Howard Chandler Christy’s Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States. (Public Domain)

Since the Democrat Party is the oldest party of the United States, it has been commonly misunderstood that our Founding Fathers pursued a democratic system in the early days.

Actually, there is a story often told, that upon exiting the constitutional convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Our Founding Fathers made great efforts in studying almost all previous systems in order to select the most appropriate one for the newly born America. It was remarkably reflected in the book “A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” by John Adams (the second president of the United States).

The two most appealing models put on the table were the Athenian direct democracy and the Roman republic. Both systems contained outstanding ideas of the predecessors: people’s sovereignty, rule by law, and civil freedom. That is exactly what the founders wished to see in the future of the United States.

The institution of Athens, though imbued with democratic spirit, is difficult to apply to a large United States. It seems that it was only suitable for small state-sized dominion like Athens. Not only that, most American founders considered Athens’s direct democracy – the form of governance where every citizen ruled the country through voting in the people’s council (Boule) as unstable and containing many risks. Even James Madison, who is considered the father of the U.S. Constitution, also said, “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”

The “Declaration of Independence” by John Trumbull (1817), illustrates the presentation of the draft Declaration of Independence to the U.S. Congress in 1776. (Public Domain)

Overall, the American founders preferred the model of the Roman Republic—something that historian Polybius called “the most perfect model ever existed.” It was difficult to deny the attractiveness of a stable republic that had existed for nearly 500 years, and had many similarities with the early United States.

Representation of a sitting of the Roman senate. (Public Domain)

According to historian Carl J. Richard, the American founders shared common concerns with the architect of the Roman republic. Not all were in favor of a centralized government because they had gone through a period of tyrannical ruling, witnessed the consequences of an open society with people from all parts of the country pouring in, and the state of division in a large country.

At that critical time, the Roman republic proved to be quite an appropriate solution as Madison put it:

Lessons drawn from the Roman republic led the American founders to the understanding that it was necessary to establish a mechanism that would be able to guarantee the definite division and control of power. The government containing three branches that were executive, legislative, and judicial. These three branches, were to ensure a balanced state.

Roman republic vs American republic. (luatkhoa.org)

The level of social inequality in Rome was very high, as most assets were in the possession of the aristocrats. This situation was the main cause of countless political conflicts between the aristocratic and popular factions, and they then led to unconstitutional reforms that undermined the traditional republican foundation (typically Marius’s military and Gracchus ‘s land reform).

Learning from that, Americans have always taken reducing inequality as a top priority in their policies. Tremendous attempts have been made to maintain an appropriate volume of the middle class to reduce political disintegration and increase policy consensus.

At the same time, our founders also realized how essential it was to keep a government with limited power in order to ensure private liberty and encourage individual ‘s contribution to the economy. The means to achieve that were low taxes, and a low level of social welfare.

“Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863 – 1930): Thomas Jefferson (right), Benjamin Franklin (left), and John Adams (center) meet at Jefferson’s lodgings, on the corner of Seventh and High (Market) streets in Philadelphia, to review a draft of the Declaration of Independence. (Public Domain/United States public domain tag)

With that, America was able to stay away from the most serious cons that led to the erosion of the once-powerful Roman republic when the government grew oversized that led to the abuse of power and political and social turbulence.

Looking back, it can be said that America is the first country that succeeded in establishing a modern republic. The lasting values of the republic have created the pillars for a great America. They were the basis for the stable operation of a government as it was re-asserted in the statement by Alexander Hamilton: