Friday, July 17, 2020

"A Republic, If You Can Keep It"

Are we watching our nation commit national suicide? We may be in the death throws and the national body is in need of critical care. Do you think a nation comes to this in an instant? Make no mistake, suicide is the last resort of a broken soul and what we are seeing now is a mental breakdown long in the making.

Over the past several months, and more so in these last few days, I have found myself in several impassioned discussions with friends of different political persuasions about the threats we are seeing to the liberty and stability of our nation. First, from the heavy handed pandemic response and now from the lawless tantrum of criminal rioters across the US and the force necessary to restore peace.

It's been a revelation to many, a soul searching time, as we grapple with current events from different perspectives. Despite different perspectives we have many shared experiences and concerns in all of the turmoil, but the events of these past months have brought deep social divides into focus as well.

One of my friends recently commented that:

"We have some glaring holes in our constitution that have come starkly to light... I believe the founding fathers assumed the American people would elect leaders of good will and honesty who would abide by the letter and the spirit of our country’s laws. Now here we are with lots of glaring holes that need to be plugged."

I believe this is an idea we are going to see magnified by the media and "progressive reformers" in the coming days. The idea that the Constitution has glaring holes that need to be fixed will prompt discussions about the need to replace our Constitution with something more modern and effective at addressing our current social ills. The groundwork has been laid for this final step for many years but we may be watching it come to a spear head in recent events.

There are many enemies of our founding principles and Constitution and they have been working for years to undermine the Constitution. For years they have been trying "to fix the holes." The result has caused ever increasing social ills and government malformations that endangered liberty by damaging our Constitutional framework. It's not holes in the Constitution that are the problem, it's holes in the education and mortality of the people.

The Constitution was designed to be a very scant framework for federalism that would divide powers, significantly limit federal power, and therefore creating space for the nation to grow up around local governance and shared values. It was a grand experiment in it's time and has proven to the world to be a truly remarkable enduring charter of human liberty, but it has not endured because of it's brilliant construction. It endures upon the principles of freedom and those entrusted to maintain it.

The great George Washington in his farewell address to the nation gave this great prayer for the preservation of our nation:

“That your Union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its Administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and Virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete, by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.” (Washington’s Farewell Address, 1792)

This grand experiment in free government, that Alexander Hamilton quipped would provide a good 250 years of freedom, now sags on an eroded foundation. It is not the holes in the Constitution that are at fault but rather the faults of the people task with it's care and sacred maintenance. Ronald Reagan famously warned: "Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again."

Richard R. Beeman, writing for the National Constitution Center gave this important perspective on the fragility of free republics:

"While today we marvel at the extraordinary accomplishment of our Founding Fathers, their own reaction to the US Constitution when it was presented to them for their signatures was considerably less enthusiastic.Benjamin Franklin, ever the optimist even at the age of 81, gave what was for him a remarkably restrained assessment in his final speech before the Constitutional Convention: "…when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views." He thought it impossible to expect a "perfect production" from such a gathering, but he believed that the Constitution they had just drafted, "with all its faults," was better than any alternative that was likely to emerge."

"Nearly all of the delegates harbored objections, but persuaded by Franklin's logic, they put aside their misgivings and affixed their signatures to it. Their over-riding concern was the tendency in nearly all parts of the young country toward disorder and disintegration."

"But as fragile as America's federal edifice was at the time of the founding, there was much in the culture and environment that contributed to a national consensus and cohesion: a common language; a solid belief in the principles of English common law and constitutionalism; a widespread commitment (albeit in diverse forms) to the Protestant religion..."

Benjamin Franklin and his contemporaries saw the pitfalls of freedom, they understood the limitations of human societies. They were not idealistic about freedom and they understood that it was a hard sell; hard one and easily lost. They applied this pragmatism to their work in the Constitutional Congress and attended to the competing powers of federal and state, majority and minority, and in the end proposed a revolutionary framework. A unique system of checks and balances, of divided powers between branches of government and between the federal government and the independent states.

To further restrict the powers of government and articulate the nature of rights they added the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, and the result was a government restrained enough that natural rights might flourish. A government based on a revolutionary idea that where natural rights are protected, informed by moral precept, the human condition is elevated. Thus the holes in the Constitution, unfinished by the founders, the "faults" that Franklin saw so plainly, were the product of human weakness and would only be corrected by moral progression. 

What they had in common was more material in the solid construction of a national framework then how they differed. They understood that Liberty would not long endure among a people unresolved to govern their own appetites and place checks upon their own behavior for the good of society. This personal responsibility was inalienable to a free republic, and as such, morality was an indispensable pillar of a freedom, both personal and national. John Adams expressed this idea when he proclaimed:

"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Our society relies upon the proverb, "Teach them correct principles and they govern themselves." Morality is an indispensable pillar of self-government! But, in large part Americans are no longer taught correct principles and as a result many do not OR cannot govern themselves. There is general ignorance, if not outright rejection, of the principles that strengthened and united us at our founding. The founding principles upon which our constitutional framework was built.

Several years ago I pulled together a constitution study that delved into six foundational principles of the Constitution.

