After having watched most of both the Republican and Democratic Party conventions, I could not help but be reminded of this reality: The real strength of the American experiment is the power to change what we are and were.
The following anecdote has been reported as occurring in a variety of ways. My favorite is the version found in an excellent book by Michael Novak (“On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense of the American Founding”): “At the banquet to celebrate the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a Philadelphia matron rushed toward its most senior delegate: “Oh, Mr. Franklin,” she gushed, “What have you gentlemen wrought after so many weeks of secrecy behind those thick doors?” Franklin is said to have adjusted his glasses before offering his famous retort, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”
“A republic”… “We, the people.”
The future of the American republic does not lie in the hands of some rogue dictator, hostile army or our public servants. And the danger lies not without, but within.
A republic requires elected representatives who are sent (by us) to carry out the will of an informed electorate who have made intelligent decisions, based on facts (the purpose of a free press) regarding their future.
The right to vote, the power to participate in the decisions that will affect one’s life, is a right guaranteed to every American citizen by the Constitution.
“… if you can keep it.”
You may recall the words of John Adams: “We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … [O]ur Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Let me also interject something extremely important here: It must be remembered that the Founders, in any reference to religion or religious people were referring specifically to the concepts found in the Judeo-Christian Bible, not other forms of worship or behavior. They stated, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights …”
We, as the beneficiaries of the liberties guaranteed by this Constitution, must keep another truth firmly fixed in mind. The Founders were extremely aware of the shortcomings of kings and tyrants, as they had suffered greatly under such and knew how quickly a monarch could override individual rights.
George Washington, James Madison, John Adams and other Founders, as they contemplated how to best govern a religious and moral people, were perhaps influenced by a Scottish historian, Sir A.F. Tytler, who warned: A democracy … can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits …” (Sound familiar?) with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy. …”
James Madison, in his paper Federalist No. 14, offered a solution: “… the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe … the design of a great Confederacy which it is incumbent on their successors to improve and perpetuate.”
Who are those successors? (Got a mirror handy?) Their successors are “We, the people.” Yes, I’m talking about you. It is our – not the politicians’ – continuing responsibility and our challenge to improve and perpetuate this “great Confederacy” called the United States of America.
“We, the People” must ensure 1) our elected representatives are not hearing the siren calls of the special interest groups, and 2) the even more solemn duty that “We, the People” do not ourselves become special interest groups sitting around demanding “largess from the public treasury.”
It couldn’t be that the Founders expected us – “We, the People” – to be responsible for maintaining these rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” could it?
Nah, that’s “the government’s” job.