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View of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., circa 1800.

While revolution was necessary to reinvent the American system of government to best meet the needs of Americans, another key element was necessary. The early Americans realized that “[p]eace is seldom made, and never kept, unless the subject retain such a power in his hands as may oblige the prince to stand to what is agreed.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 24 quoting Foster, Short Essay on Civil Government, 29-30.

Americans “authorized their rulers to make and to execute laws to govern them, but ‘always provided they retain a right and power to choose a sufficient number from among themselves, to be a representative body of the whole people . . . to have a voice in the making of all such laws, . . . and in the management of all the most weighty concerns of the state.'” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 24 quoting John Adams, “Novanglus,” Adams, ed., Works of John Adams, IV, 80; see also Mather, America’s Appeal, 48.

This instrument of representation was views as a “barrier of our liberties and properties, our own consent; and there remains no security against tyranny and absolute despotism.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 24 quoting John Adams, “Novanglus,” Adams, ed., Works of John Adams, IV, 80; see also Mather, America’s Appeal, 48.

Alexander Hamilton, among others, believed that there was a right “to a share in the government,” and it was necessary for “the liberty of the people” to be “exactly proportioned to the share [of] the body of the people . . . in the legislature; and the check placed in the constitution, on the executive power.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 24 quoting Alexander Hamilton, A Second Letter from Phocion, (N.Y. 1784), in Syrett and Cooke, eds., Hamilton Papers, III, 545; Price, Observations on Civil Liberty, 3; see also Benjamin Church, An Oration Delivered March Fifth, 1773, (Boston, 1773), in Niles, ed., Principles, 35-36.

The representative nature of government is one of the most crucial aspects of the American system. It ensures an accountability of elected officials that would otherwise not exist, and it also captures a responsiveness in government to the passions and prejudices of the American people.

More than that, as Hamilton explained, representation ensured that all Americans had a share in their government. This would bring an accompanying sense of obligation in participating in the government’s actions. Not only would American feel an obligation to keep their government responsibly operating, but Americans would also feel a collective sense of obligation of learning the issues and policies that affect them and their compatriots.

Quantifying the effects of having a representative government is difficult. Knowing how America would operate without the representative nature is nearly impossible to imagine, as it forms the basis for the direction of the country in so many facets. Separating the effects of a representative system from the effects of other key characteristics of the American government is a Herculean task.

Ultimately, the essence of the representative government in America has opened the door for America to have a fully functioning, robust democracy that is responsive to its people. In that way, the system has ensured that each person has a share in the government, even if the share is quite small.

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