Contrary to popular belief, U.S. citizens do not live in a country united by a democratic constitution. Rather, the founding fathers based the constitution, or governing principles of the U.S., on a set of ideas known as a republic. While both systems attempt to give the people a say, the founding fathers believed that a pure democracy wouldn't work in the U.S., which already had too many people and too large a land mass.

History

The founding fathers met in many heated debates beginning in 1787, arguing over the details as to what rules should govern the U.S. Having recently won their independence from the British, the framers of the Constitution would examine the British form of government as a model. The British parliamentary system in place at this time was established around the principle that a few would represent the many. However, the founding fathers felt that there were too few electorates in the British system to give the people a true voice.

Democracy

In searching for an answer for the U.S., James Madison, used the term “pure democracy” to describe a group of people, who all assemble in one place and decide on the rules that will govern them. The idea of everyone having an equal say was not new. While ideal theoretically, Madison had some misgivings which he voiced in Federalist Paper 10 stating, "there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. "

Republic

Madison used the term "republic" as a government organized around the idea of representing everyone's opinion, rather than giving every single person a voice in government. Just like a boss who cannot do everything on his own, a group of citizens in a village, town or state, would delegate authority to govern to a few people who would represent their interests. It was then up to these representatives to find out what all the people wanted and voice their opinions at government meetings. These elected leaders would give a voice to the people, while maintaining order, or, in Madison's words, "it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose."

Democracy Isn't Practical

Although ancient Rome began as a "pure democracy," the idea of having every person in your country go to regular government meetings was impractical. The time, expense, and hardship of having everyone in the Roman empire travel to the same place to vote on such mundane issues was not worth it. The founding fathers realized this flaw in the idea of a pure democracy, and tried to give everyone elected representation, rather than an equal say.