In 1776, the Second Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain and established the country we know today. 56 delegates signed the Declaration of Independence, among whom you will find such intellectuals and famous (or infamous, depending how you look at it) Founding Fathers as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. These revolutionaries, as well as the other 51 signers of the Declaration, were undoubtedly some of the most important, intelligent and impassioned individuals of their time in America. They believed that the rights of the people were not given by kings or by governments, but that they were inherent in all men. They believed that the power given to the government must be derived from the consent of the people. They believed in equality. The United States was to be the shining star in a dark world plagued by tyranny and injustice.
And certainly it would have been… for anyone who was a white man who owned land. But the truth of the matter is that alongside all of these grand patriotic sentiments of rights and democracy and equality, there was also a darkness to be found in the hearts and minds of the Founding Fathers. So, let’s revisit:
The Founding Fathers “believed that the rights of the people were not given by kings or by governments, but that they were inherent in all men.” Notice the language I use here in my description: “inherent in all men.” Because, if you were a woman at this time, you would not have had the right to vote. You would not have been equal to your peers. In fact, if you were anything other than a white man who owned land, you couldn’t vote. Some equality that is.
“They believed that the power given to the government must be derived from the consent of the people.” Once again, unless those people happen to be landless, black, Native American or have a vagina.
“They believed in equality.” I think you get the idea.
The point I’m trying to make is that the United States was nowhere near perfect back then, nor were the Founding Fathers anything close to the high-minded, profoundly ethical men we often make them out to be today. Of the prominent Founders, only seven did not own slaves, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Those who did own slaves included Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, James Madison, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (the father of the Declaration of Independence and one of the drafters of the Constitution).
Our most important documents — documents used to justify such enlightened ideals as total equality, democracy, freedom of and from religion and, most importantly, freedom of expression — were written by a bunch of elitist, racist and sexist old white men whose hypocrisy tears off the roof.
In the end, I think it’s time we stopped worshiping the Founding Fathers as god-like men who may never be brought down to our level. In the same light, I also think we need to stop thinking of the Constitution as some sort of holy document that must be never replaced and, indeed, rewrite and replace it with a more modern document which fits our current society and that is written in plain language. But that’s an argument for another day.
The Founding Fathers were human, just like you and I. They may have had brilliance gleaming from their eyes, but they also had faults. I think we, as a society, need to acknowledge and teach that, because without that wisdom, we may never learn from our mistakes, and we will continue to devote ourselves to a time that never was. It’s time to move on and join the 21st century.