And so as they deliberated considerably about whether they should form a government on the principles of a democracy they realized, of course, that an absolute democracy could lead to an unlimited administration of government.

And then there was this republic idea. A republic is a limited, representative type of government. The extreme to this philosophy is "no government" or the less government we have the better off we will be to pursue happiness. The founders realized that this type of control is no control at all.

So the founders said, "Let's create a democratic/republican government and when circumstances and conditions of the times calls for it, the people will determine whether we should be more on the right or the left. This is referred as "people's law."

The real purpose for embracing this type of body politic was to bring the two philosophies toward the middle - toward people's law. From the democratic side of the spectrum, the people would elect their representatives and let government attempt to solve our problems; from the republic idea they would be represented by politicians who would strive to keep the government on a limited plan.

Were there times when we witnessed this happening? Let's see. Invariably over the years we normally see one party control congress and the opposite in the executive branch, or vice versa. We hear people call this gridlock. We hear folks exclaim, "Let's get those liberals (or conservatives) out of there so things can get done." And we hear others proclaim, "Let's take back America and replace that president."

Well, we may admit that the founders were very wise and clever. They risked their reputation by placing their faith in the American people.

When I was gathering my stuff to de-plane in Yakutat, I thought my anonymous stranger explained these two philosophies very well. I turned to him, gave him my two thumbs up and said, "Right on."

• Kadashan is the Tlingit name of Bertrand J. Adams Sr., who lives in Yakutat.

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