Friday, March 18, 2011

Reverential Treatment

There seems to be a number of us out there who think a great deal of the Founding Fathers of this country. They are the ones after all, who managed to come up with the documents that led to the form and formation of the government that we live under. They are the ones who laid their lives on the line to bring this country into being. There is little doubt that these men (and some women) in fact deserve our respect and admiration for these accomplishments.

We must be careful however. Like many an enthusiastic admirer of something or someone, especially someone from the past, its easy over time to become more than simple fans (a term derived from fanatic). It's easy when dealing with perspective of history, to fail to look at the sometimes inconvenient truths about these men with feet of clay. They had their flaws just like the rest of us. Let's face it, Sam Adams was in fact a smuggler, John Adams (a distant relation) was a pompous ass with delusions of his own grandeur, and Benjamin Franklin, when not writing under the pseudonym of a lady (Silence Dogood), seemed rather fond of pursuing them. Even Thomas Jefferson, whose writings on freedom as part of the Virginia legislature and during the national discussions on the subject all but defined the argument for this country, owned slaves until the day he died. 

We similarly believe that recent Congresses created the franchise on rancorous debate, backroom deals, and kickbacks. Does anyone here remember Valley Forge and the state of General Washington's army during that terrible winter of 1777-1778? Do you really believe that these soldiers were ill-housed, ill-equipped, and ill-fed because a Continental Congress filled with Founding Fathers was doing its job properly? A simple reading of history would show anyone interested that the Continental Congress was equally adept as this one at graft, bribery, and serving its own interests rather than the national one. Congress in fact found itself running regularly in front of campaigns of the British army during the Revolutionary War in order to insure warm housing and good food for themselves, while starving men in the field walked from battle to battle in the winter without uniforms, proper rations, or even the benefit of shoes. 

We now live under a Constitution that we think rather highly of, but these same men only came together to write such a document because of their original failure with the Articles of Confederation. Even the Constitution required modification immediately upon ratification, with the first ten amendments forming a guarantee of freedom that the originally written document failed to provide as the Bill of Rights.  

Not all of the ideas of our Founders would be held in equally high esteem either if examined closely today. Alexander Hamilton desired that the President and Senators be selected to serve for life. In fact, if he had his way, we would have created a class of landed nobility as part of this country's founding. 

Even the father of our country George Washington carries some tarnish on his reputation. Having just fought as the leader of the army of the Continental Congress against the rights of citizens to oppose unjust taxation, called out troops to put down citizen demonstrations against a tax on whiskey that many found selectively imposed on western citizens and a similar example of abuse. In fact, the "Whiskey Rebellion" might be seen not only as inconsistency in our first president, but as an example of Congress taking a debt that it couldn't pay and attempting to tax its way out of the red ink created. 

It might also seem strange to some that having put down this rebellion, George Washington himself became a large distillers of whiskey, operating five stills and producing 11,000 gallons of liquor in 1799. Some might find it further strange (and perhaps an example of political advantage) that the whiskey tax was repealed in 1800 under then president and fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson. 

In other words, the Founding Fathers may have been no better and no worse (as men go) than our current crop of elected hooligans. While their efforts at seeking freedom in the 1700's deserve our respect and their foresight in creating a government where the Constitution is concern deserves our admiration, in their persons they probably merit little or nothing in the way of reverential treatment.


Roland Hansen said...

Mi Amigo Tim,
You have an excellent grasp of the history of American government, as well of the founding fathers and American history itself.
Most Americans have very little knowledge of those areas but are quick to opine with little, if any, factual bases. People tend to romanticize the Founders and our early government, as they do with many other topics when addressing the "good old days" that truth be known were not all that good.
Thank you for a well presented realistic take on the subject in telling it as it is (or was). How I wish more people were as well informed as are you.
My hat is off to you.

Timothy W Higgins said...


It will remain my belief that people who talk about "the good old days" should be bludgeoned with one of the massive history textbooks that serve to point out their distorted perception of the past.

Most of history involves war, death, disease, and living conditions that you get arrested for putting a complete stranger in.  The few "bright spots" in the story merely serve to illuminate the pain and misery  that has been the greater part.

Romanticizing it merely allows those doing so to ignore its lessons and repeat its mistakes.