While recounted innumerable times, this story has not escaped revisionism. Former Senator Tom Daschle’s version to Harvard Law School students a few years ago informed them that Mr. Franklin told her “a democracy, if you can keep it.”
That distinction is profound and noteworthy. Democracy is an approach to governing that entails participation by all citizens, but with many varied systems. According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, “republic” refers to the specific form of government of “a state or nation in which the supreme power rests in all the citizens entitled to vote (the electorate) and is exercised by representatives elected, directly or indirectly, by them and responsible to them”.The inception of this form of federal governance transcended the disunity in the Confederation of States, as stated in Article. IV. Section. 4. of the U.S. Constitution. “The United States shall guarantee every State in this Union a Republican form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and…against Domestic Violence.”
The delegates representing the semi-autonomous states thus united around their common goals:
- To form a more perfect Union
- Establish Justice
- Insure Domestic Tranquility
- Provide for the common defense
- Promote the general Welfare [and]
- Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity
Their facilitating document to achieve these and the balance of unity among the States commences in the Preamble with,
“We the People of the United States…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The ensuing text structures a nation governed by the people under the rule of law.
What was the common denominator that transcended their differences? All agreed on the foundation laid in the Declaration of Independence—
“…that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”
Unique among governing documents, the individual’s rights are recognized as God-given and irrevocable, with governance through the consent of the governed.
By contrast, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, whose foundation is “to practice tolerance and to live in peace” and “to unite our strength”, confers or withholds the rights of the governed through human endowment, being predicated on superior force. The more recent European Union Constitution specifically articulates this contrast through its deliberate omission of Europe’s considerable religious heritage which shaped Western Civilization as we know it. Rejected by citizen votes of several member states, the EU Constitution was nonetheless preemptively adapted by “consensus” in the EU Commission, the EU executive body.
Besides recognizing God-endowed unalienable individual rights, the Founders’ genius lay in their political frame of reference. It far surpasses measuring people and issues in terms of vacillating political parties and platform statements. They perceived government as a system of ruling or controlling whose extremes were tyranny--“Ruler’s law” or top-down absolute power--at one end; and anarchy--“no law” or chaos--at the other end of the spectrum. At the balanced center lies “all power in the people”. Drawn upon Anglo-Saxon Common Law and the People’s Law of Ancient Israel, the power base rests in the individual. Equally repelled by the monarchy rejected in the War for Independence, and anarchy in the loosely-affiliated Confederation of States, the Founders determined the balanced center affirming the power of the individuals at the local level with their own elected representative voice at successively higher levels of limited government, ingeniously structured in a tripartite system of checks and balances.
The Record of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 notes Benjamin Franklin’s difficulty in discerning whether the sun motif on the back of the Presidents Chair was rising or setting, until the signing of the newly-drafted Constitution, when he stated,
“…I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.”
What would Mr. Franklin’s response be with our present republic? Ronald M. Mann, Deputy Director of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, believes that Mr. Franklin would say, “It depicts a setting sun!”
We have not followed the admonition of our Founding Fathers.
“A people must from time to time, refresh themselves at the well-spring of their origin, lest they perish.” (an adage)
We have not assigned the maintaining of our Freedom a high priority.
“A frequent recurrence of the constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantage of liberty, and to maintain a free government.” (Massachusetts Bill of Rights, 1780)
We have allowed the mortal enemies of freedom to dominate the debate.
“Though, when a people shall have become incapable of governing themselves and fit for a master, it is of little consequence from what quarter he comes.” (G. Washington, Letter to Lafayette, 1788)
We have elected some of the most undesirable persons to high office.
“Effective resistance to usurpers is possible only provided the citizens understand their rights and are disposed to defend them.” (The Federalist, No. 28, Alexander Hamilton)
We have evicted “Providence” from our counsels, schools, courts, and assemblies.
“From the day of the Declaration…they [the American people] were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of the gospel, which they nearly all acknowledged as the rules of their conduct.” (John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, Oration celebrating July 4th 1821)" *
Will we confront this challenge? Or will the sun set with our generation? What will be our valuation of this unique and priceless freedom we inherited? Time is short to ponder the cost.
Consider Daniel Webster’s sober assessment before the twilight fades into darkness:
“Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and the Republic for which it stands…for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world.”
A Setting Sun? by Marilyn Taylor
* [Quoted from “The Challenge” by Ronald M. Mann, Deputy Director, Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution in The 5,000 Year Leap: The 28 Great Ideas That Changed the World by W. Cleon Skoussen, 1981, Seventh Printing, June 2006, page xviii.]
- Articles In This Category
- Related Articles
- Latest Articles
- Most Read Articles
Most Read Articles