What’s a Republic?

I have been poking around in The Federalist Papers recently. Written between October 1787 and August 1788, they are “a collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution.” Fascinating stuff. (The complete collection is here at the Library of Congress.) Here’s a bit from James Madison, Federalist, no. 39, on the matter of what a republic is:

. . . we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behaviour. It is essential to such a government, that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honorable title of republic.

Let’s remember that this was written around 1788. That over 225 years ago!

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