is common to hear people say that the United States was not meant to be a
democracy but a republic. But what does that mean? Perhaps nothing very
specific in many cases. But the Constitution tells us that the “United States
shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government….”
(Article IV, Section 4) , and we would do
well to suppose that the Framers meant something specific by the term.
can’t look to the federal courts for clarification, since the U.S. Supreme
Court in 1849 “established the doctrine that questions arising under” that
section of the Constitution “are political, not judicial, in character and that
‘it rests with Congress to decide what government is the established one in a
State . . . as well as its republican character.’”  But similar
language “was contained in the Virginia Plan introduced in the [Constitutional]
Convention and was obviously attributable to [James] Madison.” 
So, what did James Madison mean by the term “republican”? In Federalist 14, he wrote that “in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.” 
Thus, in the United States, we have a republic if we use the terminology of Madison or Montesquieu. But the pertinent question, is whether we have, using Montesquieu’s terms, a democracy or an aristocracy.
At first, we undoubtedly had an aristocracy. Only white men with property could vote. And there were slaves to boot. Since that time, we have been moving in the direction of a democracy, and we now have, purportedly, universal suffrage. I say “purportedly,” because there have been continuing efforts to suppress the voting rights of black people down through the years up until today.