What did Ben Franklin mean when he said this about the new Constitution: “A republic if you can keep it”? A republic is a form of government wherein representatives, appointed and/or elected, gather as a body and discuss matters of governance and come to a conclusion or not. Our republic was set up with two groups of representatives: a Senate, with two people per state appointed by each state legislature, and a House, based on the population of each state. The founding fathers felt that the original states – essentially 13 mini republics – should have direct representatives (senators) of their region in the Congress as individual states. And the people, as a whole, should have their own direct representatives as members of the House of Representatives.
This bicameral idea was in response to the natural “turbulence and follies” of a pure democracy where the fads and whims of a busy society invariably produced emotional choices rather than choices based on reason and calm deliberation. One might remember that we are the United States of America, not the United People of America. It was the states that formed the federal government, not “the people” directly.
Unfortunately, in the early 1900s, the Woodrow Wilson Progressives democratically voted to bring on the 17th Amendment by dismissing the original intent of direct state representation in the federal governance by state senators. This shifted the power away from the states, adding another layer of more democracy and less republic. This shift to senators being elected by the people resulted in making it easier for the federal government to consolidate its power by diminishing the power of the sovereign states.
Nowadays, senators usually ignore the will of the state and instead just rely on “the people.” But that’s the job of the House of Representatives! The states need direct representation, and there has been none for 100 years.
Clearly, we have too much democracy and too little republic. Ben Franklin was prescient; we are not keeping our republic.