(This story is told in a dozen different ways insofar as the details so what’s one more version going to hurt? In any case, the the quote is an ongoing, terrifying reminder of what’s at stake today.)
The Constitution Congress of 1787 met in Philadelphia in strict secrecy. They had after all assembled to repair the battered Articles of Confederation that the thirteen newly minted states had agreed to a few years prior. Repair, not replace, was their charge. (Sound familiar?) At some point, the 55 white men in attendance (39 would ultimately sign the document) understood that the Articles of Confederation were beyond repair. So in secrecy they began with the guidance of Mr. Madison and the Virginia Plan to write the Constitution of the United States.
In September of 1787 the document was approved and signed by the delegates. Now all that remained was its ratification by nine of the thirteen states; far from a certainty. It had been a contentious, grueling process, through an unusually hot summer, and no doubt most delegates were anxious to get home.
The story goes that as Benjamin Franklin and his fellow delegates walked from Constitution Hall to various boarding houses and taverns … an unnamed woman … or Ms. Powel of Philadelphia … or a small crowd that had gathered on the street … someone asked “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Still the question.