Archived Opinion

Our republic’s future depends on virtue

Our republic’s future depends on virtue

To the Editor:

I’m beginning to understand what Benjamin Franklin meant when encountering a woman on the street following the constitutional convention. “Mr. Franklin, what have you bequeathed us?”  His reply: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Let us be united in interpreting what we’re talking about. A republic (according to the dictionary) is “a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.” Similarly, a democracy is “government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.”

We have, over time, developed and made work a republican (small “r”) form of government. Remarkably, a handful of men, in a country of less than four million people, had the skills, wisdom and insight to debate and create a system with the capacity to lead the world.

Underneath it all, what Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and others instinctively realized and what prompted Franklin’s remark was the belief that the ultimate success of their new republic rested on the willingness of its people to do the right thing.

A key element of the framer’s conviction was that virtue had to be part and parcel of republican government. More than just good moral standing, honesty and integrity, they further believed virtue involved (as expressed by former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton) “a sense of civic self-sacrifice and the ability to overcome self-interest and act for the benefit of the broader community.” The early framers unequivocally expected that extraordinary level of virtue and not just in political leaders but in citizens themselves.

These principled and unconditional doctrines allowed the framers (without doubts or misgivings) and “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,” to “mutually pledge to each other their Lives, Fortunes, and sacred Honor.”

As incongruous as it may seem, they made that solemn pledge with the clear understanding and recognition that the whole thing would undoubtedly fail if the people lacked the capacity to make it work.

Many Americans appear to have lost trust in government and in one another. If we regard the violent, deadly, shameless attack on our Capitol on Jan. 6 by our own people a measure of our ability to make our republic work, I would say we have fallen significantly short of the framer’s expectations.

Is it too far-fetched to conclude therefore, that if the framers were alive today, having witnessed recent events (including the shameful participation of a president), that they would look upon many of our choices of leaders as conspicuously not in the best interests of preserving our democracy or republic but indisputably endangering both?

It is imperative we look back and remember that everything depends on us; our children’s future, our way of life, our survival ... everything.

David L. Snell  

Franklin

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