(Excerpt from Principled Action)
The truly exceptional work in the founding began after the war for independence was won. During the Constitutional Convention , George Mason wrote, “The revolt from Great Britain and the formations of our new governments at that time, were nothing compared to the great business now before us; there was then a certain degree of enthusiasm, which inspired and supported the mind; but to view, through the calm, sedate medium of reason the influence which the establishment now proposed may have upon the happiness or misery of millions yet unborn, is the object of such magnitude, as absorbs, and in a manner suspends the operation of the human understanding.”
The writing and ratification of the Constitution made the United States of America unique. The origins of our republic were not by the sword, but through the calm, sedate medium of reason. There was a long and bloody revolution, but four years of peace had calmed the infant nation before the Founders collectively sat down to debate the design of a republic for millions yet unborn.
The Founders stood against tyranny, and then went against the grain of world history to risk their future on an idea that had been tried and failed many times before. Previous experiments in self-governance had flamed bright only to be doused by powerful factions driven by self-interest. Absolutist rulers invariably emerged to replace unbridled democracies. In time, a consensus developed that the divine right of kings was a far more attractive option than rule by the most ruthless.
The scholars of the Enlightenment brought self-governance back into fashion by audaciously proposing that individuals, not kings, were endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. This simple principle is the earth-shaking idea that guided the Founders ’actions before, during, and after the Revolution. But the American Founders didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of previous republics, so they studied the governments of the past and designed a balanced system with numerous checks on the exercise of power.
Many of the Founders committed their entire life to the creation of the American Republic. They were bright, educated, and principled men and women who had their countrymen’s interests at heart. They certainly weren’t perfect, but their motives were near perfect, even when their actions fell short of their aspirations.
Why do some disparage the Founders? To a great extent, the Founders purposely put shackles on government. They feared an overreaching government and wanted it constrained. The Founders had solid reasoning and a few key principles to back them up. Today, some want the government to do more, much more. The justification for an increase in government authority is usually cloaked in the cause of improving the general state of mankind. Those who look to government for answers to world disorder constantly see those pesky Founders getting in their way.
The Founders would be proud.