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.


3 Responses to ““A Republic, If You Can Keep It””

  1. James Newlin September 22, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    The government and private sector need to adapt with the times- the world was a very different place 225 years ago. While a noble thought, people living with “integrity” isn’t happening, since we have incentives to speculate and have enormous profits.

    We need the government to at least have a more active hand in financial markets and globalization, or we will continue on the volatile ride the private sector has created since the 1980s. Characterizing the government as “intrusive” seems out of place here, since your example involves the economy, not privacy.

    Thomas Jefferson commented that we should rewrite the constitution every 19 years, and maybe it’s time to give that some serious thought.

    • Becky September 26, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

      Jefferson was wrong about that. He wasn’t that wild about giving Govt as much power as Constitution actually delegated. Lincoln said ‘Don’t interfere w anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.” We have enough laws to keep unlawful greed in check & punished. Govt encroachment and total disreguard for sound financial/economic principle/foundations opened door to the greed. (legislating social engineering w housing). Of course, our Govt was made for a moral people, and since morals are all ‘relevant’ now, Govco undertakes ‘rulership’ of the masses.

  2. Neil Huff October 4, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    Franklin was also quoted as describing ‘democracy’ as two wolves and a lamb deciding what to have for dinner. Interestingly, nowhere in the Constitution nor any of the major writings of the FF’s does one find the word “democracy’.

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