A Republic, or We the People?

Monday, Oct 16, 2023
Jim Sutton

When someone mentions “Republic”, what does it conjure up in your mind? Some middle aged sci-fi aficionados might think of the Star Wars Galactic Republic before equating it to how America was first modeled. Those older, and in some instances younger, could possibly think of that ideal that was embodied in America’s foundational governmental structure. At this time, it seems that few recognize the actual definition of a Republic:

A state in which political power rests with the public and their representatives.

This definition seems to align neatly with the sentiment behind the phrase “We the People”, which are the beginning words of the American Constitution. But does it? The Constitution starts with the phrase “We the People…”, but it qualifies that statement with what follows:

“…of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The reasons for creating our system of government should be obvious by this statement. What is less obvious is that the system of government was to be a Republic. In the Declaration of Independence there was a clear indication that “the people” bore a direct responsibility of the type of government that a nation would exhibit.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

“…But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

So, the Founders set about to create a system of government that had certain qualities which they desired, built on their belief that the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God gave them that right under certain circumstances to establish. What was that system of government?

It was a Republic. The Constitution goes into what that meant. Briefly, it meant that people would have the right to vote for a portion of their political leaders, which would then run the business of the government. Initially, citizens of this Republic would only vote for the members of the House of Representatives, and for their state political leaders in accordance with the state’s election laws. Electors would elect the President, which is still in place today with the Electoral College. Senators would be appointed by the members of the state Legislatures and the Supreme Court members would be nominated by the President and affirmed or rejected by the Senate.

This meant that 2/3’rds of the government was not directly elected by people at the ballot box. If you read the debates about this arrangement, James Madison and others spoke passionately about the dangers of mob-rule. The Constitution was fashioned to acknowledge this fact.

Reading further one can learn that the founders and many American patriots through time have acknowledged that the morality of the individual who is granted leadership in the political framework of our government is the major bulwark against the unraveling of this system of government. John Adams famous quote at the time said: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

John Adams believed the purpose of government was: “…the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, natural rights and the blessings of life. [Government] should be…for the preservation of internal peace, virtue, and good order, as well as the defense of their lives, liberties, and properties.”

In 1913 the 17th Amendment was passed which changed the appointment of Senators to election by statewide popular vote. This was one of the first changes to the understanding of how our government was related to “We the people…”.

This fact that our system of government has been based on the integrity and morality of the leaders carries an important, but nuanced idea. Decisions were made by political leaders in accordance with their values, beliefs, and conscience, not necessarily by representing a majority of their constituents. In other words, I believe it was quite possible that our founders and political theorists sensed that given humanity’s sinful nature, a good person in leadership would be able to make better decisions than those who were not privy to information that would be debated in the formal setting and rules of political engagement setup in our Constitution. Proverbs 18:17 states: “The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him.”  Since most of “the people” would not be in attendance with these deliberations and hear the same information, their sentiments were not necessarily relevant to the decision, UNLESS a particular elected official sought out a person’s opinion on a given matter.

Having said this, consider what makes a person virtuous. If a person violates their conscience to do something they would think wrong – is that virtuous? Is it virtuous to violate the “Laws of Nature” and “Nature’s God” that are embedded in our conscience as Scripture states (given that our consciences have not been seared as mentioned by Paul in I Timothy 4:2). If we agree that there are universal standards of morality, this becomes easy to discern, but what if we reject a transcendent morality apart from human (mob) origins? What becomes of the definition of virtue in that context? I propose that no one has any exclusive ability to define what is good, or right, or even just in that context. Consequently, political leadership devolves into a power struggle with no real rules in place to umpire the process. Does that seem a bit familiar?

I believe that the ideals of integrity and a virtuous person are similar enough to essentially be the same. The manner in which they are espoused by Founding Fathers and political commentators through the years seem to be used interchangeably. I cannot think of a difference that cause a deviation between these ideals, Can you?

If we accept that a person in governmental authority is a virtuous person, a person of integrity if they vote their conscience in accordance with the laws of nature and nature’s God, then we have created a dilemma with the current popular understanding of “We the people”.

Let me explain this. Some people are fond of saying that elected leaders represent us, so they are supposed to conform to the way we want them to vote. If they don’t, they are not for “the people”. I think this is major fallacy due to a “bait and switch” on what is defined by “We the People”. In any given issue, there is the distinct possibility that there will be multiple opinions on the issue, often at odds with each other. If someone disagrees with an elected person’s vote, we all have heard that same person or group state passionately that we need to throw the offender out of office since they did not vote the way their group of like minded people wanted them to vote. The fallacy lies in the fact that any group of people do not represent 100% of the elected leaders’ constituents, so saying that the politician is not “for the people” is misleading, false, and derogatory, especially in a system of government where transcendent laws have been discarded by the people who established that government. Hillary Clinton depicts this famously for her statements regarding President Trump supporters, but there are others on the other side of the political fence making statements that are just as egregious.

