Our Flawed, Very Human Founders Need No Advocacy

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The United States of America was founded by men and women (mostly men – women were less important to the founders than a good mule).  They were very flawed, very human individuals, not all good and not all that bad.  They were NOT perfect.  The fact is, they were less than perfect, much less than perfect.

Unfortunately, thinks to the tea parties and Glenn Beck’s abject ignorance, the founders of this nation are being turned into tin-plated two-bit gods, inhuman, all knowing, and completely unrecgnizable.  There is a very serious problem with such treatment.  It dumbs down what these great men did.

When I was in college one of my professors was an anti-revisionist.  He deplored the socialist revisionism of America’s founding, going out of his way to teach the facts, the cold, hard facts. During that time, the mime was that the reason the “founders” did what they did was out of personal ambition and benefited financially.  One thing Dr. Lambert did was a study on the financial status of our founders, before and after.  Very few came out of the situation as wealthy men.  Many maintained their status, but there were more than a few who suffered, financially. Today, those same men would come out of such a situation as multi-millionaires, cashing in on book deals, becoming consultants, and picking up a couple thousand bucks a pop as news “experts”.

Now, though, we are going through the opposite form of revisionism – presenting the founders of this country as men they were not.  They were not these great religious leaders, praying before every move.  They were flawed men, doing the best they could, making lemonade out of the lemons they were dealt.   They were not the most popular of people.  Once the ultra radical Sons of Liberty began causing so many problems, man of the men involved in our founding had to go along with the “revolution” or be hung.

Did you know that the drive for Independence was extremely unpopular on the home front.  Maybe a third of the people living in the Colonies agreed with the course of events.  Two-thirds of the people living here at the time DISAPPROVED of any war with Great Britain.

Of course you are not going to hear this out of Glenn Beck’s mouth.

If the War for Independence were so popular, why did George Washington have such a difficult time getting, keeping, and maintaining his armies?  People did NOT want to fight.  They DID NOT care about it.  It wasn’t that the average person was seriously anti-war, they were seriously too busy surviving and keeping their families warm, fed, and clothed, to go out on some “damn fool idealistic campaign” (to quote Obi Wan Kenobi)

George Washington, my personal favorite American of all time, was a land-poor, overly ambitious failure who was madly in love with his neighbors wife.  Unlike The Pink Flamingo, who is the same relationship to the current Queen of England as GW was to George III, Washington spent much of his younger life rather bitter because he was not the king of his own country.  All he every wanted was to be was a king.  He was a laughing-stock, abject failure military failure who may have caused a goodly part of the French and Indian War because of his bungled tactics.  The only reason he married Martha was because she was one of the richest women in the Colonies and he was broke.

He wanted to be important, so badly that when the first Continental Congress kicked off, he showed up in uniform.  He wore a military uniform every day.  When they finally managed to get around to choosing someone to command the Continental Army, he was there, he had the uniform and the hats.  He got the job.

It was the only reason.

George Washington was such a joke and such a bungling failure that, until the night of December 25, 1776 he was in danger of being replaced as Commander and Chief.  He had yet to win a major battle, and was constantly retreating.  He could barely keep his army together, let alone get any respect for his efforts.  The only reason he was able to pull of one of the most pivotal movements in military history was because he was a life-long farmer – not a military leader.  Because he was a farmer, he knew how to read the land and the weather.  THAT is how he won!

After he won one for the future Gipper, everyone loved him – he was a winner.  Finally Washington was allowed to be Washington.  That abjectly flawed, very human failure of a man was able to use those failures, and turn defeat into victory.  A few months after his victory, when all the shooting was over and the founders could not get along with one another, and were at one another’s throats, a group of these same men who wanted to get rid of the King of England, asked Washington to meet them at the old tavern in Alexandria.  On a silver platter, they handed him what were literally the keys to a kingdom.

He not only turned them down, but told them off, walking away from the one thing he wanted most in the world – to be the king of his own country. (And that is why I think he was amazingly great)

“…On November 25, the British evacuated New York City, and Washington and the governor took possession. At Fraunces Tavern on December 4, Washington formally bade his officers farewell and on December 23, 1783, he resigned his commission as commander-in-chief, emulating the Roman general Cincinnatus. He was an exemplar of the republican ideal of citizen leadership who rejected power. During this period, there was no position of President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation, the forerunner to the Constitution.

Washington’s retirement to Mount Vernon was short-lived. He made an exploratory trip to the western frontier in 1784, was persuaded to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, and was unanimously elected president of the Convention. He participated little in the debates (though he did vote for or against the various articles), but his high prestige maintained collegiality and kept the delegates at their labors. The delegates designed the presidency with Washington in mind, and allowed him to define the office once elected. After the Convention, his support convinced many, including the Virginia legislature, to vote for ratification; the new Constitution was ratified by all 13 states…”

This is not quite the way our modern day patriots want to paint the picture, but this is the story.  When he became POTUS, his VP’s wife detested the First Lady, going so far as to say very nasty things about her, publicly, and to treat her like dirt.  By then, what had been a marriage for money had become one of the great love stories.

That is greatness!

