Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"A Republic, If You Can Keep It"

When Benjamin Franklin emerged from the The Constitutional Convention that convened from May 25 to September 17, 1787 to address the problems facing the post Revolutionary War America he was asked by a passerby what was the outcome of the assembly. Franklin responded, “it’s a Republic, if you can keep it.”

The great American government created by those men in 1787 was not anything akin to the current or past governments of the world. It was not just a democracy, it was a republic, and there in lies an important distinction.

The best source on the meaning of the Constitution and the authority on the government created by the Founders is a collection of essays written in 1787 to the average American, posted in the newspapers of the day. These essays were written under the pseudonym of Publius by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

The essays were written in explanatory defense of the newly drafted Constitution because a group of people, known as anti-Federalist, opposed the creation of a centralized government were giving speeches and writing articles which caused the Federalists to compose and publish the essays in defense of the Constitution. The Constitution required ratification by the States. Therefore the Federalists essays were an apologetic, a defense for this Constitutional Republic form of Government. Today these documents are compiled into one book entitled The Federalist Papers.

It is very clear in the Federalist Papers that the American government was designed not to mirror the Democracy of the Greeks. They had great concern that such a government would be detrimental to America. Moreover, they discuss with brevity the various nations using the term “Republic” or “Democracy” with ill regard to the actual meaning of the terms. They illustrate that no government exists which accurately exemplifies what they have in mind to create for America. While the Greeks were a pattern of democracy and England a form of a representative government, neither nation truly modeled a real Republic.

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