American Republicanism is a prescription for representative self-government. The Republicanism, of late colonial to early post-colonial America, was an attempt to apply enlightenment Liberal ideals to government. Given the obvious impact of the "Draft Virginia Declaration of Rights" on the developing Republicanism of the Colonies, I would maintain that it widely accepted as an expression Republicanism.
From the Virginia Declaration:
- Acquiring and Possessing Property
- Pursuing and Obtaining Happiness
- Pursuing and Obtaining Safety
- Government derives it's power from individuals
- Government is servant to the people
- Government exists for common benefit of people, Nation, or community
- Best Government promotes happiness and safety without corruption
- Government is limited in granting privilege or emolument to groups or individuals
- Only while serving the public
- Not perpetual or hereditary
- The Majority retain the right to abolish or reform the Government
Representative Government and Separation of Powers
- Legislative and executive powers separate from Judicial
- Term Limits on Legislators and Executive to return them to the people
Protected Activities of individuals
Judicial Rights of Individuals
Implied Responsibilities of Individuals
Republicanism as an expression of Liberalism
In modern times, there is an ongoing attempt to claim that Liberalism was a fixed Philosophy who's ideals have been abandoned at some point, and that there is a "real", "actual", or "classical" liberalism that was economically Conservative.
While the meaning of Liberalism has been repeatedly attacked, distorted, and has become corrupted and misunderstood, the meaning of Republicanism has not suffered this assault. We may therefore look to the relatively unchanged meaning of Republicanism, as an expression of Liberal self-government to find clues to what Liberalism meant to Americans of this period.
It should be remembered as we examine American Republicanism as an example of Liberal government, that American Government was always a compromise. It was a compromise between the interests of manufacture, shipping, finance, agriculture, and Laborers. It was a compromise between slaveholders and those who believed in universal human rights. It was a compromise between regional interests. It was a compromise between those who advocated a strong "National" government and those who wanted a more limited Federal government and power to remain locally with the people. All of these compromises are Liberal too, in that they indicate willingness to recognize the needs of others and form a pragmatic compromise even if that compromise deviated from Liberal ideals.
Principles of Republicanism
- Rights are by nature or deity (This can mean a liberal concept of God or Deism.) vested equally in individuals
- Individuals have the right to promote, protect, and defend their rights
- Individuals have created Governments to be the servant of the people (to serve the common benefit)
- Governments may not grant any privilege except as a temporary measure to create a common benefit
- Governments may not exercise any power or authority not given to them by the people
- Individuals agree to promote, protect, and defend the lives and rights of other individuals when they enter into society
- Individuals agree to accept the government of the people and guard it against corruption when they enter into society
Problems with Republicanism
- All Governments are susceptible to Corruption. Republicanism was designed to be resistant to corruption, but is not proof against it.
- The size and scope of our Nation, and some of the compromises which allowed creation of our government have tended to diminish the representation of people in Government. The "citizen legislator" who regularly returned to his home and was easily accessed by his constituent, has largely been replaced by the "Professional Politician" who resides in a distant Capitol and is more exclusively accessed by the Capitol's resident lobbyists.
- Government is dependent on it's masters, the people, for direction and protection from corruption. Government was granted the power to extend temporary privileges to serve the common good. It's in the nature of Humans to desire privilege, to abuse privilege, to confuse privilege with right, and to resist surrendering it. Perpetual privilege, is by it's very nature a destruction of our equal rights, and an ongoing attack on our Republican institutions.
- Government was designed by enlightened individuals to be operated by enlightened individuals and directed by an enlightened electorate. Electorates are not always enlightened, and can at times be very susceptible to manipulation. Enlightenment seems to grow from exposure to education, and education seems to be under constant attack.