One day in 1787, Benjamin Franklin emerged from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, where the founders were debating the shape of a new government. He was confronted by Elizabeth Willing Powel, a society figure and wife of the Philadelphia mayor. “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” she asked. “A republic,” Franklin responded. “If you can keep it.”
At least that’s how the story goes. Historians aren’t certain of the wording or where Powel asked Franklin the question. On the streets of Philadelphia? In Powel’s home? But the anecdote quickens our attention on a crisis in America today. If we can keep our republic, it will require dampening the allure of conspiracy theories, particularly about the fraudulence of elections.