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What is a Constitutional Republic?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A constitutional republic is a type of government in which there is democratic voting, but individual power is limited by the existence of a constitution that protects certain rights. In a constitutional republic, people elect representatives, and those people generally vote to make decisions or laws. The existence of a constitution makes it impossible for the representatives to create laws that violate people’s rights in certain areas. For example, there could be constitutional provisions protecting a person’s right to own property or to speak freely. The legislators would not be allowed to create laws that violate those provisions unless they changed the constitution, which usually is very difficult to do.

Constitutional Republic vs. Pure Democracy

According to governmental experts, there is a fairly big difference between a simple democracy and a constitutional republic, both in terms of form and function. In an unregulated democracy without a constitution, the majority of the population theoretically could enact tyrannical policies against any minority group. The voting majority might do things to take away individual liberty if doing so would favor the majority’s interests in some way. For example, in a pure democracy, the masses might decide to take land away from a certain group of people or limit the kinds of jobs that certain people can get. Minority groups in a pure democracy might have a difficult time convincing the majority to support issues, laws or policies that would help those who are not in the majority.

Changing the Constitution

A constitution usually can be amended and changed, but it generally requires much more than a simple majority to do so. In fact, sometimes people might have to go through extended, complicated processes to make any changes or amendments to the constitution. One of the most common purposes of a constitution is to protect individual rights, including any rights that allow individuals to express themselves politically or religiously, but rights offered in a constitutional republic can vary significantly from one culture to the next.

Checks and Balances

Another common feature of a constitutional republic is a system of governmental checks and balances. For example, there might be multiple governmental bodies or branches that have slightly different interests and focuses, and they all might oversee each other. An example would be the United States government, which has elected legislators, elected executives and judges that generally are appointed but sometimes are elected to interpret any laws that are passed and make sure that they are constitutional. All these groups generally have slightly different responsibilities and different ways of limiting each other's power.

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Discussion Comments
By Melonlity — On May 09, 2014

@Markerrag -- even if you do have a point, you have missed one important fact. Namely, the First Amendment allows for groups of citizens to come together, hire lobbyists and address our representatives directly. Lobbyists may not be popular, but they do have the right to approach representatives and advocate the positions of those that hire them. That's kind of the point of a constitutional republic -- the rights of even the unpopular are protected and citizens can't get together and deprive them of the same rights that everyone else has.

By Markerrag — On May 08, 2014

It is a misconception that the United States is a constitutional republic. That may be obvious, but it is easy to miss the significance of that.

In our constitutional republic, our interests are represented by people we elect to office. That system works pretty well, but it has been under fire with giving some people more access to those representatives than others. Yes, I'm talking about lobbyists -- people who are paid to push for the narrow interests of their handlers and don't give a hoot about what's good for the nation. That is a shame because representatives have forgotten, in a large part, about the people who put them in office.

By Logicfest — On May 07, 2014

Here's another major difference between a constitutional republic and a pure democracy -- there are no representatives in a pure democracy and that means we citizens would be called on to go vote after work. Indeed, the citizenry would be the only democratic body and would be responsible for all the laws.

Such a system is clearly unmanageable.

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