“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
This warning and prophecy was uttered by one of the early patriots in the heat of the debates over the acceptance of the new and revolutionary Constitution. He could view all the history of the past, and it was apparent that no government had long endured which attempted to guarantee and preserve the rights of free men for which the Revolution had been fought.
But this very fact was the basis for the decision of the Founding fathers to limit democratic government by establishing a written Constitution. They did not establish a pure democracy, although the many principles and benefits of democracy were included. The Constitution itself says that we have a “republican form of government.” It is a representative and constitutional democracy.
In a democracy the supreme law of the land would be the will of the majority of the people for the time being. Any time that 50 percent of the people plus one determined upon a course of action, then that would be binding, and would be the expression of the sovereign will of the government.
In a democracy wherein, for the sake of efficiency and convenience, government is administered through elected representatives, then the sovereign and unalterable will of the people would be expressed by 50 per cent of the representatives plus one. This form of government is purely and simply one of majority rule.
Under such a system the passions of men would sway the exercise of sovereign functions from one pole to another. The will of the people today might not be the will of the people tomorrow. Any time the majority of the people would elect to deprive the minority of their rights, no matter how sacred, then those rights would melt away as the hoar frost. The will of the majority would be supreme.
The Constitution is a code of personal liberties of free men. “We the people” who adopted it and made it the supreme law of the land refused to do so until they had received an unalterable assurance that a Bill of Rights setting forth by name many of their inalienable rights would be made a part of it.
The people in whom all sovereign power rests ordained and established the Constitution and by it delegated certain powers to a national government. At the same time they reserved to themselves the freedoms and privileges they had fought for, and they denied their government the power to interfere in the exercise of these rights and freedoms. Hence we have freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, the right to assemble peaceably and petition the government for redress of grievances, the right to own property and to be secure in that possession, and many others.
A majority plus one cannot legally deprive any single individual of any of those rights. Nor can 60 percent of the people, nor 80 nor 90, nor all of the other people in the nation combined. The only means of infringing these rights would be to amend the supreme law of the land which is the Constitution, and delegate to the national government the power to control in an additional field.
The nature of our government is such that minorities are protected in their rights. The sovereign citizen in sparsely populated Nevada cannot have his rights trampled on by the mere weight of democratic numbers by the great state of New York.
The great problem is that of keeping alive in the breasts of free men the identity and value of the rights which are preserved to them through the Constitution. It is in time of war or other real or pretended emergencies that these rights are most easily lost. Then above all other times the people must be the guardians of the cause of liberty.
“We may well wonder in view of the precedents now established, whether constitutional government as heretofore maintained in this republic could survive another great war even victoriously waged.” These are the words of Charles Evans Hughes. The time is June of 1920. The first world war has but shortly passed.
If this warning was true a quarter of a century ago, how much more timely it ought to be to us today. The other great war has arrived, and God helping we will be victorious. But will we have in full force and bloom the inalienable rights of which we boast?
The suicide of the republican form of government will be complete if these rights are allowed to lapse. The Constitution is the bulwark upholding them. If they are preserved to us and our posterity it will be because that document is held inviolate. It will be because the sovereign American citizen refuses to permit the circumvention of the supreme law of the land.
which appeared on the editorial page (page 4) of
The Deseret News, 19 March 1945 through 10 April 1945.