Sent: Monday, July 02, 2012 5:05 PM
|In the founders' words|
|Los Angeles Times - Los Angeles, Calif.|
|Subjects:||Declaration of Independence-US, Independence Day, Conservatism, Editorials -- Declaration of Independence-US|
|Date:||Jul 4, 2011|
Independence Day 2011 dawns amid a resurgence of interest in our nation's Founding Fathers. "Tea party" conservatives in particular like to invoke them as an inspiration. Yet while it is certainly possible to find writings by individual founders that adhere closely to modern right-wing principles, this group of mostly white Anglo-Saxon Protestant property owners had profoundly differing opinions about governance -- differing not only among themselves but often from the views of today's conservatives.
Those who believe the founders intended the United States to be a Christian nation, for example, should consult the writings of the deist Thomas Jefferson or note the appalling views of Boston patriot Samuel Adams, who thought religious tolerance should apply to everyone except Catholics. Benjamin Franklin's views on taxation and private property would sound downright Marxist if Karl Marx hadn't been born after they were written. All the men quoted below adopted the Declaration of Independence 235 years ago today.
I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another; for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents. And I am for encouraging the progress of science in all its branches; and not for raising a hue and cry against the sacred name of philosophy; for awing the human mind by stories of raw-head and bloody bones to a distrust of its own vision...; to go backwards instead of forwards to look for improvement; to believe that government, religion, morality, and every other science were in the highest perfection in ages of the darkest ignorance, and that nothing can ever be devised more perfect than what was established by our forefathers."
-- Thomas Jefferson, 1799
In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practised, and, both by precept and example, inculcated on mankind.... Insomuch that Mr. [John] Locke has asserted and proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society. The only sects which he thinks ought to be, and which by all wise laws are excluded from such toleration, are those who teach doctrines subversive of the civil government under which they live. The Roman Catholics or Papists are excluded by reason of such doctrines as these, that princes excommunicated may be deposed, and those that they call heretics may be destroyed without mercy; besides their recognizing the Pope in so absolute a manner, in subversion of government, by introducing, as far as possible into the states under whose protection they enjoy life, liberty, and property, that solecism in politics, imperium in imperio, leading directly to the worst anarchy and confusion, civil discord, war, and bloodshed.
-- Samuel Adams, 1772
I shall proceed in the next place, to inquire, what mode of education we shall adopt so as to secure to the state all the advantages that are to be derived from the proper institution of youth; and here I beg leave to remark, that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments. Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mahomed inculcated upon our youth, than to see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place is that of the New Testament.
-- Benjamin Rush, 1798
The remissness of our people in paying taxes is highly blameable, the unwillingness to pay them is still more so. I see in some resolutions of town-meetings, a remonstrance against giving Congress a power to take as they call it, the "people's money" out of their pockets though only to pay the interest and principal of debts duly contracted. They seem to mistake the point. Money justly due from the people is their creditors' money, and no longer the money of the people, who, if they withhold it, should be compelled to pay by some law. All property indeed, except the savage's temporary cabin, his bow, his matchcoat, and other little acquisitions absolutely necessary for his subsistence, seems to me to be the creature of public convention. ... All the property that is necessary to a man for the conservation of the individual and the propagation of the species, is his natural right which none can justly deprive him of: But all property of the public, who by their laws have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the welfare of the public shall demand such disposition. He that does not like civil society on these terms, let him retire and live among savages. He can have no right to the benefits of society who will not pay his club towards the support of it.
-- Benjamin Franklin, 1783
There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.
-- John Adams, 1789
I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.
-- Thomas Jefferson, 1789
I am resolved to vest the Congress with no more power than that is absolutely necessary, and to use a familiar expression, to keep the staff in our own hands; for I am confident if surrendered into the hands of others a most pernicious use will be made of it.
-- Edward Rutledge, 1776
The state governments, I think, will not be endangered by the powers vested by this Constitution in the general government. While I have attended in Congress, I have observed that the members were quite as strenuous advocates for the rights of their respective states, as for those of the Union. I doubt not but that this will continue to be the case; and hence I infer that the general government will not have the disposition to encroach upon the states.
-- Samuel Huntington, 1788
I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That "all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people." To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.
-- Thomas Jefferson, 1791
The right of a nation to kill a tyrant, in cases of necessity, can no more be doubted, than to hang a robber, or kill a flea. But killing one tyrant only makes way for worse, unless the people have sense, spirit and honesty enough to establish and support a constitution guarded at all points against the tyranny of the one, the few, and the many.
-- John Adams, 1787
The national debt
I say, the Earth belongs to each of these generations during its course, fully and in its own right. The second generation receives it clear of the debts and encumbrances of the first, the third of the second, and so on. For if the first could charge it with a debt, then the Earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation. Then, no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence.
-- Thomas Jefferson, 1789
I confess that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present; but, sir, I am not sure I shall never approve of it, for, having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise."
-- Benjamin Franklin, 1787
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