Note on Benjamin Rush and Early Federalist Republicanism: Fear of Democracy, Moral Degradation, and Corruption

FEDERALIST REPUBLICANISM: BENJAMIN RUSH ON FEARS OF DEMOCRACY, PARTY POLITICS, MORAL DEGRADATION AND CORRUPTION

A pattern I am beginning to notice in the early American writings is a rather … rightful obsession with corruption and moral degradation of not just government, but also society (i.e., people). The founders and framers established a republican America on the spirit and language of republican Rome, echoing Roman fears of parties, corruption, the whims of the mob (demos), tyranny, licentiousness, and the depravity of individuals unchecked by proper restraints. Democracy by itself, was not sufficient. A republican government and philosophy was developed, through observing the failures of the past; the European Revolutions; the excesses of the Jacobins of the French Revolution; of the Roman Republic, &c. The concept of liberty changed, when it became synonymous with libertinism, during the sixties cultural revolution. This idea of liberty became, as it is now, an excuse to argue, that the People ought to do as they please. The old concept of liberty in republicanism however, yet recognized morality, authority and duty. It did not refer to libertinism. The moral restraints of the people, and their understanding of responsibility, duty, and authority have greatly faded. Any attempt to establish a sense of authority has become synonymous with the negative — Fascism, Authoritarianism, and Patriarchy. Fearing the Roman republic’s fate of corruption, many measures were set in place, that gave birth to a unique kind of republic. Politically active during the American Revolution, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Pennsylvanian statesmen Benjamin Rush explained, that Power is not seated in the people, as it is imagined today. All power is [derived from] the people. They possess that power on the day of elections, when we elect our rulers (representatives), whose power exists so long as they do not abuse it. Anything other would lead the republic through two doors of tyranny: the mob, or a Caesar.

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