How the Founding Fathers Continue to Save the Republic

November 11, 2021 Updated: November 17, 2021

Commentary

Maintaining the republic is a balancing act. This doesn’t mean the scales never tip in one direction. America has experienced the tipping of the scales on countless occasions. Our republic, however, maintains its balance for one reason: you.

You were precisely the person the Founding Fathers were thinking about when they met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. If you look through our history, from George Washington onward, you’ll notice the to and fro between parties. It happened even as early as our second president, John Adams, who was rather soundly defeated by Thomas Jefferson, after just one term. The people didn’t approve.

When the architects of the republic deliberated on the construction of what would hold her together—the Constitution—they understood that you couldn’t be trusted, but also that you could be trusted. They possessed a healthy distrust for their fellow man—past, present, and future.

If you were to read “The Federalist Papers” or James Madison’s “Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787,” you would quickly gather the many historical moments from which they pulled: the Athenian Democracy, the Roman Republic, the German Confederation, the Polish Diet, and of course, Great Britain’s monarchy and parliamentary system. They referenced numerous figures, including Socrates, Cicero, Charles II, and Montesquieu.

They identified both what worked and what didn’t work in each governmental system. They identified the noble and the villainous. All of them had something in common: They were people.

As Madison stated in “Federalist 55”: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.”

The government either made the system work to benefit the people, or they worked the system to benefit themselves. The Founders understood that if the new form of government was to have any hope of eventual and inevitable self-correction, it would have to come from the people.

Madison stated it perfectly when he wrote in “Federalist 51” that “ambition must be made to counteract ambition. … If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

America recently witnessed in Virginia, New Jersey, Seattle, and many other places what has happened in this country for nearly 250 years: a self-correction. The mechanism of elections is the only method to ending madness because, as the Founders knew, the people would be the ones to see clearly the path the country was heading and would personally feel the effects of that path.

“The aim of every political Constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to make the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust,” Madison wrote in “Federalist 57.”

“The elective mode of obtaining rulers is the characteristic policy of republican government.”

This republic, by which we technically have 51, recently displayed a mere glimpse of its effectualness. Through our federal system, the individual republics—i.e., the states—with their executive, two representative houses, judicial system, and constitutions, relied on the people of the state to make the decision to approve or disapprove its current trajectory. In many places, it was a rejection of its current paths; and if not for any other reason, it’s reassuring that Americans are still highly concerned about the direction and thoroughly engaged in the “elective mode.”

As purposely broken up as we are, and as unfortunately divided as we seem to be, it’s moments like this past Nov. 2 that prove Americans along various aspects of the political spectrum are bonded together by the principles of freedom and the discernment between vice and virtue.

It’s this unity across our great country upon which we must rely.

George Washington, during his farewell address, pointed toward this unity as “the main pillar in the edifice” of our independence, and that in order to maintain this republic and our independence, we must be “watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can be in any event be abandoned.”

People are by nature lovers of liberty, even at the expense of law and order. In the name of liberty, people will often disregard, and at times demonize, law and order. The past 18 months have been an indictment on Americans regarding this fact. Rioting in the streets, in cities, and even at the nation’s capital, proved that the scale had tipped too far one way. A self-correction was due.

As the federal election season looms on the horizon, the American people will further balance the scales. New people will replace those of whom the people disapprove. And not too far down the road, those scales will need to be adjusted once more.

We will never get it perfect, but as long as the “electing mode” is maintained and our independence preserved by our “jealous anxiety,” we will always be in the position to create a balance. And for that, we can be grateful that the Founding Fathers were thinking of you when they established the republic.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Dustin Bass
Dustin Bass is the co-host of The Sons of History podcast and an author.