Founding fathers without mothers

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 4, 2024, 5:05 PM | comments: 0

This is a complicated time to be an American. A significant portion of the population, though not a clear majority, appears to be OK with the prospect of a wannabe dictator, who shows contempt for the Constitution, and being the most qualified to lead the nation. The dog whistle about being "great again" says that we were better off when women couldn't vote, and minorities in general were not part of our society.

On Independence Day, we contemplate the founding of the United States. The start of the great democratic experiment. We're only two years off of the 250-year anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. I saw the actual document, along with the Constitution, for the first time earlier this year at the National Archives. Along with a visit to the White House, it was a deeply moving experience. There was a staggering amount of sacrifice that occurred to make the United States real.

Looking back on those days, during the founding of our nation, it's hard not to recognize the dichotomy of intent as it concerns the founding fathers. Women were not involved, which is hard to believe. Furthermore, so many of the men at the time understood the evil of slavery. Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson... they all knew it was wrong, but let it continue to happen. But I think that despite the shortcoming, you can't trivialize the roles that they played in history. The reason for that is intent.

We can reasonably question their character for allowing slavery to persist (and disallow women from voting), but we can at least use the context of the time to understand the impact that would have had on the economy and cultural intent. The best parallel I can draw to modern times is Clinton's position on "don't ask don't tell." Whatever he truly believed is hard to ascertain, were it not for his statements since. But he made the compromise in order to continue to govern. It doesn't make it right, it just offers context.

When looking at history, there was a line. The leaders of the confederacy were traitors. They fought to maintain the status quo around slavery. The intent was different. They were not heroes. That's why they should not be celebrated, particularly as our population has become ever so diverse.

I remember an interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, who described his work Hamilton as being filled with people who could not be simply categorized as good or bad. He's not wrong. Somehow, we have to reconcile the good and bad of the otherwise honorable men who founded our nation. I believe that this is the ongoing legacy of our nation. It has gotten it wrong on so many levels, but it has also made progress, maybe slower than its contemporaries, to make it right. Its promise is the potential to be better.

We're at an extra weird place in that history. There's potential to un-do all that we've achieved. This Independence Day, we should remember the journey so far, and the work that remains to make true freedom, for all, to be real. It does not come with banning books, limiting access to health care and making it harder to vote.


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