I’m almost done with Chernow’s latest biography, Washington A Life. (I’ll be reviewing it here, soon.) So, it was with great interest that I stumbled upon his recent Opinion Page piece in the New York Times entitled, The Founding Fathers Versus the Tea Party.
I find myself largely in agreement with his point of view. The more I learn about the American Revolution, the more I realize that it isn’t the specifics of what they believed, or even their individual actions. It is the system that they left us.
To be sure, the Founders deserve our admiration for their accomplishments, and merit some criticism for their imperfections, but there should be no doubt that they are worthy of our gratitude. Chernow implies as much.
No single group should ever presume to claim special ownership of the founding fathers or the Constitution they wrought with such skill and ingenuity. Those lofty figures, along with the seminal document they brought forth, form a sacred part of our common heritage as Americans. They should be used for the richness and diversity of their arguments, not tampered with for partisan purposes. The Dutch historian Pieter Geyl once famously asserted that history was an argument without an end. Our contentious founders, who could agree on little else, would certainly have agreed on that.
I don’t think anyone can lay exclusive claim to the Founding Fathers, either. But some critics confuse respect and gratitude for a legacy of unparalleled opportunity and freedom, with claims of philosophical kinship. Perhaps, some in the Tea Party of today are guilty of making broad generalizations and pouring the Founders into one bucket. However, the beliefs of the Tea Party are much more akin to Chernow’s characterization of the Founders,
As a general rule, the founders favored limited government, reserving a special wariness for executive power, but they clashed sharply over those limits.
than the beliefs of those who try to ignore, belittle, or marginalize the importance of what the Founders bequeathed to us.