A republic, if you can keep it. The founders were not at all optimistic about the future of the Republic. There had been only a handful of other republics in all of human history, and most were small and far away. The founders' pessimism, though, came not from history but from their knowledge of human nature.
Here's a question: Is it likely that Franklin was down on the chances of our country surviving and thriving, especially after all that monumental effort and time it took to fight the fight for Independence and create the Constitution, to develop their amazing vision for a country where it would be possible for a person to pursue his own happiness? Or is it perhaps more likely that Franklin was issuing a challenge to the new citizenry (and to generations to come) to continue the good work begun by him and the other Founders, to dedicate themselves to preserving the principles the Founders struggled to engender?
(A peevish aside: Why don't the editors at TIME see fit to capitalize the word Founders?)
I'm no historian, but based on my readings by and about Benjamin Franklin, I can't imagine that he would have advocated the former. Same goes for the other Founders. Where is the pessimism in these words?
. . . certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
. . . it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish [a destructive form of government], and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
. . . we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world.
I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in providence, for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.
And from Franklin himself:
My friend, the Declaration of Independence only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself!
It says epic volumes about the current state of American culture and the mind of this particular writer to have it actually printed in TIME Magazine that our Founders were pessimistic about human nature and therefore our country's chances of survival.
The article goes on to bemoan the terrible fact that the only way most Americans participate in the running of our country is by voting and paying taxes. Since the voting rates aren't terribly high, there's basically just this mass of apathetic Americans out there, blithely mailing in those tax returns on April 15 each year, apparently content to just coast along doing the bare minimum. As if we should be happy to do even that mandatory "service."
Don't rational people pursuing their values contribute to the preservation of the republic? But I won't go there. I still have laundry to do though, so I won't get started. You know where I'm going with this. But....I could go on and on. And ON. See? Stopping now.
I couldn't actually finish the article, although I probably should. Know thy enemy and all. But I'm in too much of an optimistic mental state just at the moment.
I thought it was abhorrently revealing that TIME has invoked the supposed pessimism of our Founders as a way to try to guilt people into wanting to create this cultural expectation (oh, it's not mandatory, honest!) that our country's citizens sacrifice a whole year of their time on earth to become voluntary slaves to the government. Just thought you should know.