Were The American Founding Fathers REALLY A Bunch Of Evil Hypocrites?
Allow me to now discuss 1 of my biggest pet peeves with the Anti-American Left. "The Founding Fathers were hypocrites!"
I'm sure you've all heard this one: "Nice going, American Founding Fathers! Said all men were created equal & then DIDN'T LIVE UP TO IT! These guys didn't really believe all men were created equal! They owned slaves! They didn't let women vote! Child labor!"
For a sterling example of this kind of accusation leveled at America's founders, take a look at this book review that appeared in the New York Times:
THE founding fathers were paranoid hypocrites and ungrateful malcontents. What was their cherished Declaration of Independence but empty political posturing?......
The revolutionaries complained about a lack of representation in Parliament, but in this they were no different from the majority of Englishmen. What was more, the God-given or nature-given rights they claimed for themselves included the right to hold Africans in bondage. Edward Gibbon, who knew something about the ups and downs of history, opposed the rebels from the House of Commons. Samuel Johnson called them ''a race of convicts'' who ''ought to be thankful for any thing we allow them short of hanging.''
Observed from across the Atlantic, the story of the Revolution looks very different from the one every American child grows up with. To see that story through British eyes, as Stanley Weintraub's ''Iron Tears: America's Battle for Freedom, Britain's Quagmire: 1775-1783'' enables us to do, is to see an all-too-familiar tale reinvigorated. Weintraub reminds us that justice did not necessarily reside with the rebels, that the past can always be viewed from multiple perspectives. And he confronts us with the fact that an American triumph was anything but inevitable. History of course belongs to the victors. If Britain's generals had been more enterprising, if the French had failed to supply vital military and financial assistance, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and the rest would be known to us not as political and philosophical giants but as reckless (and hanged) losers, supporting players in a single act of Britain's imperial drama. We would all be Canadians now, with lower prescription drug costs and an inordinate fondness for winter sports.In 1776, name ONE COUNTRY that declared all people were equal whether they fully lived up to it or not.
In fact, I'm gonna make this even easier for the anti-American critics: name just ONE country in 1776 where all WHITE men were considered equal. That's right; just the white men.
Look at the colonial powers of Europe at the time. After all, the defects of America at it's founding that it's critics love to talk about, where did they come from? Is it not true that Americans weren't doing anything differently from the European cousins from whom they descended? What is the idea here? That somehow American treatment of other races & women was somehow worse than what the British, the French, the Germans, the Spaniards, the Italians, the Dutch, and the Belgians were dishing out at home and in their colonies abroad?
Note how the author of the book the NYT's reviewer is writing about in that quote above brushes aside the main point of the Declaration of Independence, where he claims the American colonists shouldn't have gotten their panties in a bunch over being treated as inferiors by the English ruling nobility. Why, even many Englishmen didn't have real representation in Parliament! Do you see them complaining about their lower station? Why couldn't Americans have that kind of good breeding, eh wot?!
In fact the entire impetus for the American Revolution was the belief of the British noble class that Americans were inferior to them just like all their other colonial subjects and had no rights unless their betters granted them some. The English nobility may not have viewed white Americans as lower than their subjects in India, but their conduct made it abundantly clear they did not view Americans as their equals.
So while the English peasant class in England may well have accepted their lot in life, those upstart Americans across the pond were no longer willing to be ruled over by people who made a false claim to being special and above others.
The American Founding Fathers created a new form of government dedicated to the PROPOSITION that all men are created equal. Therefore, there IS no 'special ruling class', there is no 'special something' that a noble class has that other people don't that gives them a right to lord it over others. The authority to govern should come from the consent of the governed, not because some class of arrogant elites made false claims about itself.
And so the American founders made it crystal clear why the time had come to cast off their connections to the British monarchy. All men are created equal, therefore the British king can't treat us like this, and so we can legitimately break our bonds with England and form our own government based on the proposition of this equality.
And the Founder's critics LOVE to point out that these same men didn't immediately live in total accordance with this proposition from the very beginning.
But this overlooks the crucial point that you have to start SOMEWHERE. And where they started was: equality between WHITE MEN.
There was no country in the world that had set up it's government where all the white men were considered equal under the law. In Europe, a white peasant could no more sue a noble for redress in court than a black man could. It is completely overlooked that nowhere in the world at the time were white men considered equal to one another. The divine right of kings, the noble class, these things separated the white rulers from the white ruled.
There are still PLENTY of places in the world where equality between people is a foreign concept.
Dedicating their new government to a radical proposition that all humans were equal, the founders threw away over 1000 yrs of social compact and began a process of slow change to live up to it. There is only so much radical change you can make at the start & today, living in a system where it's a GIVEN that all whites are equal, the critics completely overlook the radical BEGINNINGS of the Great American Experiment in Freedom.
When you study America, you are studying a people who began with a radical proposition & slowly began attempting to live it out.
You can call the American founders hypocrites, but in doing so you underscore their point: just how radical the proposition of equality was. Nobody in the ENTIRE WORLD could live up to this in 1776. The changes this proposition demanded was so radical, the chances of your being able to live up to it was nil.
And yet the Founders went ahead and established this radical proposition about equality anyway, knowing full well slavery and the status of women made them hypocrites in the eyes of history. Radical change in relations between whites would have to come FIRST & be worked out before other huge societal changes could be addressed.
