Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Founders—A Mixed Lot

People frequently refer to the Founders as if they were a homogenous group. They did share a belief in key principles, but they were very different in other respects. For example, George Washington was a wealthy plantation owner, but his top officers in the Revolution included Major General Nathanael Greene, who entered the war as a militia private and was the son of a small farmer; Major General Henry Knox, a Boston bookstore owner who later became President Washington’s Secretary of War; and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, born illegitimate in the West Indies to a struggling mother who died when Hamilton was thirteen. Hamilton went on to become the first Secretary of the Treasury.

When you examine the Founding era, you find that the American Dream was already firmly implanted in the culture. As with Washington and his staff, this mix of so-called aristocracy and common man can be seen throughout society. The Constitutional Convention included physicians, shopkeepers, academics, farmers, merchants, bankers, lawyers, politicians, and even an educator who lived on the edge of the then-frontier.

The Founders differed also in their religions, preference for agrarian versus city lifestyles, whether they owned slaves or supported abolition, and most of all by their state of residence.  At the time, Americans saw themselves as first being New Yorkers, Virginians, or Georgians. State allegiance was akin to national loyalty. Major Pierce Butler, a revolutionary officer and Constitutional Convention delegate from South Carolina said, “…the manners, mode of thinking, and interests of the North and South are as different as the interests of Russia and Turkey.”

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