The fourth day of July, 2014 marks the 237th anniversary of the grand social experiment known as the United States of America. Like all experiments, this one continues to evolve as our nation continues its journey towards the ultimate definition of a republic.
Although it is often called a democracy, (even by people who should know that it’s not) the United States of America is fortunately anything but. To some, the difference between a democracy and a republic is simply the assemblage of letters used to spell each word. Yet these two words are anything but interchangeable. In a democracy, the majority rules. Period. Neither individuals, nor minority groups have any safeguards to protect them from the absolute power of a government elected by the majority. Such a government is in fact all powerful; its decisions cannot be appealed through the legal system.
A republic is a radically different form of government as it places the rights of the individual above all else. In a republic, government is charged with preventing the majority from trampling the rights of individuals and minorities, within the confines of governing documents. By definition, a republic employs constitutionally limited government, which has its power divided amongst three branches—executive, legislative and judicial.
Such an arrangement is fraught with challenges as the power and influence of minorities ebbs and flows with population changes, as fatal flaws of once-sacred institutions are revealed and as social values evolve. On occasion, the tail may actually seem to be wagging the dog, as protection of minority rights appear to come at the expense of the rights of the majority.
Yet as difficult as some of the challenges have been, the republic that is the United States of America has survived, grown and prospered. And that is what we celebrate on this 4th of July. Our grand experiment has changed the world for the better, and it will do so for the foreseeable future, so long as our resolve continues to defend our Republic, and we remain committed to Abraham Lincoln’s vision, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.