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A Republic, if You Can Keep It

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

This Thursday, September 17th, 2009, will be the 222nd anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution. We have come a long way as a nation in that time, but have we gone the way our founding fathers intended us to go?

In his farewell address as the first and arguably the greatest President of the United States, George Washington made many references to our nation preserving its liberty by not becoming too entangled in foreign affairs.

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Washington had endured a serious conflict as our nation’s first President. France and Britain were trying to convince the new nation to take a side in their long-contested war. So tense was this conflict that Thomas Jefferson, a supporter of France, resigned as Washington’s Secretary of State when Alexander Hamilton, a supporter of Britain, convinced Washington to sign on to the creation of a central bank.

Washington’s farewell speech was forward looking. He spoke of the dangers of our nation’s foreign entanglements, which could result in our government’s policies being influenced by foreign affairs and not the nation’s domestic needs. Washington’s warning held somewhat steady until the beginning of the 20th Century. Beginning with World War I and then continuing with World War II, the United States became a major player in the world’s affairs and has not looked back since.

Washington believed we could not truly be a free people if we allowed foreign affairs to be on an equal footing with domestic affairs. Washington was not a protectionist. He actually argued for free trade as he wrapped up his farewell speech. Washington was simply concerned that our nation would neglect the freedoms and liberties of our people if we let the opinions of foreign nations dictate our public policies.

America has seemed to stray from the founder’s vision on foreign affairs over the last century. America has strayed from the founder’s vision on domestic policy as well.

In 1913, the Congress of the United States passed the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment then went to the legislatures of the states for ratification. The 17th Amendment took the power to appoint US Senators away from the state legislatures and allowed for the direct election of Senators.

On the surface, this seems like a fair policy. A closer look, however, shows that the balance of powers between the US Senate and the US House has been eliminated. By making the Senate a mirror image of the House, the Senate no longer has the ability to look out for the best interests of the states. Federalism, which limits the power of the Congress to federal matters and allows the states to have greater independence, has been dealt a serious blow.

Furthermore, the states have little to no recourse when the over arching arm of the federal government dictates the affairs of the states. That is precisely what has occurred these last 96 years.

Prior to the 17th Amendment, Senators looked out for the concerns of their own states. This was a Republican body of legislators that kept the US House, a Democratic body of legislators in check. For the last 96 years, we have operated more like a Democracy, not a Constitutional Republic as our founding fathers intended.

James Madison, known as the father of the United States Constitution to many historians, had this to say about the dangers of Democracy in the Federalist Papers (Federalist Number 10):

“Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Listen to what John Adams had to say about Democracy:

“Democracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man’s life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure..."

Democracy is supposed to be about equality, but since it is rule by a majority, it does not take much for a majority of bad ideas to rule the day.

Thomas Jefferson had this to say about the failure of a Democracy:

“A Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”

Now listen to what Ben Franklin had to say about a Democracy:

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!"

Again, listen to John Adams on Democracy:

“Remember, Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a Democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Only in a more Democratic government could the majority of people elect a highly unqualified president that spends more money than all previous presidential administrations combined. Only a Democracy can lead to Congressional bailout after bailout to supposedly fix the institutions that the same government damaged in the first place.

Only in a Democracy could a majority of people cry for “change” and see the auto industry, the banking industry and quite possibly the health care industry be run by the federal government -- all at the expense of our currency and a runaway deficit that has seemed to have crossed the point of no return.

This year, Gary Demar, in his publication: Whoever Controls the Schools Rules the World (American Vision: Powder Springs, GA, 2009,102), quoted Alexander Fraser Tyler, a professor in Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1800’s. Tyler, who also went by the alias of Lord Woodhouselee, had this to say about the failure of Democracy (Elements of General History: Ancient and Modern. Oliver and Boyd, 1870):

"A Democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A Democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every Democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a dictatorship."

In 1787, at the close of the Constitutional Convention, on the final day of deliberation, someone asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government our founders created. Franklin said, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Franklin and the other founders knew that a Republic, which is rule by law, specifically the US Constitution, is the only way to provide the check and balance necessary to protect us from the “mob rule” of which Jefferson spoke. It is a Republic that we have strayed from for all these years, both on the foreign and domestic fronts. It is only a Republican form of government that can save our nation from falling apart.

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