Fourth a time to recall Franklin’s words
Ross Schulz, Staff Writer
The major news stories of the last couple of weeks, and the fact that we’re ready to celebrate our country’s founding and independence, brought to mind one of my favorite quotes or sayings from the revolution-era of the founding of the United States.
After the country had gained its independence from England in 1783, completing the physical battles of war, the intellectual fighting had only just begun to determine where things would turn next.
It could have gone a number ways, with King Washington or something of the sort.
But, as we all know, Washington, instead, reluctantly came to be the first president of the United States and had no desire to acquire or keep power.
King George III asked his American painter what Washington would do after winning the war for independence. The painter replied that they said he will return to his farm.
‘If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world,’ the king said.
That’s a pretty cool quote to show the mindset of America’s leaders at the time, that this truly would be a new and different country, the first of its kind on Earth.
But that’s still not my favorite quote from that era. That comes a few years later, at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, after all of the fighting and rehashing, when the delegates came up with the new constitution.
The oldest delegate, Benjamin Franklin ‘ whose life story sums up the American way about as well as anyone’s ‘ was asked, ‘Well, doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?’
As he was walking out of Independence Hall, Franklin responded, ‘A republic, if you can keep it.’
A republic, by definition, is a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected president rather than a monarch.
It’s ironic that the word supreme is used to describe the power held by the people, when it was the Supreme Court of the United States that handed down a law changing the definition of marriage for all people, everywhere, last week.
How is that keeping the republic, with supreme power held by the people?
Whether we individually agree with the concept the Supreme Court ruled on is not the issue. Even if the vast majority of the people agree with the decision, that doesn’t guarantee it will always be that way.
The next ruling could be something you’re totally against, but, once the Supreme Court orders it, folks on both sides of the issue become voiceless and voteless.
That’s not keeping the republic; that’s not keeping the power with the people.
How much more fulfilling would it have been to be able to cast a vote for what you believe?
It reminds me of one of the most memorable photos of the last decade-plus, the blue-stained fingers of the jubilant Iraqis who just had their first taste of what it was like to have a say, have a voice, in the future of their country.
If the majority in your state agree with you, then it shall be so ordered, not by five or six hand-picked judges who might as well be sitting on a throne in the faraway royal province of Washington.
Many states have voted on the marriage issue in the past, and nothing would stop them from doing so again and again.
Someone might say we can’t vote on every little issue in the country; that’s why we have elected officials to work for us. That’s true, but, as anyone who hasn’t lived under a rock the past few years knows, there’s nothing small about the marriage definition debate. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t elect a single one of the Supreme Court judges.
The other issue that took over social media and the news cycle was the Confederate flag and its place in 21st century America. If the people and those in power would have listened to old Benjamin Franklin, who was an ardent advocate of abolishing slavery as early as 1730, there would have been no connotation between slavery and the Confederate flag.
The question is, had slavery been abolished in Franklin’s time, would there have been a Civil War and, thus, a Confederate flag?
Historians can answer that.
Early America, thankfully, listened to Franklin’s words and took them to heart in most cases, but they should have regarding slavery as well.
And we should always keep his words in mind, because he wasn’t just speaking to the lady outside Independence Hall that day in 1787; he was speaking to all of us.
Hopefully, we haven’t already lost it.