Democracy and Republic Quotes
The Founding Fathers had quite a bit to say about Democracies and Republics. These terms have been intentionally misused by various nations and organizations over the years in an effort to either make something more palatable or to mislead.
For example, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic dictatorship. The USSR, or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was a communist bloc of countries heavily controlled by a central government. In both cases, the use of the word Republic can be viewed as an effort to make the government sound better than it was because these countries were clearly not promoting a true Republic, but rather total control of their population.
To keep the quotes below in context, please realize there is a difference between a big “D” Democracy, and a little “d” democracy. A Democracy is a form of government which is majority rule and was strongly condemned by our Founders. A democracy can be a democratic process and in some of the quotes below this is the context of the Founders references to it.
“Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” -John Adams, 1814
“The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1790
“If you want a good argument against democracy, spend five minutes with a voter.” -Winston Churchill
“The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the function he is competent to. Let the National Government be entrusted with the defence of the nation and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward [neighborhood] direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best.” –Thomas Jefferson
“The article… nearest my heart is the division of counties into wards. These will be pure and elementary republics, the sum of which taken together composes the State, and will make of the whole a true democracy as to the business of the wards, which is that of nearest and daily concern. The affairs of the larger sections, of counties, of States, and of the Union, not admitting personal transactions by the people, will be delegated to agents elected by themselves; and representation will thus be substituted where personal action becomes impracticable. Yet even over these representative organs, should they become corrupt and perverted, the division into wards constituting the people, in their wards, a regularly organized power, enables them by that organization to crush, regularly and peaceably, the usurpations of their unfaithful agents, and rescues them from the dreadful necessity of doing it insurrectionally. In this way we shall be as republican as a large society can be, and secure the continuance of purity in our government by the salutary, peaceable, and regular control of the people.” –Thomas Jefferson
“Democracy is indispensable to socialism.”- Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
“Democracy is the road to Socialism.”- Karl Marx
“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.” - H.L. Mencken
“Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose…. [T]hey should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won’t. It will never occur to them that democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether “democratic behaviour” means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.”
As an English politician remarked not long ago, “A democracy does not want great men.”
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”
“Between a republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.” -Chief Justice John Marshall
“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” -James Bovard, Civil Libertarian (1994)
“Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one’s government is not necessarily to secure freedom.” – Friedrich Hayek
“A primary object…should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing on its legislature than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?” (The Real George Washington, p. 672)