Friday, August 03, 2007

I got this email today about the posting below about grassroots quoting Ben Franklin:

I believe that your quote about "A Republic, Madam, if we can keep it," is very slightly in error, unless my own sources are incorrect. I have been quoting the exchange as, "...if you can keep it." If this latter quote is accurate (allegedly in response to the wife of the Philadelphia mayor, who, like many, had been virtually camped out waiting the results of the deliberations within the PA Assembly Hall, now known as Independence Hall), then the difference in pronouns causes a bit of reflection. It may have been a simple reaction to the question. But it also may have been a subtle acknowledgment that he knew that his health and age made it improbable that he would live much longer and would not be around to see whether the Republic, this bold gamble that the 55 delegates had carved out, would survive. Although this latter is intriguing, I guess I'd have to lean towards the simpler, less interesting choice as the more probable. What do you think?



Christopher Lowell

Chris is absolutely correct and I agree the correct
wording is much more powerful:

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

NUMBER: 1593
AUTHOR: Benjamin Franklin (1706–90)
QUOTATION: “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
ATTRIBUTION: The response is attributed to BENJAMIN FRANKLIN—at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when queried as he left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation—in the notes of Dr. James McHenry, one of Maryland’s delegates to the Convention.

McHenry’s notes were first published in The American Historical Review, vol. 11, 1906, and the anecdote on p. 618 reads: “A lady asked Dr. Franklin Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy. A republic replied the Doctor if you can keep it.” When McHenry’s notes were included in The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, ed. Max Farrand, vol. 3, appendix A, p. 85 (1911, reprinted 1934), a footnote stated that the date this anecdote was written is uncertain.
By the way, Chris is going to be in Denver to help us launch the new Ben Franklin's Small Business Chamber of Commerce. Let me know if you'd like an invitation to the event! After meeting with us here in Denver he is headed up to Greeley to spend the week.

Monday, July 30, 2007

My friend Fred Brown wrote in the Denver Post over the weekend to defend the recent misuse by him and others of the term grassroots:

Definitions evolve over time and drift from their moorings…

(That) fate has befallen "grassroots," perhaps. Although John S. Wren would dispute this, and did, in an e-mail after a recent column:

"Fred Brown in his column Sunday [June 24] used the term 'grassroots' incorrectly, in my opinion."

(I had written that "'Grassroots' is a term used at both ends of the political spectrum to denote a party's most ardent true believers - the left-most Democrats the right-most Republicans.")

Wren cited the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, which defines "grass roots" as 1: basic, fundamental; 2: being, originating or operating in or at the grass roots; and 3: not adopted from or added to an existing facility or operation.

"When Ben Franklin said, 'we have a Republic if we can keep it,"' Wren continued, "the 'we' he was referring to \[is\] the grassroots, it seems to me, used in this sense. He was referring to all Americans." Then Wren got to what he was really driving at, which is his support of Colorado's sometimes controversial caucus process. "Keeping the common person involved and potent is the only justification for our wonderful Colorado neighborhood caucus-assembly system for nominating to the primary ballot," he wrote.

"Words are power, and I believe the Denver Post and Mr. Brown owe our community a correction."

I had to concede, and did in an e-mail response, that "Your definition of 'grassroots' is certainly correct, but it's not the way politicians use the word these days."

In today's politics, in the overly manipulated world of spin, words are not used casually. They are carefully selected for effect, and to suggest value judgments…

Well, OK. It's true that politicians will misuse words for political purposes. But shouldn't journalists be held to a higher standard?

The bigger question is what do we do about the disappearance of the true grassroots. We've saved the neighborhood caucus. Now can we use this powerful tool to save the TRUE grassroots?

We'll continue our discussion of this important topic at our next CoCaCoP (Colorado Caucus Community of Practice) Meetup, join us! RSVP at If you can't make the next meeting, RSVP "No" and you'll receive an invitation to next month's meeting with information about who will be speaking.