Constitution Day: 'A Republic, if You Can Keep It'
“Done … the SEVENTEENTH DAY of SEPTEMBER, in the year of our LORD one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven.”
This is the last line of the U.S. Constitution.
Signer of the Constitution James McHenry noted in his diary (American Historical Review, 1906), that after Ben Franklin left the Constitutional Convention, he was asked by Mrs. Elizabeth Powel of Philadelphia:
“Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”
Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defined “REPUBLIC”:
“exercise of the SOVEREIGN POWER is lodged in representatives elected by THE PEOPLE.”
To help explain, DEMOCRACY has come to have two definitions: one is the general concept of people ruling themselves; the other is an actual system of government.
As an actual system of government, a DEMOCRACY is where THE PEOPLE are KING ruling directly, whereas a REPUBLIC is where THE PEOPLE are KING, ruling through their representatives.
As an actual system of government, a DEMOCRACY only successfully worked on a small basis, like a Greek city-state, where every citizen went to the marketplace everyday to discuss politics.
“Politics” is from the Greek word “polis” which means “the business of the city.” The same word translated into Latin is “civics.”
“Citizen” is also contrasted with “subject.”
Kings have “subjects” who are subjected to their will.
“Citizen” is a Greek word which means co-ruler, co-sovereign, co-king. Citizens participate in ruling themselves.
Democracy, as a system of government, is limited in size, as once a city grows so large that citizens cannot come to the market everyday, control is transferred to those who carry news of what is being discussed, which can be slanted one way or another.
Republics can grow larger, as citizens spend their time taking care of their families and farms, and representatives go in their place to the market everyday to discuss politics.
A “constitutional republic” is where the representatives are limited by a set of rules approved by the citizens.
Theodore Roosevelt stated October 24, 1903:
“In no other place and at no other time has the experiment of government of the people, by the people, for the people, been tried on so vast a scale as here in our own country.”
Americans pledge allegiance to the Flag “and to the REPUBLIC for which it stands.”
Citizens are basically pledging allegiance to being in charge of themselves, exercising their authority through representatives they pick.
When someone protests the flag, what they are saying is, “I no longer want to be king … I protest this system where the people rule themselves.”
In the Roman Republic, “representatives” were hereditary positions.
The American Republic is a hybrid, where representatives are democratically elected.
Yale President Ezra Stiles stated in 1788:
“Most states of all ages … have been founded in rapacity, usurpation and injustice …
All the forms of CIVIL POLITY (government systems) have been tried by mankind, EXCEPT ONE: and that seems to have been reserved in Providence to be realized in America.”
John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, stated September 8, 1777:
“The Americans are the first people whom Heaven has favored with an opportunity of deliberating upon, and choosing the forms of government under which they should live.
All other constitutions have derived their existence from violence or accidental circumstances.”
Ronald Reagan stated in 1961:
“In this country of ours took place the greatest revolution that has ever taken place in the world’s history.
Every other revolution simply exchanged one set of rulers for another.”
Declaration signer James Wilson, who also signed the Constitution and was appointed to the Supreme Court by George Washington, remarked at Pennsylvania’s ratifying convention, November 26, 1787:
“Governments, in general, have been the result of force, of fraud, and accident.
After a period of 6,000 years has elapsed since the creation, the United States exhibit to the world the first instance … of a nation … assembling voluntarily …
and deciding calmly concerning that system of government under which they would wish that they and their posterity should live.”
John Adams wrote in his notes on Canon & Feudal Law, 1765:
“I always consider the settlement of America with reverence … as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.”
In 1802, Daniel Webster stated in a Fourth of July Oration:
“The history of the world is before us …
The civil, the social, the Christian virtues are requisite to render us worthy the continuation of that government which is the freest on earth.”
After the U.S. Constitution was written, it needed to be ratified by nine states in order to go into effect.
Eight states had ratified it, and New Hampshire was in line to be the ninth, but disagreements caused it to stall.
The Governor of New Hampshire declared a Day of Fasting.
New Hampshire reconvened its ratifying convention in June of 1788.
Harvard President Rev. Samuel Langdon gave an address which was instrumental in convincing the delegates to ratify the Constitution.
The Portsmouth Daily Evening Times, January 1, 1891, acknowledged Rev. Samuel Langdon’s influence:
“… by his voice and example he contributed more perhaps, than any other man to the favorable action of that body.”
Langdon’s address was titled “The REPUBLIC of the ISRAELITES an example to the AMERICAN STATES,” June 5, 1788.
