Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained

The True Meaning of Democracy

Reading Room: Chapter 12 Summary

The Struggle Continues: Democracy vs. Republicanism

“… So spake the false dissembler unperceived;
For neither man nor angel can discern
Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks
Invisible …”

In 1790, under pressure from the United States Congress organized under the new, national oligarchy, Pennsylvania produced a constitution which mimicked in many ways the Federal example and just about undid everything that had been democratic about its government. But the democratic spirit did not die away. For the next decade the Pennsylvania democrats fought against oligarchic interests.

The democratic cause was taken up in Philadelphia by a newspaper known as, the Aurora. The paper was edited by Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson to Benjamin Franklin. The Aurora was outspoken in its opposition to Federalists policies under John Adams. Adams’ response was the Alien and Sedition Act whose primary purpose was to silence Bache and his paper.

In 1798, Aurora editor, Benjamin Franklin Bache died of yellow fever. William Duane, his assistant editor, married Bache’s widow, and assumed full responsibility for the Aurora. He was even more outspoken then Bache had been. He spoke against the European kind of society where the many labored to support the needs of the view. He spoke for those who wanted a society in which the many governed, not the aristocratic few.

In response, there emerged another political voice in Pennsylvania, a voice more moderate, less aroused, less impassioned but no less determined. This voice spoke for a different set of interests and had its own journal—The Freeman’s Journal—just as the Philadelphia democrats had the Aurora. This opposition party was known as the Quids.

The Quids spoke the language of democracy while advancing a program that would erode the very conditions necessary for it to thrive. They gave the word the meaning it has had ever since. What they did was to take the word “democracy” and link it with the word “republic,” by which they meant representative government, an aristocracy of “the wise and virtuous,” essentially substituting one word for the other without actually appearing to do so. With the word republic, all discussion of the common good, accountability, impeachment of the judiciary,  proper legislation disappear from the conversation. In essence, the content is excised from the political dialogue. Democracy becomes a “cultural style,” instead of a political program.