To the editor:Contrary to America's self-image as the greatest democracy, America is a republic. A republic is based on the principle that sovereignty resides in the people who delegate power to their elected representatives to rule in their behalf. The republican idea is perhaps as old as man's societal and philosophical thinking. The critical aspect of the republican idea is its relationship to democracy (rule by the people). The terms "republic" and "democracy" are frequently, but not always accurately, used synonymously. When governments express the will of their electorates, identification of the terms is justified. The republican form of state may, however, be used for autocratic and dictatorial purposes, making the terms contradictory. Examples abound in history.
The era of modern republicanism begins with the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789. In this period, as well as previously, republics have been the result of revolutionary struggle. Unfortunately, too many of these have become despotisms of one sort or another. Maintaining respectable and effective continuity of the republican idea remains a constant challenge. Legend has it that at the end of the initial constitutional convention, Ben Franklin was asked by a woman, "Sir, what have you given us?" He replied, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."
Perhaps journalist Edward R. Murrow expressed the ideal best in a presentation to the Missouri Legislature during the 1950s. He began by saying, "I am proud to be a citizen of this democratic republic." Expressing such confidence in America seems tenuous at this moment.
GILBERT DEGENHARDT, Cape Girardeau