Picture a whole world lost in a dark pit. Suddenly, in one country, someone sees a light. It's way up there, at a great distance. The light reveals to these people just how evil they are, how far short they come, and how high they would have to climb to cease being evil.
What, I ask you, should they do? Should they resolve among themselves to begin climbing upwards to the light, slowly, painfully, realizing the crushing burden of just how much about themselves they are going to have to change? Or should they snuff the light out and remain where they are, cursing the darkness?
If such a people decided to climb upwards to the light, would you criticize them for it? Mock them? Ridicule them? Make light of their struggle? Call them hypocrites for not being able to leap mightily from that deep pit in a single bound?
What is the argument of the critics? Unless you can completely live up to such a radical ideal from the very start, and almost instantly reorder your entire society from the top down, HOW DARE YOU MAKE SUCH A RADICAL PROPOSITION!?
Who do you Founding Fathers think you are, you buncha rotten hypocrites!
Unable to radically alter their own society all at once from the start, should they have just abstained from making this proposition? Dismissed the idea altogether?
A proposition, let us remember, that NOBODY else in the world at the time was even thinking about living under, much less implementing?
Leave us remember, by dedicating their new government to this radical proposition, they were making a START. People who claim the process of living up to the ideal should have reached it's END at the same time the proposition was being introduced are speaking nonsense.
Again: you have to START the process of radical implementation of your radical ideal somewhere. So the process of radical societal change/upheaval didn't happen all at once? How could it have? What exactly are the critics demanding here?
They BARELY got the Constitution passed as it was. It took years of argument and debate. Just the START of the process, the fact they actually got it underway could be considered a miracle.
B-b-but IRRELEVANT! They should have reformed their entire society perfectly from the start if they really believed it, say the critics.
Even as they established & started working out equality under law between whites, the Founders weren't blind to the slavery issue. It's not like they didn't know the issue of slavery was going to have to be dealt with sooner or later, if 'created equal' was to last.
And there WERE founders who pressed on that issue for abolition from the very beginning. But the fact was, the Southern colonies rejected these overtures. The choice was forgoing the new Constitutional government altogether or going forward while carving out an exception for slavery. To move forward on the radical idea of total white equality, with the PROMISE of future expansion to include others groups, they actually had to accept inaction on slavery at the start. This is the sort of compromise politics necessitates. To accomplish some good, you have to accept some trade offs. The alternative is to scrap the whole thing and get nothing.
But let's engage in a thought experiment here, shall we? What if the anti-American critics had gotten their way? What if the Founders had purposed to radically transform their society right at the beginning in 1780's by not only having equality between whites but also going on to immediately ratify equality with blacks & women? Would this not have torn the society apart? Yes or no? Think carefully before you answer. Is what the critics demand even possible for the Founders to have done? Could the newly minted Federal Government from Washington have by passing immediate laws forced all the states to radically alter what their citizens believed, how they lived, and how they interacted with one another?
And assuming the answer to that question is yes, what do you supposed the result would have been?
I am here pointing out the fact that those who believe such fast transformation could have been achieved don't grasp what they're demanding of these men. A new Constitutional form of federal government that from it's infancy attempted to make such radical changes on slavery & women's sufferage to American society from the top down by force would have failed. Is that not self-evidently true? Does it even need to be argued?
Watching 'Lincoln' the other day, it was brought home even more powerfully, how slowly such radical changes come to a society. It is easy to say, "This is our ideal, this is the proposition upon which we base our government' and our society here in America'. Living that out however becomes a herculean task.
It took 70 years and a bloody Civil War for the great moral evil of slavery to be eradicated from the United States. When America finally had it out over slavery, whether this country ever would live up to it's claim about equality, it was a huge bloodbath. But hey, who cares? The Founders totally should have taken care of all this back in the 1780's by passing a few laws, right?
Over 7,000 Americans fell in 20 minutes at Cold Harbor on June 3rd, 1864
And when the time came to consider the status of women, that change wasn't overnight either. It took years of dedicated struggle.
Societies change slowly, if at all, when it comes to their basic makeup. A group of men in Washington can say whatever they want, pass whatever laws they want. The country has to be READY to live up to any such laws for them to mean anything. You have to prepare the ground and wait for the time to be right.
The Founders understood this. You have to prepare the ground for radical change, you just can't spring it on a people all at once by fiat. People who constantly criticized Lincoln for moving too slowly against slavery also miss this fact. The time was barely right for the passage of the 13th Amendment ending slavery in the United States, and as the film 'Lincoln' depicts, it took all kinds of shenanigans to pull it off.
So people who berate Lincoln and others for not having accomplished this grand work years earlier are missing a vital point.
Were the Founding Fathers hypocrites because they couldn't force all of America to live out this proposition on equality from the very beginning? I say no. Had our Founders demanded an end to slavery, and given women the vote in the 1780's, the country would have torn itself apart in a great societal upheaval. Any European country that had attempted such a feat would have likewise utterly failed. There's an assumption here by the critics that such fast societal change was even possible. Was it really? There is a good case to be made that it wasn't.
I hope I've given you some food for thought. America's history is one long, hard struggle to live out that great proposition, sharing it with the world.
Better to dedicate yourself to the radical proposition, strive for it and fall short at first, than to never claim such a lofty ideal in the first place. That's my view.