Update the Philadelphia Story: While the Declaration of Independence Has Stood the US in Good Stead for 220 Years, It May Now Be in the Interests of Republicanism to Amend It

By Keane, John | New Statesman (1996), July 5, 1996 | Go to article overview

Update the Philadelphia Story: While the Declaration of Independence Has Stood the US in Good Stead for 220 Years, It May Now Be in the Interests of Republicanism to Amend It


Keane, John, New Statesman (1996)


Disperse ye villains, ye rebels! Lay down your arms!" Thus did a patrol of nervous British redcoats disturb the spring dawn of a Massachusetts day. Eighteen American militiamen were shot, eight fatally, and within days news of the Lexington massacre galvanised the colonies. British parliamentary monarchy was judged miserly and aggressive. America, even the word, now seemed free, larger, more confident. The path to liberty was to be lit with principles the world would follow.

Fifteen months after Lexington, on 4 July 1776, Congress approved the Declaration of Independence that was read out a few days later to cheering crowds in Philadelphia. It proposed an entirely novel form of democracy. For the first time in human history, a two-tier, federated system of republican government elected by and responsible to its citizens was created. This new "compound republic", as one of the framers, James Madison, later call edit, stressed the place of a written constitution based ultimately on the consent of citizens and specified the powers of government and the rights of the citizen: to a free press, to vote and (twisting Hobbes' maxim that covenants unprotected by the word are worthless) to bear arms.

Resistance to tyranny, it was argued, required abolition of the old fiction that the people resemble a body crying out for an all-powerful, sovereign head which must logically be authorised to muzzle and blindfold its subjects and to speak and act on their behalf. Sovereignty of this sort, the British Crown-in-Parliament, underestimated the people and overvalued unified power.

In a still bolder move, the Philadelphians unpicked the classical republican assumption that the people, like an earthly God, are the unified source of all political authority. Especially from the time of the Articles of Confederation in 1778, the revolutionaries cut a path into the unknown by insisting that Americans could only become wholesome citizens if they became subdivided citizens of a subdivided polity, governed through a balance of powers at the federal level involving the presidency and Congress, but with many powers reserved for government at the state level.

The Philadelphians refused to see the relationship between the state and federal tiers of power in zero-sum terms. They were adamant that the new federation, by dividing and clearly limiting the jurisdiction of the two tiers of government, would help tame the arrogance of representatives, ensuring that those who governed could not stand above the law, violate the rights of citizens or suffocate the public spirit of the commonwealth.

This sense of public spirit or public virtue infiltrated every aspect of the Philadelphia model. It insisted that freedom could not mean freewheeling individualism; rather it should be seen as the unhindered ability of citizens to act in concert with others and so to govern themselves within a constitutional framework. Freedom as self-government implied the need to restrain selfishness and shabby morals among politicians and men of wealth, but it also implied duties of democratic and civic participation by individuals themselves.

In the economic sphere, the new republicanism required that even core liberal values sanctifying private property and wealth, along with free competition, be subordinated to the principles of civic virtue. Few republicans thought that public spirit could or should eliminate disparities of wealth. But most were agreed that the availability of citizenship rights to all adult, white, male citizens, not just to property owners, would ensure ongoing public discussion about how to divide the divisible, guaranteeing that patterns of wealth and inequality would not be seen as natural, reflecting the will of God or the casual brutalities of "market forces", as they were in the anciens regimes of Europe.

America's contemporary argument between Reaganite liberals and a ragged coalition of communitarians, New Deal Democrats and community organisers, along with those from the right, such as Pat Buchanan, who speally for new forms of public regulation of the economy, is still deeply rooted in this Philadelphia debate. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Update the Philadelphia Story: While the Declaration of Independence Has Stood the US in Good Stead for 220 Years, It May Now Be in the Interests of Republicanism to Amend It
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.