In it, he stated:
“Instead of the twelve tribes of Israel, we may substitute the thirteen States of the American union, and see this application plainly …
That as God in the course of his kind providence hath given you an excellent Constitution of government, founded on the most rational, equitable, and liberal principles, by which all that liberty is secured …
and you are impowered to make righteous laws for promoting public order and good morals;
and as he has moreover given you by his Son Jesus Christ…a complete revelation of his will …
it will be your wisdom … to … adhere faithfully to the doctrines and commands of the gospel, and practice every public and private virtue.”
“The Israelites may be considered as a pattern to the world in all ages …
Government … on republican principles, required laws; without which it must have degenerated immediately into … absolute monarchy …
How unexampled was this quick progress of the Israelites, from abject slavery, ignorance, and almost total want of order, to a national establishment perfected in all its parts far beyond all other kingdoms and states!
From a mere mob, to a well regulated nation, under a government and laws far superior to what any other nation could boast! …”
“It was a long time after the law of Moses was given before the rest of the world knew any thing of government by law …
It was six hundred years after Moses before … Grecian republics received a very imperfect … code of laws from Lycurgus.
It was about five hundred years from the first founding of the celebrated Roman empire … before the first laws of that empire.”
After Langdon’s address, New Hampshire’s delegates voted to ratify the U.S. Constitution, thus putting it into effect.
Professors Donald S. Lutz and Charles S. Hyneman published an article in American Political Science Review, 1984, titled “The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late 18th-Century American Political Thought.”
They examined nearly 15,000 writings of the 55 writers of the U.S. Constitution, including newspaper articles, pamphlets, books and monographs, and discovered that the Bible, especially the book of Deuteronomy, contributed 34 percent of all direct quotes made by the Founders.
When indirect Bible citations were included, the percentage rose even higher.
Benjamin Franklin wrote to the Editor of the Federal Gazette, April 8, 1788 (The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Farrand’s Records, Vol. 3, CXCV, pp. 296-297; Documentary History of the Constitution, IV, 567-571):
“I beg I may not be understood to infer, that our general Convention was divinely inspired when it form’d the new federal Constitution …
yet I must own I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence,
that I can hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance to the welfare of millions now existing, and to exist in the posterity of a great nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenc’d, guided and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent Beneficent Ruler, in whom all inferior spirits live & move and have their being.”
Alexander Hamilton wrote of the Constitution in his Letters of Caesar, 1787:
“Whether the New Constitution, if adopted, will prove adequate to such desirable ends, time, the mother of events, will show.
For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which, without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.”
(Paul L. Ford, Essays on the Constitution of the United States, Historical Printing Club, Brooklyn, 1892, pg 245).
George Washington opened the Constitutional Convention, stating:
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.”
Harry S Truman wrote in his Memoirs-Volume Two: Years of Trial and Hope:
“The men who wrote the Constitution knew … that tyrannical government had come about where the powers of government were united in the hands of one man.
The system they set up was designed to prevent a demagogue or ‘a man on horseback’ from taking over the powers of government …
The most important thought expressed in our Constitution is that the power of government shall always remain limited, through the separation of powers.”
Ten days after his Inauguration, President Washington wrote to the United Baptist Churches of Virginia, May 10, 1789:
“If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed by the Convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical Society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it.”
President Washington, the same week Congress passed the Bill of Rights, declared, October 3, 1789:
“Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me
‘to recommend … a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God,
especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness’ …
I do recommend … the 26th day of November … to be devoted by the People of these United States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be …”
“That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks … for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness,
and particularly the national one now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.”
Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
“America is another name for opportunity. Our whole history appears like a last effort of Divine Providence in behalf of the human race.”
G.K. Chersterton wrote in “What is America” (What I Saw In America, 1922)::
“America is the only nation in the world that is founded on creed.
That creed is set forth … in the Declaration of Independence … that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice …
The Declaration … certainly does condemn … atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived.”
Daniel Webster stated:
“Miracles do not cluster. That which has happened but once in six thousand years, cannot be expected to happen often …
Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution of your country and the government established under it …
Such a government, once destroyed, would have a void to be filled, perhaps for centuries, with evolution and tumult, riot and despotism.”
James Madison wrote in Sept of 1829 (Writings 9:351–57):
“The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution – a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world. Woe to the ambition that would meditate the destruction of either!”
U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge stated in 1919:
“The United States is THE WORLD’S BEST HOPE …
Beware how you trifle with your marvelous inheritance … for if we stumble & fall, freedom and civilization everywhere will go down in ruin.”