"A Republic, if you can keep it."
by Dr. Earl Taylor, Jr., National Center for Constitutional Studies
Most of us are acquainted with the remark by Benjamin Franklin as recorded in the notes of James McHenry, a delegate from Maryland, when Franklin was asked by a lady after the Constitutional Convention ended, "Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy?" "A republic," replied the Doctor, "if you can keep it."
What Franklin was no doubt referring to was the delicate and time consuming nature of the precious, freedom-preserving document they had just painstakingly authored, and the knowledge he had that it would take a constantly enlightened people to preserve it. Otherwise it would quickly fall into the other forms of government that history shows always results when a people let themselves be governed by the whims of men.
During his life of 81 years, Benjamin Franklin became a master student of human tendency throughout history. He understood what might be termed the "Pride Cycle." It follows these steps:
When people have real equality and freedom, which he felt this Constitution would provide, they always become prosperous, which is a blessing God always bestows upon a righteous people.
Over time, people tend to lose sight of the Godly source of their prosperity. This leads to class distinction driven by pride and arrogance. This is fueled by strife between the haves and the have-nots. The Fatherhood of God and the equal brotherhood of man are forgotten.
As internal contention and difficulties arise, less attention is paid to external challenges which brings wars from without and faltering economies and famines within, all leading to the demand for a leader with monarchial powers to "fix" it all. This leader usually gains more power by promising more to the "have-nots" who envy the "haves" and who become more numerous and politically powerful.
All these monarchial leaders know to do is to build a stronger bureaucracy with more and more centralized control over the people. Of course, to retain power, they promise more and more gifts to the growing class of poor who keep electing them to power.
Because of heavy government control and taxation, individual initiative falters and the economy produces less and less. In an attempt to keep the gifts flowing, the master-minds incur huge debts which cannot be paid back and eventually the whole economy collapses under the weight of regulation and debt. Chaos ensues, and, if the people are not conquered by a foreign enemy, the central government breaks apart and law and order breaks down. People are left to survive with what they have saved up during the good times. Hopefully, enough law and order can be had on a local level to provide some protection.
When the people have been sufficiently humbled again, maybe they will begin to remember the prosperity, freedom, and peace they enjoyed before and take steps to, once again, reestablish Constitutional freedom. As with all such attempts it will, no doubt, take the shedding of blood to restore.
Benjamin Franklin seemed to sense these patterns of human nature when, during the Constitutional Convention, made the following statements:
"Sir, there are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men. These are ambitions and avarice; the love of power and the love of money."
"Reasons will never be wanting for proposed augmentations [speaking of public salaries and political power]; and there will always be a party for giving more to the rulers, that the rulers may be able in return to give more to them."
"Hence, as all history informs us, there has been in every state and kingdom a constant kind of warfare between the governing and the governed, the one striving to obtain more for its support, and the other to pay less."
"But there is a natural inclination in mankind to kingly government. It sometimes relieves them from aristocratic domination. They had rather have one tyrant than 500. It gives more of the appearance of equality among citizens; and
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