July 3 2012
July Fourth: A Republic, If We Can Keep It
Something tells me that I won’t be the only American pondering some famous words uttered by Ben Franklin tomorrow as we celebrate the anniversary of our founding.
Franklin was exiting Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1789. The great man was approached by an excited Philadelphia lady, who asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”
Franklin famously replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” This July Fourth falls in the shadow of the Supreme Court’s having upheld a law that augments the federal government’s already vast taxing powers and increases the government’s ability to intrude into our personal lives. Can we keep it? This is the question for Americans living in our time, but, of course it has always been the question, as, indeed, Franklin knew it would.
There is a terrific post on Riccochet headlined “What Does It Mean to Be an American.” Perfect reading as we head into the holiday, the post recounts a visit to the writer’s family in Canada of an American who was returning to our shores after years living abroad:
The American lunch guest did not disappoint me as she wore bright red lipstick with jeans, a jaunty scarf, and was happy to discuss politics. She told me how she fell in love as a young woman and moved to Amsterdam, where she had brought up her family until recently widowed. She was now returning to America, after thirty years away in Europe. When I asked her about how she defined being American, she did so in a way that Canadians do too --by telling a story to compare the culture where she had lived to her beloved homeland, America.
She recalled her children attending a local school and the parents decided they needed a printer for the school administrator. She suggested they hold a bake sale. There was silence. The other mothers turned to stare and looked at her as if she were from Mars. In that moment in time, she realized that this difference defined her approach to her life. It is the "make it on your own" attitude which was utterly alien, incomprehensible and distasteful to the Dutch mothers who went back to their business of discussing how to petition the government for money. The school did get the money after two years, and a printer was bought for the staff. It cost just under $1,000 at the time.
We are at a point of deciding if we want to be a “make it on your own” culture or if we will be transformed fundamentally into a culture of government dependence. But every generation of Americans has faced challenges, and so far every generation has risen to the task of keeping our republic.