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What if all citizens learned how our government is designed to function and why?

The Constitution itself is a compromise. We worry about our nation being divided, but this is not new. Our Founding Fathers had to deal with a split between those who wanted united states — federalists — and those who desired that each state would remain separate and sovereign — anti-federalists.

The two chambers of Congress — the House of Representatives elected proportionally by the population of each state, and the Senate with two senators from each state regardless of size — was also a compromise between large states and small.

Built into the Constitution is a tension between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of our government that establishes a system of checks and balances to guard against tyranny and to protect the rights of the people.

Ours is not a system where majority rules. That would be a pure democracy. We have a republic the founders carefully crafted to avoid the dangers of a pure democracy where passion could overwhelm reason.

The Convention of 1787 adopted a Constitution with no mention of the word democracy. The word had not occurred in the Declaration of Independence, and in the Pledge of Allegiance we pledge our loyalty to our republic, not to a democracy.

In a republic the sovereignty is in each individual person. In a democracy the sovereignty is in the group. This has great legal significance.

The Constitution guarantees to every state a republican form of government. No state may join the United States unless it is a republic, dedicated to “liberty and justice for all.” Protection of the individual rights of those in the political minority is the priority.

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With a republic the people have natural rights instead of only civil rights, and they are protected from the majority by the Bill of Rights. One vote in a jury can stop all of the majority from depriving any one of the people of his or her rights. This wouldn’t be so if the U.S. were a democracy.

We laugh at the anecdote about a man who buys an amazing power tool and spends all day in the garage trying in frustration to assemble it. His wife walks in and says, “Have you read the instructions?” The Constitution is our amazing product, and the Federalist Papers are the instructions, giving insight to what the Founding Fathers intended.

The Federalist Papers were written in 1788 to gain public approval for the new Constitution, which needed to be ratified by nine of the 13 states. The authors — James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay — each wrote a number of essays to be published anonymously in New York newspapers. Of particular note are essays Nos. 10 and 51. Summaries are available online.

Madison complains in essay No. 10 that “leaders ambitiously contending for power have in turn divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.” But he argues that the Constitution establishes a government capable of regulating the conflicts between factions.

In No. 51, he lays out how the structure of the government makes liberty possible with each branch mostly independent. To assure independence, no one branch should have too much power in selecting members of the other two branches. Additionally, Madison felt that a population needed sufficient intellectual capacity and virtue to assure that virtuous and capable leaders were elected.

Carole Zink is a resident of Orcutt.

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