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What Would The Founders Say? By Larry Schweikart

Book:
Larry Schweikart

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On March 7, 2011
Last modified:October 5, 2012

Summary:

Larry Schweikart's What Would The Founders Say is a book we've been waiting anxiously for. The title alone was enough to pique our interest. The best-selling author of A Patriot's History of the United States, doesn't disappoint with his latest effort.

What Would The Founders Say?A Patriot’s Answer to America’s Most Pressing Problems

It is relatively easy for a politician or opinion-maker to get a Founder to put a metaphorical arm around their shoulder by quoting something that Founder once said that seems to be in agreement with an advocated position. The unscrupulous can even take a quote out of context, or project a minority opinion and claim it was universal. Many, including this blog, try to project the Founders’ thinking onto modern problems, but in truth, almost any opinion can find a substantiating quote by one of the Founders.

Larry Schweikart has done Americans a huge service in writing What Would The Founders Say? He has consolidated the opinions of multiple Founders about perennial issues that range from religion to gun control. Reading this book, you will discover that the Founders not only varied in their opinions, they sometimes changed their minds after debate and reflection.

Schweikart is the co-author of the New York Times #1 bestseller, A Patriot’s History of the United States. He writes in a straightforward style that makes the material easy to understand. Unlike many historians, he does not use esoteric or antiquated words to impress colleagues. He is also unafraid of using the period as punctuation. (Many historians have so many caveats and qualifications to any statement that their sentences run on like a legal brief.)

He has broken his book into ten chapters, each dedicated to a specific issue with extensive quotes from numerous Founders. When the Founders disagreed, he presents their differences and the rationale for their respective positions. Schweikart references state statutes, state constitutions, philosophers that influenced the Founders, and personal letters, as well as the national founding documents and related writings. All of the Founders’ words are presented as they related to the events of their time. Only in the concluding paragraphs of each chapter does Schweikart try to project their opinions onto current events. Whether the reader agrees or disagrees with Schweikart’s conclusions, he or she will come away with a good grasp of what our forefathers thought about the issues they faced in founding a great republic.

Although Schweikart acknowledges that the Founders did not agree on everything, he writes, “Remarkably, there was almost no disagreement among the Founders—even among such polar opposites as Hamilton and Jefferson—that freedom was good and tyranny was bad. That seems an obvious statement on the surface, yet modern Americans daily are confronted by policies enacted by local, state, and federal representatives who see freedom as a threat and greater government control as desirable.”

By the end of What Would The Founders Say?, the reader comes to feel he knows the Founders better than current politicians. The Founders spoke more forthrightly, did not abandon their principals, and always felt a responsibility toward their fellow citizens and posterity. Perhaps we should use this same yardstick to find modern politicians that can get us out of our current mess. At least, we should consider the Founders thinking on the issues we face today. Schweikart concludes his book by writing, “Many paid a heavy price for their courage. At the very least, we owe them the courtesy of a virtual consultation about every policy. They earned that much.”

James D. Best is the author of Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

8 comments

1 Quinn { 03.07.11 at 11:23 am }

A good review. Looks like an important book to read and know.

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2 Hondo69 { 03.13.11 at 7:20 pm }

I’ve heard it said that, “the only true freedom is freedom from illusion.” Perhaps the purpose of this book is to lift that cloud, even if only a little.

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3 Joel { 03.15.11 at 5:18 am }

I saw the book this weekend and immediately thought of you guys. I had the book in my hand, but didn’t purchase. It sounds as though I shouldn’t make that mistake again.

Thanks!!

Regards,
Joel

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Martin Reply:

Thanks Joel, Schweikart doesn’t pull any punches. His history is good, and will be a useful reference.

[WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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4 Mike McManus { 09.07.11 at 12:01 pm }

There are a aspects of this book I liked. However, I found most of the material on Religious Freedom to be fairly inaccurate in terms of the intent of the founding fathers. Although I must say that I think that its fairly clearly that good majority of the Founding Fathers believed in God and that we should be sensitive to that. It is clear though that US Constitution outlaws religious oaths/tests for instance. Yet this not brought up by Larry . These tests were removed over time and as the various State Constitutions were modified in the next couple of decades they actually strengthened the concept of religious freedom. As well, Larry brought up Jefferson as important as a founding father, but then dismissed him as having a significant role in Bill of Rights on this. it was Jefferson’s bill (Virginia Bill of Religious Freedom) that eventually was approved by Virginia (Madison led the fight here) that the Constitution uses as its core logic. The letter & related correspondence to the Danbury Baptist association is critically important here since it shows that the Baptists in Connecticut and Jefferson thought the same on this idea of “the wall between Church & State” Also, North Carolina 1776 has a strong statement for religious freedom/conscience (essentially that you should be able to worship God in any way you want). This came right from John Locke who was adamant about the freedom of religious worship (and Freddowm of Conscience). Additionally he bring up Franklin and doesn’t acknowledge that Franklin’s views evolved over time to be a deist (when you look at the idea of Deism…it don’s seem all that far from being at least non-Christian in your belief about God/Jesus Christ. As well Larry dismisses the idea it appears that Founding Fathers cared about other non Chrisitian Religions. I find that hard to believe. Voltaire as a for instance talked about the various factions or sects out there and singled out the “Mohammadeans” (not sure I got spelling right, but this was his term for The faith of Islam). Madison in Federalist 10 looks to have lifted that idea right out of Voltaire’s writing. No mention is made of Hume and how much Madison relied on him. Yet Hume was an avowed atheist. No mention is made about the Treaty of Tripoli under John Adams, that declares we are not a Christian Nation. All this said, I think we a all have a right to worship God as we see fit, that the Founders intended for us to have an absolute right to Freedom of Conscience and that state taxes and oaths that you were a Christian were to be prohibited. As well, Federal regulations and Court decisions should not impinge our right to worship God (and it seems to me that we ought to be able to do that in public without the state coming down on you for that). Mike

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Mike McManus Reply:

My apologies for the misspellings above. Also, I should say that I think there is a very good conservative argument to make here. My disappointment with Larry’s approach is that it looks like he made no attempt to argue the counter side. If he had, it would be more historically accurate and he would have added to a substantive debate. However, the book overall is more like a polemic rather than History. That is, Larry asserts certain premises or truths and then justifies those thoughts at times by cherry picking history. On the other hand, if you are a serious conservative (especially Libertarian) then I think you will get some interesting ideas here for further study. I just wouldn’t rely on it as History. I liked one section very much, the section on Education. I can’t remember, but I think a disagreed with some of his conclusions but liked the whole argument he presented.

I’m mixed on the book. I guess I would like to see more accurate conservative arguments rather than these polemics that keep coming out that play ‘loose & fast’ with historical facts (and context). I think it does us folks that are serious minded about these topics a big disservice and would like to see more self checking here by authors like Larry. v/r Mike

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5 James D. Best { 09.10.11 at 7:56 am }

I think there are a couple of things we can safely say about the Founders and religion. First, they wanted to deny government the use of religion as a lever in governing people. The world had a history of rulers and kings inappropriately using of religious faith for their own purposes. For example, the “divine right of kings” basically said if you disobeyed your king, you were disobeying an agent of God. The second thing we can safely say is that the Founders wanted the government never to interfere with an individual’s exercise of religious faith. If this is a wall, it seems one-sided to me. Religion is not excluded from government, government is excluded from religion. The Founders insisted on separation of power with checks and balances. This was the greatest separation of power of all.

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6 Sydney { 12.08.11 at 8:11 pm }

I am a high school student and I actually bought this book to help me write a term paper. It was so amazingly helpful and I really enjoyed reading it as well!
Highly recommend it! :)

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