At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, the Constitution of the United States having finally been adopted, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic, if you can keep it,” he famously replied.
Have we kept it? Or is it something else now?
I offer here some bare facts and strong assertions. Let the discussion begin…
From republic, to empire, to… what?
Let’s look at the Roman Republic and how it evolved, and then imagine the possible implications in the continuing evolution of the USA.
First there was the Kingdom of Rome, beginning 2,770 years ago. It lasted 244 years, until the kingdom was overthrown by nobles representing the senate. The senate elected consuls for one-year terms to perform the executive functions of state. This arrangement lasted 482 years
The Roman Republic was the era of ancient Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BCE with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome’s control expanded from the city’s immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world. (Source)
The republic ended upon the murder of Julius Caesar, and the subsequent ascension of Caesar’s nephew, Octavian, to assume the role of the first emperor.
The Roman Kingdom lasted 244 years.
The Roman Republic lasted 482 years.
The Roman Empire lasted 503 years.
The Byzantine Empire, which replaced the Roman Empire, lasted 977 years, until it fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 CE.
The Ottoman Empire lasted for 465 years, until the end of World War One and the 1918 Armistice of Mudros.
How did Rome transform itself from a republic to an Empire?
- It exalted the executive function (from consul to emperor) over the senate function.
- It exalted the military function over the senate function and, occasionally, over the executive function.
What about the USA?
The USA was part of the British Empire, which began around 1500 CE.
- The USA was a republic for 169 years, from its founding in 1776, until the end of World War Two in 1945.
- The USA exerts military and economic and, therefore, political hegemony over much of the world, a trend starting with the Spanish-American War.
- The United State Senate has ceded more and more authority to the executive branch (president) than is provided for in the Constitution. (Source)
- The United States military is the largest and strongest in the world, and has been so since the Second World War. (Source)
How long will the USA last as an empire?
As shown above, the Roman Empire lasted around 500 years. During that time there were seventy-seven emperors. The length of their reigns varied (Source):
21 less than one year (usually assassinated or overthrown)
16 one to three years (often deposed or killed)
14 four to eight years (sometimes killed in battle or killed by elements of the Roman Army)
26 ten to forty years (sometimes died of natural causes)
This history shows us why Washington, D.C. announces so loudly and clearly that, upon the inauguration of each new president, there has been a peaceful transition of power. Such peacefulness is unusual in the history of such transitions in a mature government.
If such peaceful transitions remain the norm for changes in its government, then the USA can last a very long time, unless a stronger force from without successfully challenges it. So far, the primacy of the civilian executive over the military function has not been challenged by elements of the military or by either house of Congress.
Can the United States ever return to being a republic instead of an empire, given the world contains other large nations with nuclear weapons?
In that prior empires have lasted no more than around one thousand years, shall we have the same expectations for the USA?
React and discuss…