Take a moment, if you will, to travel back in your mind to a hot, muggy July day. Perhaps it’s not hard to imagine the hot and muggy part but see if you can imagine standing in the back of that assembly room at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1776 as the delegates from the 13 colonies entered into the debate as to whether or not America should be formed. They were lawyers, farmers, doctors and scholars from as diverse a background and cultural heritage as you could find.
We were already at war with England and all of this discussion of “independence” was treasonous talk. At any moment, British soldiers could have barged into that Philadelphia meeting, arrested all the participants and hung them from the nearest tree. Even those signers who disagreed in principle with making the break from England and the British Crown stuck it out. The debate raged on and ultimately a nation was born just as it should with equal parts strength of purpose and prudent compromise.
Plenty of history books have been written about this revolutionary time. Those noble and brave Founding Fathers have been invoked ever since. Today the phrase, “not what the Founding Fathers intended” is bandied about to cover all sorts of perceived wrongs. Personally, I like to have the Founding Fathers speak for themselves. Here’s a surprise: What they actually said has complete relevance for what we’re going through today; no need to take them out of context. Use their words wisely.
Take it away, revolutionaries:
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclination, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence,” John Adams, in Defense of the British Soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre, December 4, 1770
“A judiciary independent of a king or executive alone, is a good thing; but independence of the will of the nation is a solecism, at least in a republican government,” Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Ritchie, December 25, 1820.
“The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy,” Benjamin Franklin, Emblematical Representations, circa 1774.
“Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it,” John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776.
“As to Taxes, they are evidently inseparable from Government. It is impossible without them to pay the debts of the nation, to protect it from foreign danger, or to secure individuals from lawless violence and rapine,” Alexander Hamilton, Address to the Electors of the State of New York, March, 1801.
“If duties are too high, they lessen the consumption; the collection is eluded; and the product to the treasury is not so great as when they are confined within proper and moderate bounds. This forms a complete barrier against any material oppression of the citizens by taxes of this class, and is itself a natural limitation of the power of imposing them,” Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 21, 1787.
“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it,” John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776.
“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives,” James Madison, letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822.
“America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat,” James Madison, Federalist No. 14, November 30, 1787.
“But with respect to future debt; would it not be wise and just for that nation to declare in the constitution they are forming that neither the legislature, nor the nation itself can validly contract more debt, than they may pay within their own age, or within the term of 19 years,” Thomas Jefferson, September 6, 1789.
“In reality there is perhaps no one of our natural Passions so hard to subdue as Pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will now and then peek out and show itself,” Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 1771.
“I have accepted a seat in the [Massachusetts] House of Representatives, and thereby have consented to my own ruin, to your ruin, and the ruin of our children. I give you this warning, that you may prepare your mind for your fate,” John Adams, to Abigail Adams, May 1770.
“It is yet to be decided whether the Revolution must ultimately be considered as a blessing or a curse: a blessing or a curse, not to the present age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn millions be involved,” George Washington, Circular to the States, 1783.