A Republic If We Can Keep It
by Jerry Patterson

It was a sunny day in Philadelphia in 1787, and the Constitutional convention had just finished its work. A woman, watching the esteemed gentlemen congratulate themselves, approached one of the young nation's leading statesmen, Ben Franklin. "Mr. Franklin, what kind of government have you given us?" she asked. "A Republic, madam..." Franklin quickly answered, "if you can keep it."

A Republic if we can keep it. Over two hundred years later, we are still struggling to determine whether or not we can keep Mr. Franklin's Republic. America faces more unique challenges to our Republic now than ever before. After September 11, international and domestic terrorism has become a real threat - one unlike anything we have experienced. Yet, apart from testing our nation's moral courage and unity, these threats are laying siege to the very foundation of our democracy: our individual freedoms.

Franklin's comment hinted at the dilemma. How can you keep a Republic together and unified, when its very existence depends on its citizens remaining free? The founding fathers did a remarkable job outlining the structure of our government. They knew well that government is not the source of our liberty but rather that we are "endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights." When later crafting a Bill of Rights, they were careful to enumerate our liberties, rather than grant them. They rejected the premise that any government had the power to grant liberty knowing that, if this were true, then that same government could take liberty away.

Over the past two centuries, our nation has swerved from one extreme to the other on the subject of individual liberty. But the Constitution has always provided the boundaries for the debate. If the Constitution didn't have the answer we needed, we amended it - something that has happened only 27 times in 213 years. These amendments serve only to clarify or enhance the "inalienable rights" enumerated in the Constitution.

Now, the Constitution itself is being tested in a way no one ever thought possible. The greatest risk to our Constitution does not come from foreign governments, terrorism or unscrupulous politicians. The greatest risk is ignorance. Ignorance of how it was conceived, what it says, and how crucial it is to our freedom. To paraphrase Mr. Franklin, we can keep our Republic...only if we can keep our Constitution.

This lack of appreciation for the Constitution could not have come at a more difficult time. The fear of terrorism is driving many Americans to look past the Constitution in a search for security. The concepts of privacy and individual liberty are under attack, and only the Constitution will serve to protect them. It has withstood the test of time, and will withstand this crisis as long as Americans never sacrifice their liberty for security.

Again, Benjamin Franklin understood this fact well. "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety," he said in 1755, "deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Take a moment to read your U. S. Constitution and keep a copy handy. You may need it the next time you hear a politician tell you that you need to give up a little bit of your freedom so he can keep you free.

Texas Veterans Voice

Jerry Patterson
Chairman, Texas Veterans Land Board
Commissioner, Texas General Land Office

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