It would be better to be truthful and indicate that the elected leader did not vote in accordance with what that group would have preferred them to vote and leave it at that. But that does not raise people’s emotions to support the group’s agenda, whatever that may be. Therein lies the nugget of truth that was wisely put into our system of governance. As long as we elect people that are moral and virtuous people who vote their conscience, that government will have a better chance of preserving their liberties. Crucial to that understanding is that there would be respect for the differences of opinions that may result on a matter where a transcendent law was not violated. Losing the benevolence and safety of transcendent laws naturally creates confusion and turmoil that cannot be resolved without the raw use of illegitimate power in a system of government such as ours was proposed to be.

What many political advocacy groups don’t realize that they are inadvertently advocating, is for elected leaders to vote against their conscience when the politician doesn’t agree with the political advocacy group's voting preference. Sometimes the political advocacy group's response is to malign the elected official, stating that they made “bad choices”, played “dirty tricks” by their actions in the Legislature or similar malfeasance. I don’t know about you, but when I hear these trigger words that are meant to be emotive versus informational, it indicates to me a fundamental misunderstanding of how freedom and liberty are protected in our nation. These types of statements are typically made by people that will not take the time to know why an elected person voted the way they did, or acted the way they did in the Legislative process. They are too busy working up emotional campaign cliches than doing the hard work of relationships, which are crucial when one aspires to be in political leadership and hope to influence other elected officials to vote for good governance that respects our Constitution. Much mischief and societal strife could be avoided if the Matthew 18: 15-20 principle of dealing with differences of opinion over a matter were followed.

When this process is not followed, I question the integrity or virtuousness of the person making the accusations. But I understand why some resort to this method – when people do not fundamentally understand the nature of our Republic, and tacitly or subconsciously agree that a majority defines truth, they are easy prey to all kinds of errors and distortions of the underpinnings of our system of government.

One of those misunderstandings is that “politicians serve us…”. Besides being purposely ambiguous about who “us” depicts; it is a fundamental distortion of how this system of government was meant to operate apart from the day to day whims of the “mob”. Our system of government provides a mechanism to replace leaders who violate the standards of morality, ethics, and integrity that we desire in our leaders according to the intentions placed in our Constitution and stated in our Declaration of Independence. If we don’t have a good understanding of what is entailed by those ideals in our own lives and families, how will ever see the dichotomy of dictating our faulty standards to another person’s conscience? In that case, we are directly acting as a “mob” by James Madison’s definition, who is known as the “Father of our Constitution”.

Based on the debate records saved for us by our founding fathers, they meant that our elected leaders should not be too susceptible to the whims of a mob. A mob in this definition can certainly be defined as people who operate in lockstep with each other on any given matter and exert political pressure on a given elected leader to their particular issue. Certainly, we should form likeminded groups that can expose hidden schemes and abuses of power that are instigated by elected leaders. But the main part in this system of government for non-elected citizens is to ensure that people of integrity and virtue hold power in the halls of our government. After that, we should monitor, contemplate, and nurture relationships where we can discern whether an elected leader upholds those Constitutional ideals, voting our conscience on whether they align with the ideals of our Constitution or not. The reality is that many exhibit far less standards in their voting habits, and thus introduce the ills we have been plagued with throughout our nation’s existence. Others show by the way they campaign that they are not worthy of a governmental office, exhibiting ignorance in the virtues of tolerance, proper debate and relational integrity.

Ultimately, we the people can never ensure domestic tranquility, we can only establish a government system that gives us the best opportunity for that result. But if we deviate from that system of government, the possibility of domestic tranquility and the liberties we would like to enjoy rapidly diminish. Does our system of government need to be changed to a better form of government to ensure those ideals that are our heritage as Americans? The devil is in the details, as any diligent and truthful student of history can attest, and many authors have revealed with their published works. I believe that the American system of government, all things considered, is the best system for maintaining the ideals our founding Fathers put forward in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Of course, that is a subjective, anecdotal opinion, but so is everyone else’s opinion on the matter. Nature’s God has given us the privilege of organizing a civil society where we can enjoy the freedom and liberty that He meant for us, but those ideals do not come without an understanding of our human state and the rules that work to resist the entropy that is native to our humanity.

“We the people” have a responsibility to preserve this Republic if we care to preserve the liberties we have inherited. We would be wise to consider the cost of deviating from that standard for ourselves and our posterity.