Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Founding Fathers in the 21st Century

All of us have heard the polular cliche: "What would our Founding Fathers do or think if they could see us today?" As nostalgic as this statement may be, it also carries a lot of weight simply because we revere our founders as "holy." They mean so much to us because we are their political offspring. We long for their legacy because it helps us define who we are as "Americans" and "patriots."

Even today, the legacy of the Founding Fathers is deeply rooted in the modern American culture. George Washington's image is still found on the dollar and quarter, Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill, Amexander Hamilton of the $10. Samuel Adams is the name of a popular alcoholic beverage (which I happen to be quite fond of). It is impossible to go anywhere in our nation without seeing their legacy. In fact, I live on Jefferson Avenue!!!

My question is this: can anyone think of any other nation or people where its founders mean so much? While it is true that England, France, Spain, Russia, China, etc have longer and richer histories than does the United States, none of those nations revere their founders as much as we do. This may be due to the fact that our founders are relatively modern in world history. One would have to go a long way back to uncover the history of England or France's founders, and even then, the nations of Europe have so many different eras where a "founding" occurred.

In America this is not the case. We know exactly when our nation's founding took place. Though we may argue specifics, nobody can argue the overall theme 0f when and how our nation was founded. It is for this very reason that our Founding Fathers have become so endeared and important to us. They are special not only for leading the most important and successful revolution in world history, but also because they are so near to us. They are so very accessable. A stoll down Washington D.C. or Boston is sufficient evidence of this fact.


Steve said...

I hate it when people ask, "What would our Founding Fathers do if..." You hear it all the time from politicians, on the radio, and from others who know little or nothing about the founders. In reality, if the Founding Fathers all showed up today, they would all think something different...because...THEY WERE ALL INDIVIDUALS. Americans should remember that the Founding Fathers fought bitterly (even more than today) over political issues. I'm sure that Jefferson, Hamilton and Adams would all think something different about today's America if they were here.

Brian Tubbs said...

Steve, you are right that the Founders fought among themselves. (Joseph Ellis' book Founding Brothers comes to mind). However, there was nevertheless a general consensus among them on certain fundamental principles that, I think, eludes us today.

One example...Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were bitter political enemies. Yet, they agreed that the United States was an exceptional country and that it represented the highest aspirations of mankind thus far realized. Can we say this is a consensus today - particularly when you consider the likes of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, etc.?

They differed on how to interpret the Constitution, but both believed the Constitution should be followed. Is this a consensus today, when you have some judges and legal scholars saying that the Constitution is anachronistic or merely a starting point?

I could go on. The point is...when you look at the Founding Fathers, they actually AGREED on a lot. Perhaps more than on which they disagreed.

Brad Hart said...

I totally agree with Brian that there are people who discredit America as a great nation, and Howard Zinn is an EXCELLENT example. I hate to admit that I read his "People's History of the United States" and it was TERRIBLE! That guy is nothing short of a screwloose!

As far as Founders agreeing more than disagreeing, I think it would depend on the issue. Fore example, many founders (Patrick Henry, Dickenson, Jefferson to a degree and others) were completely against making a Constitution. Others were against slavery while most were for it.

Brian Tubbs said...

I think almost all the Founders agreed that slavery was wrong - at least in the abstract. They differed on what to do about it.

And, yes, they were divided over the Constitution - but they all came together AFTER the Constitution was ratified. Even Patrick Henry stood up, at the end of his life, to defend the Constitution - saying "United we stand, divided we fall."

There did seem to be a greater sense of honor, integrity, patriotism, ethics, and agreement on the fundamental values of life in the founding generation than we see today.

But, I agree with you and Steve, that when it came to specifics, they were all over the map. And they got a wee-bit testy with each other. :-)

Brad Hart said...

I think that the founders did agree that patriotism was a thing of honor, and that we've lost a lot of that today. I don't agree, however, that the founders were unanimous on slavery. In recent years, there has been a lot of research on this topic. Gary Nash comes to mind as the main guy in this movement. His book, "Race and Revolution" talks a lot about the differing opinions the founders had when it came to racism. For example, Franklin was extremely passionate at the end of his life over this issue. He campaigned endlessly to see slavery removed. Thomas Jefferson (as contradictory as he is on the issue of slavery) nearly passed a bill in Congress to end slavery. It failed by 1 vote. Benjamin Rush was so moved to end slavery, thanks to the ideals of the Revolution (particularly that all men are created equal), that he freed all his slaves. Rush wasn't the only one of course to do this.

The slavery question is a complex one. I think it is great that the historical community has decided to look at it again. Great posts from everyone by the way. I for one am REALLY enjoying this blog.

Lindsey Shuman said...

Slavery is a tough one. I like what one historian had to say: "Slavery was as divisive for our Founding Fathers as it would be during the Civil War." I think we are missing a larger point here. The fact that slavery was being debated in Congress, and that the roots of abolitionism were being formed indicates that the people were indeed embracing the ideals of the American Revolution, even after its conclusion. The masses were seeking to have a voice, which is the most beautiful legacy of the revolution in my opinion.

Lindsey Shuman said...

Oh, and by the way, I also want to mention how much I detest Howard Zinn. I think he is a terrible historian, and that he clearly injects his personal politics into history.

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