Upon leaving the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what form of government the United States was going to have. Franklin answered: "A Republic, if you can keep it.". He did not say that Americans were given a pure democracy, yet people today have always assumed that the United states is, and always has been, a pure democracy. A democracy does not simply mean the right to vote, freedom of speech, or equality under the law; it is something that arises from oligarchy as the greek philosopher Plato would describe it. A pure democracy values liberty above all else, and where you have liberty, it is plain that everyone will regulate their own method of life however they please; a republic, which is what we were intended to be, would allow Americans to have power through representatives. Many nations vote for their leaders, even nations ruled by empires have the right to vote. That is what makes a republic different from a democracy.
So where does this democracy idea come from? It has two aspects. On the positive side, democracy calls for the involvement of the people (demos) in determining their government, an idea best expressed in the concept of the “consent of the governed” which is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. The American Founding Fathers recognized the validity of that concept, and the need for a process of education to make that an informed consent. But when democracy is defined as simply a government based on the “will of the people,” it represents the very antithesis of a republic. Popular will is a matter of public opinion, which can be manipulated and changed like the wind, based on the momentary, often based emotions of the population. From Plato onward, republicans understood democracy of this sort as a pathway to tyranny, because the cacophony of “my opinion” will lead to chaos, and the demand for imposed order.
Jackson successfully “Democratized” politics. From his “common man” appeal, to his media propaganda, to his spoils system, he was able to manipulate popular opinion. As historian Marvin Myers has observed, “Jacksonian strategists succeeded in developing a ‘language of democracy’ that was instrumental in strengthening and maintaining the president’s popular appeal throughout a stormy political career”. This political process is what we call today, “modern politics” and is a reason why the myth that America is and has been a democracy continues. With ownership and wealth falling into fewer hands, what would be the ultimate effect of big business on American so-called democracy? A few tycoons possessed huge fortunes and commanded such influence even on Congress and the courts. “The crushing of the Pullman strike demonstrated the power of the courts... and the courts seemed only concerned with protecting the interests of the rich and powerful. This power held within big businesses, along with the ideas of Social Darwinism which became a prevailing force in American thought, both show signs of what Plato would have predicted as a democratic regime turned despotic. Andrew Carnegie reflects both of these things when he states, “Is there not growing up among us [wealthy men] who have all the power without any of the virtues of aristocracy...and this wealth, passing through the hands of the few, can