Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Real Founding Fathers

So regardless of political persuasion, Republican, Democrat, or Whig -- Progressive or Tea Party, all like to point to the Founding Fathers as to being on their side. We should probably also remember the Constitution was the result of the dismal failure of the Articles of Confederation written by the same folks, and that the Constitution is representative in nature because some of the Founders did not trust the people on their own, as well as, having a congress built on the idea of two houses from England's Houses of Commons and Lords.

In reality, the view of the founders probably depends on where you sit.  Certainly from England's point-of-view they were rebels who stood against the status quo of conservative English law.  Conservative and liberal, are not really words that apply to the founders.  Republicans did not exist as a party and Democrats were not the "liberal" party.  The founders were men and like all men, they had their own beliefs and set of values.

Take for example Thomas Jefferson.  He may written the Declaration of Independence, but it is unlikely that those on the right would see eye to eye with him.  It wasn't that he had illegitimate children with a teenage slave he had turned his attention to or that he owned and English translation of the Quran that would likely get him in trouble, but it was his personal religious beliefs.  He denied that Jesus was the son of God and the entire idea of the holy trinity and the virgin birth.  He also refused to believe that Jesus actually ever made the claim he was the son of God. He believed in a creator.  He admired the moral teachings of Jesus and considered himself a Christian. He believed that no religious institution should be a part of the public realm. On the other hand, he believed in small government.  Real history is far more complex.

George Washington favored a strong central government.  Despite claims that the reason for the right to bear arms was to protect us from the government and often misquoted statements by our first president, George Washington in fact oderd the army to quell the Whiskey rebellion establishing a temporary militia law.  He also seemed to have a strong affinity for the wealthy of his time. During the Constitutional convention, he spent most of his time at the mansion of Robert Morris, the richest man in America.

John Adams defended the British soldiers who were accused of killing five colonists because no one else would defend them.  He believed in the right to a fair trial for all and took on the case knowing it would make him unpopular.  He won.

Ben Franklin's oldest son William was born out of wedlock.  It is not known who his mother was.  He would be a loyalist to the crown despite his father's opposition to English rule.  Franklin, himself, was a loyalist fairly late into the move towards revolution.  It is also believed that it was his editing that stripped most religiously connotated words from the Constitution.  Having been an ambassador and printer he was well aware of how to play politics and use words.  As the French ambassador during the revolution, he was a favorite. He often would play the part of "backwoodsman" and was a notorious flirt, his wife having died several years earlier. Early on he and his brother were at odds with the most powerful Puritan family in Boston.  He opposed the use of inoculation to fight off small pox.  That's right, the man who would be known as one of the great scientific minds of his generation, thought the new control for small pox would make people sick.  His brother James was thrown into prison for making fun of the clergy.

The point here is that the Founders were not some myth but complex, real men whose beliefs were as varied as our own.  For one group or another to try and claim them is all but wrong.  Much of the history and even more than a few quotes about these people is often out of context, if not downright wrong.  We should also not forget that among the "Founders" were some very strong women who are often forgot in the debate of things like women's rights such as Dolly Madison and Abigail Adams.  There were those who believed in slavery and who were opposed.  Some were antireligious and some were strong believers.  All were, however, careful to work together and created a document that was crafted through careful considerations and compromise.