Our Constitution is 225 years old this week. In a famous story, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Constitutionally limited government was our new country’s distinctive characteristic. But while we have rights as individuals, we are also members of society. Limited government works best when our common values act as our rights’ line of first defense. John Witherspoon, a member of the Continental Congress from New Jersey and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote: “A Republic must either preserve its virtue or lose its liberty.”
Personal virtue, honesty, responsibility, and courtesy are the basis of relationships, communities, and a sound marketplace. Expanding government regulations will fill the vacuum created when people don’t respect each other, keep their word, or deal fairly with others. Every time we experience an epic failure of honesty, integrity, and justice, government responds with thousands of pages of laws and regulations.
Defending American freedom and minimizing intrusive government require both standing up for our founding principles and proactively living with integrity. “Character,” it is said, “is doing what is right when no one is looking.” If we do that, we’ll keep our Republic. When we don’t, government will arbitrate, and regulation will increasingly dictate every aspect of American life.
Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.