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Woodworth: It’s Undemocratic, and that’s Good




Laws, statutes, rules, regulations … they're all restricting, and at times, frustrating. But the American system of government is based on those laws, rules and regulations that take effort and consensus of many to change.

As Benjamin Franklin told a woman as he was leaving the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in September 1787 when she asked what type of government they had established. “A republic, madam, if you can keep it,” he said.

Thus, the Founding Fathers set up a system of governing not based on the whims of the governed, nor on public policy polling – but on laws.

That's the theme of a piece written by Steven Woodworth, a history professor at Texas Christian Univeristy that has drawn a lot of attention. While Woodruff is not a fan of Donald Trump and voices frustration with the populist demands Trump's supporters are attempting to thrust upon the system, he makes points that are being overlooked by many:

What’s the difference between a republic and a democracy? Let’s look at what the Founders had to say about that. Madison, again in Federalist 10, described democracies as governments in which the people rule directly. By contrast, as John Adams wrote in 1775 in Novanglus Essay Number 7, a republic is “a government of laws and not of men.” So the Founders established a system of government in which the people would rule indirectly through representatives, and the whole government would be hemmed in by a fundamental law–the Constitution–that would protect individuals and minorities from infringement of their rights, and would also protect the majority itself from the consequences of passing fits of public foolishness. Thus bills were to be passed by a House of Representatives, elected by the people, and by a Senate, elected by the state legislatures, which were in turn were elected by the people, and before those bills could become law, they were to be signed by a president, elected by electors, who were elected by whatever system each individual state set up. The Founders were skeptical, to say the least, that the common people would know what was best to be done, but they believed the people would know how to choose wise men from among their numbers who would know what to do at the next level. It was to be government of, by, and for the people–through representatives–within the limits of the Constitution.

Why does it matter what these men thought in the 1770s and 1780s? There are many good reasons why it matters, but I’ll just mention here that their system has worked better than any other frame of government devised by man before or since. How many countries now enjoying freedom and self-government have done so with a constitution older than that of the United States? Depending on how you define some of those terms, the answer would be “very few” or “none,” and none of them have enjoyed as much freedom as the United States.

And what has this got to do with the way Colorado or any other state chooses delegates to the Republican convention? Political parties did not exist at the time of the founding, but the systems for choosing delegates and nominating candidates are very much patterned after the thought of the Founders. Each state chooses its own system. In some, delegates are awarded proportionally on the basis of the voters’ candidate preferences in a primary election. In others, the majority winner in such an election gets all the state’s delegates. In other still, such as Pennsylvania, voters cast their ballots for individual delegates, who may or may not vote for a given candidate. In states like Colorado, citizens meet in caucuses and elect delegates to district conventions. The district conventions choose some of the state’s delegates to the national convention and also choose delegates to a state convention, which in turn chooses the rest of the state’s delegates to the national convention.

In other words, Woodworth says, "It's undemocratic, and that's good."


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