“A Republic, If You Can Keep It”
by Dave Coleman
At the close of the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what type of government the Constitution was bringing into existence. Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
What allows the kind of excesses that drive conservatives and libertarians mad is the fact that most Americans don’t know what the heck Ben Franklin was talking about.
Most Americans today think that “republic” is simply another name for “democracy”.
Not so. The difference between a republic and a democracy lies in the ultimate source of official power. A republic gets its authority from a charter – in America’s case, a Constitution.
The Constitution places limits on both the government and the governed that no referendum can undo without first amending the Constitution. Amending the Constitution requires 2/3s of states (no voters) to accomplish.
The Founders knew the difference between a Republic and a democracy. That is why they chose a republic.
There is but one kind of republic, since a republic is constituted according to the rule of law, rather than the whims of either the government or the governed.
Democracy (from the Greek, “demos=mob” and “kratos=rule”) comes in many forms. A direct democracy is one which is ruled entirely and directly by the people; to decide on an issue, the question is put to the vote of the population and the majority of those votes determine the outcome.
Benjamin Franklin explained the threat democracy poses to liberty thusly: "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!"
In a representative democracy, citizens elect people to represent their interests in the government, and these representatives determine how issues are decided.
In a republic, people may vote for their representatives, but the state’s responsibilities are limited because they are clearly bound by a charter. Freedom is realized by the willingness of the people to live by the dictates of the charter.
The republic’s charter -- in America’s case, the Constitution – is what protects and guarantees the individual’s rights.
The Declaration of Independence spells out the guarantor of those rights, which is why those who wrongly believe America is a direct democracy and those who would like to change America into a direct democracy hate the preamble so much.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. . . .”
The Founders elected to make God the Guarantor of American civil liberties because what the Creator endows, government cannot take away. Unless the Creator is a myth. If the Creator is a myth, so are your God-given rights. The government then has authority over them as a matter of course.
Founding Father Patrick Henry’s observation has been amply proved over the past half century: "It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains."
When America was truly a Republic, the United States was a society in which people could, by and large, engage in any occupation or economic enterprise without a government license, permit, or regulation.
When America was truly a Republic, people could accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth without government interference, because the Constitution did not permit the government to levy taxes on income.
When America was a republic, the government was not permitted to take care of people — no Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, education grants, or foreign aid. America was compassionate, but every citizen was expected to pull his own weight. Charity was the province of the family or the church. It was not the responsibility of government.
The Founders understood that once the government got into the charity business, a significant segment of the population would shift their dependence from family and faith to government handouts.
That would empower the government with the ability to introduce practically anything they wanted by saying that opposing it might threaten Social Security, welfare, unemployment insurance, or, as is currently being debated, health care.
The Obama White House wants health care because threatening Social Security only scares seniors. Threatening welfare only scares that segment of the population that depends on their monthly check. Threatening unemployment insurance only scares the unemployed.
But EVERYBODY needs health care. And if the only place to get it is through the government, then a threat to universal health care would scare everybody.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Charles Yancey in 1816; "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
A recent study of 1000 Oklahoma high school students found that only 3 percent would be able to pass the U.S. Immigration Services' citizenship exam, while incredibly 93 percent of those from foreign countries who took the same test passed.
Only 28 percent of Oklahoma students could name the "supreme law of the land" (the Constitution), while even less could identify Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence.
Barely one out of every four students knew that George Washington was the nation's first president. None of the students correctly answered 8 or more of the 10 questions, and 97 percent scored 50 percent or less.
The problem is not limited to Oklahoma students. It's a national problem.
A similar study in Arizona found that only 3.5 percent of public high school students would be able to pass the citizenship test. A survey of American adults by the American Civic Literacy Program resulted in some equally disheartening findings.
Seventy-one percent failed the test. Moreover, having a college education does very little to increase civic knowledge, as demonstrated by the abysmal 32 percent pass rate of people holding not just a bachelor's degree but some sort of graduate-level degree.
The Founders understood that the only way to guarantee that freedom would survive in the new republic was through an informed citizenry — one educated on basic rights and freedoms.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education."
Jefferson also recognized that "[the People] are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."
But survey after survey proves that most Americans are constitutionally illiterate, and our young people are not much better. Despite the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on education, American schools do a terrible job of teaching the basic freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
That’s by design. If Americans don’t understand how their government works, they won’t be able to tell when it is broken. The idea is for it to be so beyond repair as to require a ‘do-over.’
That is one of the reasons that the Obama administration has gone after FoxNews with such venom. This isn’t a defense of FoxNews – if they need defending, they are quite capable of defending themselves on their own.
This is an observation about the state of American government, not FoxNews.
Controlling the news is the first step along the road to totalitarianism. The Democrats control MSNBC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and strongly influence ABC. Fox is the only outlet Obama doesn’t dictate terms to – and so Fox has become an obsession.
Obama has declared FoxNews off-limits to all senior members of his administration, clearly hoping that by shutting FoxNews out, the administration will be more able to control the debate.
Here is the difference between a democracy and a republic. The Palestinian Authority is a democracy. Hamas was elected by a democratic election in Gaza. Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela via a democratic election.
Al Gore was ALMOST elected via a democratic election when the Supreme Court stepped in to enforce the Constitution’s Electoral College system.
That’s the difference. America is still, at least marginally, a republic. But whether or not we can keep it is another question altogether.