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