I want to talk about the Founding Fathers for a bit because I think it is important that we try and crawl inside their heads and attempt to determine where they were coming from, because only if we can follow their thought processes can we ever hope to have an intelligent conversation about what they created.
First, who were they?
It is easy to generalize, and most Americans do, that anyone who was part of the drafting and debate of our constitution, anyone who was a delegate to the convention, should, at least loosely, be considered a "Founding Father." Not surprisingly, I disagree with this broad definition.
I believe that a lot of those people who have generously been included in the term "Founding Fathers" were merely along for the ride, swept along with the tide, and present simply by virtue of their standing as a representative or Favorite Son of this or that state, and who were among those persuaded at the convention rather than being one of the persuaders.
To me, the Founding Fathers were a small group of men who were in the fight from the beginning; prominent men whose names were known and hated by by the British Government. Most importantly, they were the few men without whom we wouldn't even have a country today—or they were the ones who set the chain of events in motion, the ones who convinced the necessary people that there should be independence, should be a revolution with Great Britain; who fought one way or the other in that revolution, convinced foreign powers to support our cause and loan us money, raised armies and planned military strategy and engaged the British Armies, and, in the end, came up with the plans for a government so far-sighted that it still exists today.
The historian Joseph J. Ellis, in his book "Founding Brothers", postulated that there were seven Founding Fathers. I say there were only six. Six that meet the criteria listed above, and without whom the United States of America simply would not exist today—certainly not in its present form.
Ellis lists his seven:
I omit Aaron Burr.
Not all of these men were intimately engaged in the framing of our constitution, to be sure. But they got us to the place where we were an actual country in need of a constitution. Others not on the list contributed greatly to the concepts that are actually contained in the constitution, but I would not call them Founding Fathers within the strict criteria I laid out above. Not everyone who attended the convention and debated and contributed and voted and signed the paper were necessarily deserving of the term Founding Fathers.
As stated in previous posts, these men and their millions of sisters and brothers did not yet consider themselves Americans. They were New Yorkers. They were New Hampshiremen. They were Georgians.
And they were Virginians.
I think many present-day Americans don't quite understand the importance of Virginia in our history. Virginia, the first colony. The largest population. The wealthiest. The colony where most of the movers and shakers lived. The colony of gentility and even aristocracy.
The land of slaves.
When it came to framing and wording of the new constitution, Virginia was a force to be reckoned with. No Union would be viable without Virginia in it, and everyone knew it. What Virginia wanted in the constitution, well... you get the picture.
Four of the first five presidents were Virginians. Later, when we fought a Civil War, the capital of the confederacy ended up in Virginia and the Supreme commander of the Confederacy was a Virginian - and this was over 80 years after the constitution!
If you would understand some of the odd things that got put into our constitution, some of the tremendous compromises that went into hammering out that constitution, then look to Virginia and the rest of the South. Look to the Republicans** Thomas Jefferson and his protoge James Madison and their crew. Look to the institution of slavery.
I think we should also discuss the debates about federalism and thoughts about what the nature of the constitution should be, by Madison and Hamilton and others. Next, perhaps?
But first, I think, a few posts on other matters are in order before I lose all my other readers.
**Not in the least related to the political party of the same name that exists today. Some historians call them "Democratic-Republicans" for some reason. They called themselves simply "Republicans", in their writings - believers in the definition of "Republic" rather than in the concept of Federalism. The original "State's-Righters" if you will.