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Founding Fathers

Most nations emerged slowly from the mists of time, perhaps with some legendary figure like King Arthur to mark when their history might as well begin.  Others have a hero like Fr. Hidalgo, who stood up and said it was time for a new nation.  Ireland had two heroes, de Valera and Collins, destined to become rivals.  Many nations like Canada formed gradually as their parent nation slowly watched them grow up.

Not the USofA.  We are a nation that, nearly uniquely, has a collection of “Founding Fathers” who had their own roles, intellects, and egos.  That makes their lesson more difficult than other nations but even more critical.  They only can be spoken of as a group to the extent that they learned to put their differences aside and force themselves to be something greater than they were as individuals.  When that message is forgotten something deep at the heart of our nation is lost as well.

The Founding Fathers were landowners and merchants, old and young, north and south, slave owners and abolitionists.  Their first meetings were marked with suspicion and at times open hatred.   The only reason that it worked is because there was no alternative once they had all committed themselves to treason.  As Franklin noted, “We must all hang together or we shall all surely hang separately.”  They put aside their differences and, over the course of many bitter years, created a new nation.

Their achievement was so breathtaking that it is easy and natural to feel a supernatural hand guiding them.   It was so unusual in world history that it is very hard to understand any other way, in fact.  As they come up constantly through election cycles we can expect their lesson to be muddled.

Michelle Bachmann has rightfully gotten a lot of flak for asserting that “Founding Father” John Quincy Adams worked tirelessly to end slavery.  He wasn’t a Founding Father (but his Dad was) and you can’t say he worked “tirelessly” to end slavery unless you took the movie “Amistad” far too seriously.  But more than its obvious inaccuracy the statement is clearly ignorant about the actual achievement of our Founding Fathers and what was most important about them.  They were not deities speaking as one – they were mere mortals who learned how to put their petty differences aside and do something great.

Today is the anniversary of the day that the Founding Fathers stood up and defied a King at the sure risk of their own lives.  They did it carefully, listing out all of the grievances that caused them to take this action.  More importantly, they agreed on some basic principles that guided them.  We honor those men by honoring their principles – and by putting aside our own differences.

When we try to turn their experiences into a single voice and a single action we lose what was the most important about them.  We cannot honor them and forget their most critical lesson at the same time.

20 thoughts on “Founding Fathers

  1. I find it a bit humorous that today people who most certainly would have been Loyalists or Tories in 1776, now cite those liberals as their heroes.
    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
    We still have much work to do, methinks, to make that a reality.

  2. Amen, Erik, and Happy Fourth to you! And to you, too, Boomerjack. I completely agree with you. Today, I’m focusing on what we *have* achieved, The rest of the year, we work toward what we *must* achieve.

    • Agreed. And we have achieved much over the years, and for that I am grateful. Happy 4th to you as well.

  3. Why do I love writing this blog? Because you guys always do me one better! Yes, we have so much to achieve – but today is a day to be thankful we made it this far. Tomorrow we can get back at it and live up to the high ideals we were given, but today we can do what they did on July 4th, 1777 – adjourn for the day and holding a big celebration!

  4. Happy 4th! This is a great message for today because we have a lot of challenges and it seems like no one is rising to them. That wasn’t what our nation was about even a short time ago. I agree with Jack that we have a lot left to do but the first thing is to remember how we got here. It wasn’t by people insisting they were right and saying it’s my way or the highway!

  5. Nice post. These days more people are challenged to face up to the true role reversal that’s occurred–With the US being widely regarded as the evil empire waging war on “insurgents.” This piece, “King George III Won: Happy Fourth of July!” (http://www.infowars.com/king-george-iii-won-happy-fourth-of-july/) is pretty good on both the internal and external political situation we find ourselves in.
    Also worth noting is that the British Eastern Seaboard colonies had, in many cases, a good 100-150 years of practical experience in de-facto self-government, and there had been a number of previous cooperative efforts such as the Confederation of New England and the Albany Plan of Union. So the leaders weren’t starting from scratch–they had a base to build on. I’ve sometimes wondered if this is why the former British colonies were able to achieve relative political stability rather quickly, as compared, to say, the Spanish colonies which in many cases are still groping towards it. The Spanish government had maintained a much tighter centralized control of its colonies–maybe these just hadn’t had the practice at making their own decisions.

  6. I hope you had a great 4th, I certainly did. Getting back into the week slowly and I read your piece for the day. What was funny is that I was thinking kind of the same thing. Went to the fireworks display in Anoka County and ran into someone I haven’t seen for a while who holds a more let’s say conservative view than I have but we get along well. We talked about how great the 4th is and what it means for the kids and none of that politics matters. We didn’t even get into the state shutdown. Anyway if we can talk and get along why doesn’t that work in politics anymore? I think everyone knows that there is work to do and that it just has to get done and that is that. Why not do it and be done?

  7. Alan: It came up a few posts ago – the English Civil War and subsequent fallout must have had some effect on the earliest colonies because they were left alone and had no choice but to run things themselves. Yet they remained under the wing of the mother country which clearly tried to strengthen its grip a century on once things became more stable. It’s a very different experience than the Spanish, who were ripped apart by Napoleon and the colonies had little choice but to restore some sense of order on their own (thus demanding complete independence in the fervor of the times). History is fascinating this way, isn’t it? I do think that echoes of Napoleon and the aftermath still rumble through most of the western world.

    Dale: I think we’re all starting to have a “post-political” experience lately. Ideology is one thing, but getting things done is what government has to be all about. I can’t tell you how many “liberals” really don’t see government as the solution anymore, which is both very sad and potentially very liberating at the same time. I think that we’re on the edge of some very big changes, and I hope that it gets as practical as I’d like.

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  9. Thank you, I really appreciate this post. If only our politicians understood this same thing we wouldn’t have the problems we do.

  10. I find this passage particularly thought provoking:

    “The Founding Fathers were landowners and merchants, old and young, north and south, slave owners and abolitionists”

    Today, our country’s leaders – our senators and congressmen – are equally diverse, and yet, I would argue far more removed from the average middle class taxpayer. Our country has always been led by the elite, but never before have they been more out of touch with the shared burden of skyrocketing consumer and national debt, unemployment, social security instability, and obscenely high medical and education costs.


  11. Aviva: Thank you. It’s always hard to say that people are different than those from so long ago, but I do agree with you. The difference, to me, is that the elites are out of touch by choice. The more we devalue work the more we develop this culture where the ruling class can separate themselves.

    Jefferson, Franklin, and the rest didn’t exactly work hard for a living. But they respected those who did – and up against their European counterparts felt much closer to the working people of the new nation they were creating. It is a big difference, I think.

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