The story is often told that at the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, Mrs. Powell asked Benjamin Franklin as he emerged from the convention, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic, if you can keep it.”, responded Franklin.
More than two hundred and twenty years later, we still have many freedoms for which to be thankful. The blessings of liberty we have enjoyed due to the republic our forefathers designed have been envied by people all over the rest of the world, who have often risked life and limb to reach our shores and experience them.
The form of government that resulted from the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, and the Constitution was unlike any seen before it and reflected the strongly-held beliefs of the American Revolutionaries.
Today, the terms “republic” and “democracy” are unfortunately used interchangeably by many Americans. For the founding generation, however, the word “republic” had a significant meaning. It stood in stark contrast to a pure democracy, where the majority dictated laws and rights. The American Republic required strict limits on government power to protect the rights of both the majority and the minority, and those powers allowed were specifically defined and delegated by the people, who ensured public officials be obligated by oath to uphold the Constitution. The purpose of federalism was to prevent the concentration of power in a central government and was a crucial element in the new Republic.
But over the years, the federal government was allowed to shake off the chains of the Constitution, with the result that there is now virtually no area where it does not seek to reach into our lives. From forcing every American to either purchase health insurance or answer to the IRS, to searching our private emails and listening to our phone calls without warrants, to spending unprecedented amounts of our hard-earned money while simultaneously destroying the value of the dollar, the concentration of power we see in Washington has become a gross distortion of what the Founders envisioned.
But there is good news.
The message is spreading that this isn’t the way things were meant to be – that something is fundamentally wrong with the direction our country is headed. More than any other group, young people on college campuses all across the country are realizing this, as evidenced by their growing reception to the principles of sound money and rejection of Keynesianism’s faith in reckless spending. The future is in their hands, and they are ready for true change.
Ordinary citizens once disengaged from the political process have become passionate grassroots activists, shaking up the establishment and energizing the American spirit of freedom. Disenchantment with the federal government has led to a populist revolt that many predict could result in a shift in Congress similar to what took place in 1994.
Outside of Washington, a growing number of states are finally beginning to reassert their sovereignty by challenging the overreach of the federal behemoth. A proper understanding of the states’ relationship to the federal government is crucial if we are to restore the Republic, but we know that Washington will not easily relinquish its usurped powers.
It will take a firm commitment and unshakeable determination on the part of each American who loves liberty to remain vigilant in the pursuit and protection of it. Moving us back toward our core principles of freedom and individual responsibility must be the goal.
In the midst of some of the greatest challenges our nation has ever faced, the torch of liberty that lit the way for our Founders is still shining brightly in the hearts of those who are committed to keeping the Republic they entrusted to us.