A recent letter complained that the November election “was not an example of democracy in which the majority rules.” The writer is correct. America is not a democracy; it is a republic.
In a democracy, the majority rules; those in the minority have little protection. In a republic, a written Constitution or charter guarantees rights to individuals and minorities that cannot be overridden by an omnipotent majority.
One of the U.S. Constitution’s minority-safeguards (in this case, of the states) is the system of presidential electors.
In his “Democracy in America,” written in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville remarked:
“(In) countries where democracy governs, and in which everything revolves around the people, laws that accelerate or increase the influence of the people strike directly at the government’s existence. The greatest merit of the men who gave America its laws is that they clearly recognized this truth and had the courage to put it into practice. They saw that there must be authorities (electors) outside of the people, not completely independent of them yet endowed with a fairly substantial degree of liberty within their own sphere of influence. Though obliged to accept the permanent guidance of the majority, these authorities would nevertheless have the capacity to counter its caprices and reject its dangerous demands.”
Although majoritarian influences have reduced their freedom, the electors remain as a barrier against the aggregation of elective power in a few states.
Frank Markham Brown
Hilton Head Island