Partisans from across the political divide routinely pay lip service to America’s founders. It is impossible to go very long—particularly during an election year—without hearing politicians and their supporters of all stripes enlist “the Founders” in the service of their causes.
Sometimes such invocations are justified. More often—much more often—than not, however, they are nothing more or less than window dressing for positions of which the Patriots of 1776 could have scarcely conceived. And if they could have conceived these ideas, they would have recoiled in horror from them.
Contrary to what “the Founders” suggests, the men and women who gave birth to America composed anything but a monolithic group. Granted, racially, ethnically, and religiously, they were overwhelmingly of the same stock. Intellectually, on the other hand, they composed quite a diverse bunch. As historians as disparate as Bernard Bailyn and Paul Johnson have shown, the eighteenth century American mind was a river with many tributaries flowing into it.
Still, its intellectual variety, though dramatic, was held together by a consensus of a sort. The minds of ’76, for all of their differences, ultimately converged around the idea that liberty is something to be prized.
Furthermore, coming out of the English tradition as they did, they agreed that the term “government,” for all of its grammatical unity, should no more refer to a single entity than the terms “world” or “weather.” That is, those who declared and achieved American independence knew that in the absence of a self-divided government, a government comprised of many sovereigns, there could be no liberty. They knew that liberty, as they understood it, demanded as wide a diffusion of power and authority as the government could survive.
This is why the Founders decided upon the Constitution, a system of federalized arrangements that relegate the federal government to a standing of secondary importance vis-à-vis the states.
In navigating their way around the challenges of everyday life, Christians ask themselves one very straightforward question: what would Jesus do? To determine who really is and is not committed to preserving the legacy of the Founders, I suggest we ask ourselves a similarly direct question: what would the Founders do?
Let us be bold. Let us be honest. Let us consider the following issues in light of how the Founders would have approached them.
Would the Founders have supported “universal heath care?”
Would they have supported any national income tax, regardless of the rate at which it is was set?
Can we imagine the Founders thinking it desirable, much less permissible, for any politician, let alone the President, to redistribute the wealth and incomes of citizens?
Would the Founders have looked upon a federal government that confiscated and expended the resources of its citizens for “humanitarian” purposes as anything other than an enemy of humanity?
Would the Founders have endorsed limitless waves of immigration from any part of the planet, but particularly the likes of which have been stemming to our country from the non-European countries of the Third World for the last nearly 50 years?
Would they have promoted the exportation to the rest of the globe, via the military, of something called “American values?”
What would the Founders have thought about the national government undermining individuals’ freedom of association and assembly by preventing them from discriminating against others (as if this freedom isn’t inherently discriminatory)?
What would the Founders think about Washington D.C. telling employers how little they are permitted to pay their employees and who they can and cannot hire?
What would the Founders think about the national government telling private property owners how much they can charge their tenants?
What would the Founders think about a national government that tells citizens how long them must wait before they can exercise their Second Amendment rights by purchasing a firearm? What would they think about its limiting their choice of such purchases?
What would the Founders think about a national government that waged war against half of the country because it dared to assert its sovereignty by attempting to secede from the union? What would the Founders think about a country that now associates the word “secession” with what it calls “extremists” and “fringe elements?”
These questions are not at all difficult to answer. Whether we agree with the Founders or not isn’t the point. The point is that we know just how they would reply to these inquiries.
What this in turn means is that if we take exception to the Founders’ vision, we cannot pretend to like them. We cannot continue to invoke them.