Types of Government – Republic vs. Democracy vs. Oligarchy

When Benjamin Franklin exited the Constitutional convention, he was asked by a woman, “Sir, what did you give us?”

Franklin replied, “A Republic, ma’am, if you can keep it.”

So the basic forms of government are:

(1) Monarchy or Dictatorship – rule by one

(2) Oligarchy – rule by a few

(3) Democracy – rule by a majority

(4) Republic – rule by law

(5) Anarchy – rule by no one

The word “Democracy” comes from two Greek words: Demos – meaning “people”, and Kratin – meaning “to rule.” Democracy thus means, “The Rule of the People” – Majority Rule. This, of course, sounds good, but what if the majority wants to take away one’s home, or business, or children? Obviously, there has to be a limit. The law in a Democracy is that the majority isn’t restrained. If more than half the people can be persuaded to want something in a democracy, they rule.

Republic comes from Latin. Res meaning “Thing”, and Publica meaning “Public.” It means “Public Thing” – The Law. A true Republic is one where the government is limited by law, leaving the people alone.

The Founding Fathers had a clean slate to write on. They could have set up an Oligarchy. In fact, there were some who wanted George Washington to be their king. But the Founding Fathers knew history, and they chose to give us the Rule of Law in a republic, not the rule of the majority in a Democracy.


Let’s demonstrate the difference in the settling of the Old West. Consider a lynch mob in a democracy: 35 horseback riders chase one lone gunman. They catch him. They vote 35 to 1 to hang him. Democracy has triumphed, and there is one less gunman to deal with.

Now, consider the same scenario in a Republic. The 35 riders catch the gunman and vote 35 to 1 to hang him, but the sheriff arrives and says, “You can’t kill him. He has a right to a fair trial.” So they take the gunman back to town. A jury of his peers is selected and hears the evidence and the defense and they decide if he should hang. Does the jury even decide by majority rule? No. It must be unanimous or the accused goes free. The rights of the government aren’t subject to majority rule – but to the law.

This is the essence of a Republic.

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