Sunday, September 18, 2011

What’s Changed in America Since the Revolution?

Of course, many things have changed in America—technical things come instantly to mind. But the things that come to my mind as most important, are the things having to do with the basic attitudes, values, and abilities of our people. As an example, many have commented on the difference between the beliefs, purposes, and values between the founding fathers and the present day politicians who run our United States.

Many books are in print, which would seek to tell us that the founders of America were self-seeking bigots who had no altruistic purposes in mind when they wrote the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. The books propounding these views began to appear in 1896 in an essay called “The Political Depravity of the Founding Fathers,” by John Bach McMaster. These books and writings continued for more than a century and seriously called into question even the things we take for granted about the founders’ desire to seek the democratic will of the people in establishing a representative form of government. In particular, many writers have claimed that the founders were not Christian to any great extent. They are said to have established a government completely separate from Christian faith and practice.

On the other hand, writings are in print, which tend to paint the founding fathers as near perfect, demigods with only the good of the country at heart. The truth is somewhere between these two extremes.

Gordon Wood, a professor of history at Brown University has written a book entitled "Revolutionary Characters, What Made the Founders Different." In that book, he points out that the founding fathers of our country were strongly influenced by the culture and the intellectual forces of their day. They were sons of the enlightenment. They sought to establish a country where freedom would prevail and where civil society would rein without hostile and harmful influences to destroy the hopes and aspirations of men and women of good intention. They appealed to reason as a foundational building block. They were always aware of a higher law than the "natural law" or "common law" of their day,i.e., the implicit and explicit laws of the Bible. . They strove to epitomize good manners and good faith among their co-workers in this project of establishing a new nation. For the most part, they would act in a respectable and honorable way toward those around them; and they always tried to leave the impression of being gentlemen in their actions.

The American founders knew well that the polite and sophisticated metropolitan center of the empire was steeped in luxury and corruption. England had sprawling, poverty-ridden cities, over refined manners, gross inequalities of rank, complex divisions of labor, and widespread manufacturing of luxuries, all symptoms of over-advanced social development and social decay. It was said of this society by Samuel Stanhope of Princeton University, “that human society can advance only to a certain point before it becomes corrupted, and begins to decline.” To many, England in the 1760’s and 1770’s seemed to be on the verge of dissolution. The North American colonists who came in direct contact with London were shocked at the notorious ways in which hundreds of thousands of pounds were being spent to buy elections. This “most unbounded licentiousness and utter disregard of virtue” could only end, as it had always had in history, in the destruction of the British Empire. The American founding fathers wanted with all their heart and energy to avoid such a society.

As a result of this motivation, our founders set up a system of government which was, at the time, the beginning of egalitarian democracy. The voices of ordinary white people began to be heard as never before in history. The founders, were, themselves, an elite aristocracy imbued with high ideals and aspirations for the good of the country. What they could not have suspected, however, was that when the voices of the common people were considered, many of their high-sounding ideals would be trampled underfoot; and political preferences, partisan politics, and the influence of social and economic pressure groups would overwhelm much of what they were so valiantly trying to achieve.

We are seeing this effect, today; and the high ideals of our founders will probably never, again, be visible in our American society. It has been posited by knowledgeable observers that as soon as the voting majority see that they can vote themselves significant benefits, they will do so; and social freedom and entrepreneurship will disappear from our society. I fear that those days are upon us.

It is my personal opinion that much of the gain in societal management which was so very salutary to our country in the beginning will never, again, be seen in its pure form. I believe that one reason for this is that the effect of Christian religion will not likely be infused into our behavior and policies as it was in the lives and actions of our founders. Such statements as the one uttered by John Adams, our second President, are not likely in our present day political climate. “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

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