Can Our Republic Survive?


Writing this piece has been a long process of puzzling about where to begin, or even begin at all. Much thought has gone into what I see and hear today, juxtaposed against what I think I remember about life and culture in America. Many of my thoughts have been unsettling, making it difficult to decide how to express troubling thoughts with clarity and economy of words.

As an octogenarian I have observed significant changes occur in the political climate and social culture of our republic. Changes occur incrementally and tend to sneak up on us until we suddenly become conscious that something has become radically different. 

Technological advances have been remarkable, adding many new tools and conveniences along with new risks and moral questions. But the political climate is the area of greatest concern, both because of the wide departure of the federal government from the vision and principles of the founders, and the apparent ignorance and apathy of a large segment of eligible voters.

I apologize for the length of this piece. At the conclusion a solution is suggested, about which I would like to hear your comments.

The founders envisioned a republic based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence. It enshrined the premise that all men are endowed by their creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They also specified that the support of this Declaration firmly relied on the protection of Divine Providence. And the Constitution that followed embraced these basic commitments.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was queried as he left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation. In the notes of Dr. James McHenry, one of Maryland’s delegates to the Convention, a lady asked Dr. Franklin “Well Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy.” Franklin replied, “A republic . . . if you can keep it.”

After nearly 250 years of our history, can our republic survive? Since its beginning there were those who predicted this republic would die the same death of all previous such experiments. I believe our republic can survive, but will it continue as a government by, of and for the people or an oligarchy of political bosses seeking wealth and power?

Why are current political and social climates cause for concern?

  • · Some, who are not satisfied with the founders’ intent in the language of the Constitution have labeled it a “living document,” meaning that the language and principles must be interpreted in the light of current cultural norms. In effect this renders its principles to mean anything that is consistent with current political trends as determined by the political leanings of the judicial. For example, the first amendment protects the free expression of religion and forbids the government to make any laws regarding religion. The founders meant only to forbid the establishment of a state religion. Nowhere are the words, “separation of church and state” found in the Constitution. It does not forbid religious expression from any form of public discourse.

  • · There has always been conflicting political opinion among elected officials. But the level of conflict between the parties has never been so extreme. Opinions run so strong that citizens are becoming estranged from family and lifelong friends over political philosophy. Overt hatred is observed across party lines and against elected officials. The goal of some is to drive those they dislike or with whom they disagree from office by any means necessary. The Constitution provides for elections for the voting public to choose new leaders, not for elected officials to destroy their political enemies.

  • · Congress (both houses) are populated with many career politicians who are focused on enriching themselves, staying in office, and gaining political power. What happened to the founders’ concept of citizen legislators dedicated to doing their constitutional duty to the citizens who elect them? Many go to Washington as middle-class freshmen and retire with wealth that could not come from their salaries. Some shamelessly lie about their history in their election campaigns. Term limits could help with some of these problems, but it won’t fix everything.

  • · The congressional gridlock and failure to do the job for which they are elected has not escaped notice of the public. Polls have shown the public trust of congress to be consistently in the teens. But the gridlock and partisan bickering never ceases.

  • · In 2015 Senator Grassley estimated that there are some 430 federal agencies, though there is no official count. Recent estimates of the number of employees on the federal payroll are nearly 2,749,000. What happened to the founders’ concept of limited government?

  • · We frequently hear elected and federal officials lie to the public with impunity. We also see the same folks destroy lives and personal fortunes of citizens who are victimized for political reasons for suspicion of lying to congress or the FBI. Many times indictments are used to coerce citizens to cooperate in the destruction of political enemies. This sort of thing reminds one of the causes of the American Revolution and the tactics of nations we defeated in WWII.

  • · James Madison believed that the success of our republic depends on a well-informed electorate. When I was young, we were taught the history and principles of our federal government in public school. Apparently, this has been largely abandoned, and much of our electorate is woefully ignorant on the subject. What base of knowledge do they have from which to make informed decisions when they vote? 

No doubt there are other important issues of which the reader may be aware. It is evident that the “swamp” has been growing for a long time. It also seems clear that smart politicians can not solve all of these problems.

Having read a number of accounts of the events leading to the success of the war of independence, I have concluded that the outcome was nothing short of a miracle. And all of the events leading to the success of the Constitutional Convention are part of that miracle. 

There was gridlock and conflict even in that convention. But Benjamin Franklin finally spoke to the convention, after which the effort successfully produced the Constitution. Franklin said, "All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?"

The question in 2019 still is, can we keep it? After nearly 250 years of our history, can our republic survive? I believe our republic can survive, but not by the efforts of people of integrity and good will alone. Power-seeking leaders have learned how to destroy the lives and fortunes of good people through innuendo and uncorroborated accusations. 

We need the intervention of God, without whom all human effort is futile. If you are a person of faith, I urge you to pray for the same divine providence that raised this nation, to set her back on the right path.

"No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency." -- George Washington (First Inaugural Address, 30 April 1789)