Founding Fathers & Worthy Ideas

The founding fathers have been getting a lot of heat lately. Some for being slave owners, others for their obsession with property rights, and all for having the ethos of 18th century colonial Americans rather than that of our more enlightened 21st century. Even the wildly successful play Hamilton is criticized for being a play, and not a peer reviewed historical text. I think we might give them a break. A case in point is The Federalist Papers promoting the benefits of a constitutionally governed United States. Yes, they were written by white men of property who had limited visions about who could or should be citizens. White men 21 and older who owned property was their limit. Within that small universe, they defined how a just and representative government could provide for the greater good of the nation. Stripping away the boundaries they set for themselves, their ideas remain applicable to a nation of universal suffrage, and are filled with wisdom not yet surpassed. They set standards for the American ideal we have yet to meet. What they offered remains worthy.

Not to be forgotten, they were opposed by others who preferred a weak federal government of limited powers that would not interfere with state and local ways of doing things, inhibit westward expansion of a slave based plantation economy, impose onerous taxes (any tax being onerous) or limit what a small land owner could do with ‘his’ property. They were especially suspicious of a federal government with control over banking, and financial and trade policies that would hurt cotton and tobacco exports. With some modification, they’re the same fears expressed by modern tea partiers who would rather be dominated by today’s giant corporation version of a plantation economy than surrender their imaginary independence to a democratic government designed to protect their rights.

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