The Greatest Republic

John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin Drafting the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. By: Albert Herter.

As the colonies went through the Revolution, it became clear that republicanism would take the place of English imperialism. Americans were aware that republicanism put “social and moral demands” upon the people, which would change how people lived. Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 91.

Americans were aware that “the greatness, indeed the very existence, of a republic depended upon the people’s virtue” and that the republic could only be established “by the universal consent and the experience of all ages.” Id. at 92 (internal quotations omitted).

The notions of “liberty, equality, and public virtue” were defining sentiments of early American life, and Americans placed a great value on these notions, knowing that the republic they were founding was remarkably fragile. Id. citing Jonathan Mason, Jr., An Oration, Delivered March 5, 1780 . . . (Boston, 1780); Dawes, Oration Delivered March 5, 1781, both in Niles, ed., Principles, 61, 69.

It was widely remembered that the “only English experiment in republicanism had quickly ended in a predictable failure, capped by the tyranny of a dictator.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 92. Even at the time of the Revolution, however, the world was not teeming with republics. At that time, the only republics “were tiny, insignificant states, in various stages of decline, paralyzed by surrounding absolutism, hardly fit models” for the emerging, bustling nation. Id.

In hindsight, these facts and circumstances surrounding the Revolution best illustrate the novelty of what the Americans were doing with their young country. They were embarking on an experiment, massive in scale, of trying a form of government that had been questionably executed, but admired as a model nonetheless. So many Americans, during this time, must have had a knowledge and awareness of the monumental nature of their collective undertaking, and it seemed to even surprise some of the Founding Fathers, like John Adams, that the American society had accomplished the transition from imperial colony to republic. Id. at 94.

In many ways, modern Americans carry these notions and beliefs with them, but perhaps an overlooked fact is that America continues to be a prime example of how to best execute a republic, on a massive scale. One would find it difficult to find a modern republic that is more prosperous, more successful, and has enjoyed a prolonged existence.

Some would say that the virtue of the American public deserves the credit for America’s success as a country. Whether that is the engine that keeps America going or not, it certainly cannot hurt to have more of that virtue throughout American society.

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