He meant if she could keep it; if all her fellow Americans could keep it; if everyone coming after her generation could keep it; if you and I could keep it.
I’ve been reading the book Washington by Ron Chernow. As America’s improbable win for freedom from England forced the creation of a guiding government for the new nation, there was a deep-rooted fear of creating a constitution that could lead to a monarchy.
As an example of such concern, there was the problem of how one should address the president of the new country. One suggestion was, “Your Royal Highness, President of the United States.” Smacking of royalty, it was soundly denounced.
Franklin was especially concerned about creating any position that could be transformed into a lifetime or hereditary office. He fought for the creation of an executive branch having little power, perhaps with shared duties.
During the debate, which he lost, he indicated he wasn’t worried about Washington who was assured of being the first president of the new nation. He believed the former general could be trusted. Most felt that way about Washington. Nevertheless, many were comforted by the fact Washington had no children and hence holding the office by heredity would not be a threat.
What Franklin was worried about was future presidents. It wasn’t at all clear to him that they could be as trusted as was Washington. A partial solution was the decision to create the three branches of government in such a way that each could inhibit the power of the others. Therefore, the legislature and the courts could keep any president in line, and vice versa. Our system of checks and balances was born.
It was a good idea. The founders and early legislators were a diverse strong-willed bunch who would have no problem standing up to a chief executive. Even the popular Washington often was hounded by dissenters. Memories of living under a monarch meant any government must guarantee no king (only men were considered acceptable for political power) could emerge in this new country of freedom.
And that is how we have operated successfully for over 200 years.
Checks and balances, dependent on the desire to maintain them, no longer exist. Today’s legislators rarely exert the control over the chief executive that the Constitution gives them, at least if he or she is from the same party that controls Congress. Republicans for sure, and Democrats to a large extent, do not entertain the slightest inclination to cross the leader of their party, either the former president or the present one. The federal judiciary has become more political than ever.
Our so-called leaders have abandoned their independence and the power it gives them. They are not doing their job. They find it better to lie than to speak the truth. They have lost their guts. They have brought our country to the verge of monarchy. And there is a king-in-waiting.
Benjamin Franklin is shedding tears.