Demagogues & Democracy

Dr. Merritt’s research on the interface of demagogues and democracy began in January 2018 at Vanderbilt University, where over a two-year period he served as a visiting scholar in three departments: Department of History, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and the Center For Biomedical Ethics and Society. He pursued research and writing on this interdisciplinary topic concurrent with research for his book Disunion Among Ourselves, a political history of the American Revolution. 


His publications on demagogues & democracy include: 


Alexander Hamilton Would Have Led the Charge to Oust Donald Trump (Los Angeles Times, 2020). Published at the height of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump in the Senate, this op-ed tells the history of Alexander Hamilton's campaign in early 1801 to defeat a demagogue, Aaron Burr, and instead elect his political arch-rival, Thomas Jefferson, as president of the United States. Hamilton deplored Jefferson's policies but believed he, unlike Burr, was dedicated to the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law. Burr, he said, who was “deficient in honesty” and “one of the most unprincipled men in the UStates,” would “disturb our institutions” and be governed by a singular principle — “to get power by any means and to keep it by all means.”​ Read More


Why Demagogues Were the Founding Fathers' Greatest Fears (Los Angeles Times, 2019). Subsequently published by twenty-two other newspapers, this op-ed reveals that the founders self-consciously drafted the Constitution to be a bulwark against demagogues gaining power in the federal government. As Hamilton put it in Federalist No. 1: “History will teach us that ... of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.” Read More


The Constitution Must Be Our ‘Political Religion’: Remembering Lincoln’s Words (Seattle Times, 2019). Classically intelligent, as well as emotionally intelligent, Lincoln warned in 1838 that if Americans tolerate demagoguery and a “mobocratic spirit” to overtake the rule of law, a fatal contagion would set in. The People would lose faith in democracy and the Constitution, leading to a descent into anarchy. When this happened, Lincoln said, a demoralized and pessimistic people, no longer feeling themselves protected by the laws, would relinquish their “attachment” to democractic government and turn instead to a Napoleon or Caesar for rescue and salvation. Read More

© 2019 Eli Merritt