Studying our Founding Fathers transformed my view of America. Our Founders were not Gods. I am aware of their myriad flaws, but nonetheless believe they deserve the enormous praise we bestow, and are great in ways it would serve us well to remember:
Even George Washington’s staunchest critics admitted he was incorruptible. Most leaders of his era aspired to be monarchs, but he refused the American Kingship, and prevented numerous other attempted perversions of our revolution. “He has commanded the army seven years and still obeys Congress,” the French officer Marquis de Chastellax observed. “More need not be said.”
Washington was and is the rare exception to the axiom “power corrupts.” As General and President he scrupulously obeyed civilian authority, using his station for the greater good rather than personal gain. In our nation’s formative years, George Washington was America to most citizens, and they trusted the government only because they trusted him.
Washington’s legendary integrity is not an exaggeration, and it would be interesting to see him confront corrupt modern leaders. Most modern Americans accept “political spin” as an axiom, but when Washington spoke, the people knew they were receiving the truth. How different would America be if we had more leaders with Washingtonian integrity? How different might America be if we were once again led by Washington himself?
To utter the most basic American principles is to invoke the words of Thomas Jefferson. James Madison called him “the most learned man that had ever devoted so much time to public life.” JFK once told a group of Nobel Laureates that they were, “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” It is no coincidence that Jefferson’s vision of America still resonates centuries later.
Today, America’s best and brightest rarely choose politics, and our pedestrian policies are the unsurprising result. It would be fascinating to view present-day America through the eyes of a first-order genius like Jefferson, and see the innovative solutions his mighty intellect concocts.
Franklin rose above middle class obscurity and amassed a fortune through thrift, providing a lasting example of “The Way to Wealth” that is the quintessential American Dream. He considered debt a form of slavery, always lived within his means, and would “rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt.”
America is a nation of maxed credit cards, spiraling bankruptcies and stratospheric federal deficits. We have forsaken Franklinean frugality and chosen “The Path to Poverty.”
If he were here today, Franklin would educate the American people about the ultimate consequence of our debt, disseminating unconventional wisdom that debunks current dogma. He would advocate “A Return to Wealth” which restores financial sanity and sustainability. Current politicians peddle fool’s gold, but Franklin’s solutions would require genuine sacrifice. We ask more of our leaders, but a great leader like Franklin would ask more of us.
The Founders could have enjoyed a lavish existence as elites in a British ruled America. Instead they challenged a corrupt establishment, pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to a fight they knew they might lose.
Our current leaders amass fortunes in office rather than risking them. Most have dodged drafts or avoided combat, but gladly pledge others’ lives to their causes. Even the honorable are not audacious enough to truly challenge our corrupt establishment.
Wouldn’t it be inspiring to once again have a Washington who would lead men into war rather than sending them off to die from behind a desk? A Commander in Chief our soldiers would truly be willing to die for, because they know the opposite is also true.
Belief in Personal Freedom
Our Founders created a Declaration of Independence to acknowledge inalienable rights, and a Constitution to protect them. The power granted to government was small, that left to the people was large. Our forefathers truly believed people could govern themselves. They would find many aspects of our current government shocking, and most Americans would find their actions in the present equally so.
As our cherished national holidays approach, it is appropriate to contemplate our Founders not just in the context of America’s heritage, but its ultimate destiny. Their example is relevant to Americans of every era, for the lesson they teach is timeless. To improve the nation we love, we need only embrace the principles our Founding Fathers exemplified, and demand them in our leaders and ourselves.