HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Professor of Public Policy, HKS; James Bryant Conant University Professor, FAS


Many commentators have made the careful distinction that the United States is a “republic,” not a “democracy.” Drawing on a longstanding and ongoing debate about these terms, this essay contextualizes the presumed opposition between “republic” and “democracy” in Revolutionary-era writings by John Adams, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and other founders (including in particular lesser-read numbers of The Federalist Papers). As this evidence reveals, the problem was not so much whether to designate the new nation as a “democracy” or a “republic,” though this remains a widely held belief. Rather, the question was—and is—how to enact a commitment to a government where sovereignty resides in the people.


Allen, Danielle. "Democracy versus Republic." Democracies in America: Keywords for the 19th Century and Today. Ed. D. Berton Emerson and Gregory Laski. Oxford University Press, 2023, 17-23.