1. God is the author of free government.
2. Natural rights are bestowed by God.
3. Legitimate governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed.
4. Government is instituted for the purpose of securing to the individual their natural rights.
5. The interests of the majority and the rights of the minority are protected when government acts within its legitimate charter.
6. Free governments are maintained upon principles of righteousness.

These six basic principles express foundational principles defined by our founders in supporting documents to Constitutional history and are expressed in the structure of the constitution. In the class we discussed the Constitution as the framing of a national house, and the principles taught as the foundation of the house. Foundations are that critical part of the structure that you don't immediately see but without a solid foundation you cannot expect the house to stand up over time. The Constitution was the framing of the house, built upon the principles, but not the articulating of them. The Constitution isn't a proclamation of principles but rather the practical expression of principles in law. In the class we likened all the years of societal adaption, common law, and jurisprudence to the dry wall, the finishing touches, the paint and the furniture inside the national house. These things have changed overtime, additions have been made that were not so flattering or sound and have sense been removed, others were good additions that have stood the test of time. Some additions and subtractions made to the framing have weekend the frame and made the house less safe, but ultimately the house can be restored so long as the foundation remains strong.

In the analogy we asked the question, whether the national house could stand for long if the foundation eroded. We looked at ways that the framework of the national house, the Constitution, had been weakened overtime by societal adaption, law, and jurisprudence that strayed from those foundational principles. This course of study brought into focus why it seems that Constitution is failing.

It is powerful when you discover that what is failing is the foundation of the house. That the foundational principles that under gird the Constitution have been obscured by false teaching and ignorance, by denial of truth, and by a departure from moral precepts. It is my belief that the reason the Constitution appears to be inadequate to govern our nation is because the foundation is eroded. 

If the foundation is the problem, and the foundation is built upon principles, how do you restore them? 

The answer is in the people themselves. The principles that built the framework were understood in the hearts of our founding leaders, and spoke to the national conscience, and was inculcated in the hearts of American children for many generations. They understood that the principles of freedom must be learned, they aren't inherited and they are not innate to the fallen human condition. They are elevated principle of morality that are given to us as a gift from God but require diligent study and constant vigilance to retain. 

John Adams said that it was imperative that "children be instructed in the principles of freedom," and Abraham Lincoln said that "the philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next."

The philosophies of our founding are grounded in morality. As Benjamin Franklin observed, it was not without faults and many of our founders identified areas that still needed work. The great compromise admitted to the greatest of American faults, slavery, but looked forward to the day when the expiration of that evil institution would end. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, both slave owners wrote extensively of their expectations for that future liberation. They appealed to the principles of the Declaration of Independence as a national religion that would guide a national morality toward equality for all. Martin Luther King Jr. stood in the shadow of the Jefferson memorial and acknowledged that promise. He understood the importance of the Declaration of Independence as a key document of this national religion, these principles of liberty for all, and he cashed a check on that sacred document.

John Adams said, “All sober inquiries after truth, ancient and modern, Pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity consists in virtue.” And Washington warned: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them.” (Washington’s Farewell Address, 1792)

The single greatest proof that America's foundation is in trouble is the general rejection of absolute truths and the adoption of moral relativism. It is the single greatest reason there is so much confusion over basic concepts such as: what freedom is, what equality means, how the rule of law works, what truth is, what is moral, and what choice and accountability mean to continued liberty. America simply can not survive this foundational decay.

There is hope!!

I hope on closer inspection we will find that the foundation is only cracked and that the house is not condemned. I pray that the tree of liberty will be refreshed in the hearts of the American people and that they will be reacquainted with truth. That they will once again embrace and defend the timeless principles articulated at the foundation of our nation. The restoration of our national house depends on it. 

We have inherited a free country, but we are not entitled to retain that freedom. Freedom is hard fought and hard kept, and only those willing to take on the personal responsibilities of freedom and free government are deserving of it. Our national house will only be as strong as it is made by those who hold the responsibility to maintain it.


Therefore, the American founders proposed that it was better to guard liberty then to ensure safety. They believed that no government or societal construction could spare a people the natural miseries of life, but free, a people could better lay hold of the natural happiness attendant to it. Therefore, government was to be a narrow framework that would give human society the freedom to morally progress by the exercise of liberty and consequence. 

They had faith that a free people would become a more moral people and that much of the ill they saw in the world of their day was made more pernicious by authoritarian governments. They articulated a new philosophy of government that would produced a construct for the perpetual freedom of society if the people so choice to maintain it. It is true, that our Constitution is in serious peril, and as such our liberties are in danger, but it isn't the failing of our Constitution but rather the degradation of moral constants within our social fabric. Our people are becoming inadequate to govern ourselves.

America cannot long survive immoral leaders, this is true, but immoral leaders are elected by immoral people. America cannot survive when we elect people who have contempt for the Constitution and it's founding principles. It is the surest way to national suicide. "If there is a lesson in all of this it is that our Constitution is neither a self-actuating nor a self-correcting document. It requires the constant attention and devotion of all citizens. There is a story, often told, that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: "A republic, if you can keep it." The brevity of that response should not cause us to under-value its essential meaning." (Richard R. Beeman, Ph.D., PERSPECTIVES ON THE CONSTITUTION: A REPUBLIC, IF YOU CAN KEEP IT)

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