On this Independence Day, 236 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed by some very brave men in steamy Philadelphia, I wonder what some of those men would think about the great American experiment today. Setting aside the obvious impressions of the technological marvels, medical breakthroughs, skyscraping metropolises, ubiquitous fast food joints, and Snooki, I imagine they would have mixed emotions in what the country has become. (Technology aside, I bet Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and others such as Hamilton, Madison and Paine would be the most brilliant and best bloggers).
I think our Founding Fathers would initially be shocked not so much but what we’ve become, but that the United States of America still exists. These men were well aware of the fragility of the Republic as well as the fact that democracies were not known for long shell lives. They clearly understood the extreme diametrically opposed factions were held together with a threadbare series of compromises that could server, and in fact did, at any time. Yes, they would marvel that the United States of America was alive, but they wouldn’t shocked by what it had become. Because they saw the greatness of the potential and knew if it could stick together it become the most powerful and wealthiest nation on earth.
It is important to understand that the Founding Fathers while homogenous by race and gender, were far from so politically. The spats between Hamilton and Adams and Jefferson are legendary and well documented. That being said, I believe all would be shocked initially at the size and scope of the federal government. The number of laws, regulations, and taxes would shock even staunch Federalists like Hamilton. But the size of the government wouldn’t be the only shock. The size of the armed forces and security apparatus, the money spent on foreign wars and espionage, and the global entanglements we have found ourselves mired in would be distressing. Washington had warned about such foreign intrigue: “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.” And while American imperialism and global reach was burgeoning in the beginning of the 19th century these actions such as the Barbary Wars were mainly focused on protecting US trade interests. Today our actions can be seen and justified not just in protecting shipping lanes through our massive navy, but in the machinations of political intrigue in the form of government overthrows, regime destabilization, and propping up dictators. Yes, I imagine the same men who risked their lives to throw off the yolk of tyranny would be disappointed to see their descendants and custodians of what they had entrusted prop up the similar hegemonies and subjugations around the globe.
Likewise, these men who were so opposed to monarchies and unlimited power in the hands of the few, would be outraged in the power of the presidency. While the Constitution carefully calls out certain executive powers, the intent was to keep the office of the President in check via Congress. Democrat and Republican administrations alike have further expanded the power to include waging war (what is limited war?) and execute foreign nationals on suspicion alone.
But I think the Founders would be more alarmed about domestic matters. They would be abhorred by the presence of religion in government, the incessant need for politicians, and elected officials to articulate their faith in God, and when the frequency of attending church is more important than fiscal policy. While many on the right will argue that the Founders were Christian men and wanted to establish a Christian nation, there is no evidence to support that claim. In fact it is quite clear to Federalists and Democrat-Republicans like Jefferson that religion was fine in the public square but not in policy. While many were slave owners, they also realized that slavery would never be permanent and while the laws of the land took centuries to right the wrongs, these would men would no doubt view this evolution in policy, public opinion, and thought to be natural. The denial of rights based on sexuality, race, gender, age, etc. would be abhorrent to these men centuries after the Declaration of Independence. But if that’s the case, why didn’t they do something about it then? Sign of the times, the need to keep the union together, and ignorance. I would go as far as to say these men would ask why is the government involved in defining marriage and monitoring what happens in people’s homes. Yes they would not support government expansion in the market, but they would absolutely loathe and detest the role of government as social watchdog.
Can you imagine the same men who fought for representation and elected government witnessing the voter suppression being carried out in some states? The denial of the vote, the one thing these men risked their lives and the lives of likeminded thousands would be unacceptable. But most of all, I think the Massachusetts Bay Colony Patriots they would be pissed that these clowns today clall themselves the Tea Party.
Yes they would marvel that the expansion of America on this continent from sea to shining sea. It’s destiny defined and delivered. Not perfect, but alive and vibrant.
Oh, and I think they’d be happy to see that Vice Presidents and Secretaries of the Treasury were no longer engaged in duels.