“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic…” Wait a second. What did you just say? And to the “republic?”  I thought the United States was a democracy.

Although democracy and republic have been used interchangeably for decades, the two words have distinct meanings.

A republic is defined as “a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.” The definition of democracy reads quite similarly as “a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them.” Notice that the difference between the two is who exercises the power of the people. You may be asking yourselves why any of this matters.  It matters because our Founding Fathers built this nation as a republic for a very specific reason.

How many of you know the number of Representatives in the House?  How is a bill passed?  How is the Electoral College is chosen?  What is the line of succession if the president cannot perform his duties?  Unless you enjoy learning about government or read the newspaper quite often, you most likely do not know the answers to all of these questions. You don’t have time to learn all of the ins-and-outs of our government. That is why our Founding Fathers established a republic; they hoped that people would elect politicians who would represent their best interests while allowing regular citizens, not directly involved in the daily political process, to go on with their day to day lives.

Now, to why this matters. It matters because we do not treat ourselves as republicans anymore. The two pieces of the process that should be working effectively together have corroded and deformed. On one side, you have a citizenry who have blindly allowed Washington to become overgrown. On the other side, you have a government body that has stopped representing the people, a body that has taken the power given to it by the people and abused that power for their own selfish ends. Due to the lack of responsibility displayed by both components of the republican system, we are facing tough challenges across the country.

The words of one of the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, pinpoint how the American system of government should work: “We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments – if we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy.” Is Hamilton crazy for saying that the United States could ever be ruled by a king or queen? Look around us. In the past decade alone, we have experienced an unprecedented increase in presidential power, both under the Bush administration and now under the Obama administration. Our Founding Fathers warned us against big government. They established a republican government that was intended to be limited, with only a few purposes. Sadly, we have forgotten the words of those great men and have instead allowed government to become our crutch, sacrificing liberty in the process.

During the Bush administration, words of Benjamin Franklin were used quite often to argue against certain actions taken by the former president. That quote reads: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Earlier this year, I argued against this quote with the claim that times change; we are facing difficult times that call for drastic measures. However, in the past few months, as I have read more from our Founding Fathers, I have come to appreciate this quote and its meaning. However, I am confused as to why it is not heard anymore now that Bush is out of office. Nothing has changed except the man occupying the White House. We still have a president; we still have a Congress; we still have a Supreme Court that is stripping away our liberties in the name of equality. We must heed the words of our Founders before it is too late, before the chains of servitude are once again thrown around our necks.

The Founding Fathers were not foolish men. They were not greedy men. After the war was over, they had the opportunity to establish whatever form of government they saw fit. They chose a republic because they believed in inalienable rights. The Declaration of Independence states that our Creator endows us the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Government was intended to be limited in scope, and only provide for the people what they could not provide for themselves– mainly, a national defense. During the past century, the federal government has become a bloated bureaucracy, something which would render our Founding Fathers aghast if they saw its current state. The government is trying to expand its power more, under the guise of helping the nation and the auspices of making everyone happy. See the Declaration of Independence to notice that we are promised only the pursuit of happiness.

I cannot help but think about a certain scene from a movie that parallels our current situation in the United States. In Revenge of the Sith, the final installment of the Star Wars saga, the galaxy is set up as a republic. After carrying out his plot for ultimate power, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine uses the promise of continued “safety and security” to re-form the Galactic Republic into the Galactic Empire with himself as Emperor. As her fellow Senators applaud this move, Senator Padme Amidala says with a heavy heart, “So this is how liberty dies? With thunderous applause.”

We demand our government to provide us with free money, free health care, free housing, free everything. We applaud their efforts when they expand to fill these needs, oblivious to the fact that as government increases, liberty decreases. We want life to be easier, so we turn to big government for comfort, and it welcomes us with open arms. We cheer with thunderous applause as liberty and virtue slowly die. Soon, if we do not stop accepting bigger government, if we do not return to living as a republican system, there will be no applause. The only sounds heard will be the clanging of our chains and our cries for freedom.

Joseph “Odie” Turner // Mary Washington College // @odieturner