Benjamin Franklin was far from a God-fearing man.  He was a God-less man.  He was bed-hopping, whore-mongering obnoxious failure of a parent.  There is some indication that, while in England, he was a member of the Hellfire Club (the genesis of modern day satanism).  He treated John Adams like dirt because Adams was a decent man.  He was also one of the earliest advocates of modern-day nudism.

But – he could turn a phrase.  He rose above his personal frailties to become something great.  He should not be worshiped or turned into this great man of prayer.  He, like Thomas Jefferson, was so arrogant, he did not believe the whole of the Bible applied to him.  And yes, Jefferson did edit down his own version of the Bible.  Do not mis-constrew him as a great man of prayer.  He did not re-marry because he promised his dying wife he would not.  His promise did not stop him from hopping into bed with any married woman who was willing to sleep with him!

Samuel Adams was not an advocate of independence from Great Britain until after the war had begun.

“…Historian Pauline Maier challenged that idea in 1980, arguing instead that Adams, like most of his peers, did not embrace independence until after the American Revolutionary War had begun in 1775. According to Maier, Adams was at this time a reformer rather than a revolutionary; he sought to have the British ministry change its policies, and warned Britain that independence would be the inevitable result of a failure to do so…”

Contrary to the way he is presented today, Adams would NOT be a tea partier.

“…Postwar economic troubles in western Massachusetts led to an uprising known as Shays’s Rebellion, which began in 1786. Small farmers, angered by high taxes and debts, armed themselves and shut down debtor courts in two counties. Governor James Bowdoin sent four thousand militiamen to put down the uprising, an action supported by Adams. Although his old political ally James Warren thought that Adams had forsaken his principles, Adams saw no contradiction. He approved of rebellion against an unrepresentative government, as had happened during the American Revolution, but he opposed taking up arms against a republican government, where problems should be remedied through elections. He thought the leaders of Shays’s Rebellion should be hanged, reportedly saying that “the man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death“…”

Thomas Paine was at home nowhere.  He was detested in this country by the end of his life.  He was also an atheist.

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9 thoughts on “Our Flawed, Very Human Founders Need No Advocacy

  1. Absolutely right. Thank you, because this very topic has been rattling around the perimeter of my brain for some time. Revising history to fit one’s personal & financial aims is a crime that knows no partisan boundaries. The Beckian Fairy Tales are being written and edited every day the clown is on the air… you can see/hear his juvenile thought process at work after awhile, and you can practically pinpoint moments in which certain manipulations come to his mind… then you can easily predict his next book, coliseum event, mental meltdown, whatever. It’s quite a formula.

    There is a certain entertainment value in the above antics, I’ll admit. But when I encounter dear friends and family members who actually take Beck’s analysis seriously, it is shocking and terribly depressing. I used to think conservatives had a significant intellectual edge on liberals. But alas, there are as many on the Right as the Left who thrive on a brain diet of simple sugars, fast food, and flaming desserts.

  2. Same here on the family & friends thing. I can’t imagine why people don’t open their eyes. Then again, they have a right to be led down the primrose path if they so desire.

    I think I need to pull out an old Subway Canaries piece on the founders view of church/state.

    SJR

  3. There’s a great documentary from PBS available on I-tunes for $4. From “The American Experience” series, Volume 1, titled “Dolley Madison.” It is a tremendous biography of Dolley (the FIRST First Lady), and along the way touches on many of your themes. Like, our great Republic was falling apart just 20 years after being founded… no one had a clue how to govern, how to make a plan and get consensus to do anything. There were deadly duels every single day and all-out riots and fist fights on the floor of congress. Gossip, pettiness, massive egos and jealousies of all sorts ruled the day — imagine!

    There is so much to admire, amidst all the usual human frailties and weakness. Along the way is also a cautionary tale of parenting gone bad… tragically, fatally wrong. This great woman and her loving, brilliant husband James Madison… for all their many talents and sacrifices, had a blind spot the size of Texas when it came to raising a child.

  4. I find that my very real problem with the Glenn Beck, tea party types is the fact that by turning our founders into “gods” they are detracting from their greatness. It was not because these men were such incredible paragons of virtue that made them great, but their feet of clay. They overcame themselves. That is greatness.

    SJR

  5. I think it is a transparent attempt to turn himself into a little god, by channeling the mythical version of our Founders through his own mouth. And lots of people seem more than willing to indulge him. Isn’t it ironic that “conservatives” who pretend to love their independence and freedom so much fall for a certain type of shuckster who wants nothing more than to control their minds and make them obey. It is laughable.

  6. a Neil Diamond song comes to mind:

    [SNIP] Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
    And everyone goes, ’cause everyone knows, brother Love’s show

    Room gets suddenly still and when you’d almost bet
    You could hear yourself sweat – he walks in
    Eyes black as coal and when he lifts his face
    Every ear in the place is on him
    Startin’ soft and slow-ow, like a small earthquake
    And when he lets go-o, half the valley shakes

    It’s Love, Brother Love
    Say Brother Love’s Travellin’ Salvation Show (halle-halle)
    Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
    And everyone goes, ’cause everyone knows
    ‘Bout Brother Love’s show (hallelujah)

    Watch Neil on the 1970 Johnny Cash show:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCgeWUKcumA

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