To the editor:
At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin purportedly explained to a local resident that the new form of American government resulting from the Founders’ deliberations was “[a] republic, if you can keep it.” Notice that he did not claim it to be a monarchy, nor an egg salad, nor a democracy. The United States of American was to become a republic. It remains a republic nearly 232 years later.
The evidence for this assertion is apparently abundant. A plain reading of the history of the era reveals that the Founders intended our nation to be a republic. Edmund Randolph, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and others were clear in their rejection of alternate forms of governance. Possibly the most direct proof of this is the explicit, constitutional guarantee that all states are to have a “republican” form of government. We are a nation of 51 republics! And to this day, we still pledge allegiance to the federal republic for which our flag stands.
The designation as a republic is both deliberate and significant. A republic relies on a written, sometimes oral, rule of law to protect individual, unalienable rights from the potential oppression of a majority of its citizens, thereby limiting the authority and power of government. Its citizens elect representatives to act on their behalf. Democratic processes — meaning that majority voting guides actions — are obviously part of the system, but are restrained by the obligation to respect the underlying, natural rights of each citizen.
By contrast, a democracy is a system of government in which the will of a majority of the people is the ultimate law. Whether direct or representative, whatever a faction of 51% supports becomes supreme, regardless of inalienable rights that might be trampled. The majority itself effectively becomes the law, and can run rough-shod over the minority. The implications are substantial.
Language counts. Words and their meanings matter. Yes, a rose is still a flowering, sweet-smelling plant with thorns regardless of what we call it. But what if a few misguided people started misnaming it a dandelion? What if the new label caught on and everybody called roses, dandelions? What if we purposefully taught the error in our schools and newsrooms? What if we allowed our infants to grow up without ever hearing a rose called by its real name?
Eventually, the word “rose” and all of its beautiful meaning would be lost. We may see a rose, name it a dandelion, and consider it a weed. We might forget flowers even existed and settle for noxious grasses to adorn our world. Who would desire such a self-inflicted tragedy? Who would promote it?