Recent times have seen a growing number of people writing books and articles that really attack the United States’ Founding Fathers and some of the early presidents. Everything from Abraham Lincoln’s secret homosexual tendencies to Thomas Jefferson’s ownership of slaves have been brought forward in an attempt to belittle their influence on present day America. Some of this information is true, other stuff is false, but it all has one purpose: remove the hero status of the men in the early history of America. But as I reflect back on what I have learned from studying American history, I actually think that these men were geniuses in their own right.
Let’s start with Abraham Lincoln. He is actually quoted at one point as saying that he did not see African Americans as ever being treated equally, and that he didn’t think that they deserved to be. He actually viewed them as inferior to the white man. But he is one of the principal players in seeing to the end of slavery of that sort here in the U.S.
Why? Because he was smart. He knew that to join the side of the Confederates was political suicide. The majority was opposed to slavery. For him to support the practice would mean that he would most likely not be elected to a second term in office. So, as a political gesture to the men who could keep him in office, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation and freed the slaves.
But it goes back even further than that. The men who founded this nation and established our form of government knew exactly what they were doing. In light of their treatment by the king, they fled England and came to the New World to establish a free(er) life for themselves. They saw their king as a tyrant who refused to submit to any law, even if it were for the common good. He controlled what was made a law in such a way that laws could not be enacted. He called legislative bodies to be convened in ridiculous places just to get people to submit to his way of thinking. He disbanded representative houses simply because they stood against his unwarranted invasions of people’s homes and privacy. He micromanaged the decisions of the people and the courts. He kept a standing army, even in peace-times, without the people’s consent. I could go on, but you get the idea. As a result, they declared their independence and established their own Constitution.
But, when you read those documents, you notice something very interesting. They did not establish a government run by the people. The government is actually run by representatives and a congress. The President can make some executive decisions, but that is about as far as his power extends. For the Founding Fathers, this was a very smart move.
The framers of the Constitution were some of the United States’ political and economical elite. They were wealthy land-owners. When they established the form of government that they did, they ensured that the only people who would be in power were wealthy land owners. The elite. They knew that if they established a true democracy that it was very likely that they would be ousted in no time. As is true today, many times, the decisions made by the wealthy do not necessarily coincide with what the rest of the population really need. The desires of the rich and what makes for the common good are, most of the time, mutually exclusive. The Founding Fathers knew this and so they established a “Republic” rather than a “Democracy.”
Leaving America briefly, let’s look at a country that is a Democracy. Let’s take France for example. Let’s say that the teachers in France are having a hard time financially. As oil, food, and housing costs rise, their own salaries remain the same. As a result, the teachers join together and ask that the French government raise their wages. But nothing happens. So, they strike and take to the streets, demanding that the government step in and do something about their pay. They demand that the normal wage for their profession increase to compensate for the rising cost of living. The teachers are on strike, and so no schooling is going on whatsoever. An entire segment of the country has ceased to function, putting a lot of people temporarily out of work. This has obvious consequences for the French economy.
How does the government respond? They can do one of two things. They can crush the striking teachers and bring in people willing to work for that wage. Or, they can give in to the people’s demands and do something about the payment of the educators. They are smart enough to know that if these people are struggling, then so would anyone else they put in their place, so they enact a law raising the wage for teachers in France.
Our Founding Fathers knew that this is the kind of thing that the American people would do if they were allowed a true say in what the government did and didn’t do. They also knew that there were more non-wealthy than wealthy people in the country, especially when they considered slaves, that they would not stand a chance of having any governing power. So, they gave the people the opportunity to vote for representatives, out of a pool of those in their respective state from the political establishment, who would decide things in the name of the people. But not everyone would get a say. Only land owners. To own land, you had to be wealthy. Being wealthy meant being a part of the establishment. By a work of sheer genius, the rich political elite took control of the new United States of America.
219 years later, nothing has changed. In fact, things seem strangely reminiscent of the days prior to American independence. The president, and this does not apply only to our current president, refuses to submit to any law, he controls what is made a law in such a way that laws can’t be enacted, even if they are for the common good, he micromanages the decisions of the people and the courts by placing his own cronies in those positions, and he maintains a standing army, in places all over the world, with or without the people’s consent. But the attitude is that we elected him, so this must be what we want. But, just as in the days of our Founding Fathers, it is not the majority that make the decisions regarding where this country goes, it is those we chose to represent us from the wealthy, political establishment. Presidents are not elected by us, but by those in the establishment who decide for us. And they can overturn the popular decision of the people in their state if they so choose. True, a larger segment of the population can vote now. African Americans, women, rich and poor all have a vote. But they do not get to elect men or women who truly represent them. They are forced to select someone from the political establishment. We really have no vote in any real sense of the word.
So I guess if you really think about it, the Founding Fathers would be proud of where we have come. But then again, maybe that’s the problem.