In this fourth installment of our series highlighting the thoughts of conservative and libertarian leaders on American Independence and the Founding, we asked: What Founder is either your favorite or one who you think deserves more credit for his or her contributions to America? (This series will conclude with one more post tomorrow morning.)
John J. Miller, National Political Reporter for National Review: John Adams. He was colorful and cantankerous, had the best wife, and lived through the entire arc of America’s founding period. He started out as an anti-tax activist in Boston in the 1760s, threw himself into the radical politics of independence in the 1770s, and influenced the drafting of the Constitution in the 1780s. His presidency in the 1790s is not widely hailed as a success, but how many other presidents can say they whipped the French in a naval war? During a quarter century of retirement, he watched the growth of the early republic with a measure of well-deserved pride and died, almost providentially, on July 4, 1826—exactly half a century after he signed the Declaration of Independence. It can be a mistake to project the politics of the 21st century onto those of the Founding era, and Adams could be a complicated man. Yet it’s also possible to claim him as the Founding generation’s great conservative thinker. “Should I let loose my imagination into futurity, I could imagine that I foresee changes and revolutions such as eye hath not seen nor ear heard,” he once wrote. “I cannot see any better principle at present than to make as little innovation as possible; keep things going as well as we can in the present train.”
Sally Pipes, President of the Pacific Research Institute: While I have only been in this great nation since 1991, I am proud to say that I became a citizen almost four years ago. My favorite Founder is an immigrant like myself, Alexander Hamilton.
Hamilton most closely represents the ideals that I hold so dear to my heart—the spirit of entrepreneurship, risk-taking, the betterment of one’s condition, the rule of law, and individual freedom, and responsibility. Hamilton stood, in particular, for a dynamic commercial economy and a strong but limited government.
I believe that if Alexander Hamilton were alive today, he would be very upset about the abandonment of those Founding principles under President Obama and his move to put a nannying government in charge of our lives. Specifically, the recently passed $1 trillion, 2,500-page Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the largest entitlement program since the Great Society, would be very distressing for Hamilton. This new legislation gives government increasing control over our health care along with increased taxes and deficits. It will not lead to universal coverage or reduce costs. Instead it will ultimately lead to rationed care for all Americans and will contribute hugely to the undermining of our “public credit,” which Hamilton understood as both an economic and a moral good.
America today appears to be on the “road to serfdom” and the American people need to stand up and make it clear that this movement must be stopped. Alexander Hamilton would deny that we have a “right” to health care. We have the freedom to acquire the health care that each of us wants as individuals.
Let’s return to the principles of our Founders and reverse the current path down the road to democratic socialism. Happy Birthday America. I am proud to be part of this nation of entrepreneurs and want us to continue on the Hamiltonian road to greatness.
Jamie Radtke, President of the Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation. As a Virginian, one of my favorite Founding Fathers is Patrick Henry, a man who is often not given enough credit for his many accomplishments. Patrick Henry is famously known for his quote: “Give me liberty or give me death.” It was a powerful speech that gave men the courage to confront the king and fight for their natural rights as free men. But another one of his important contributions was the enactment of the Virginia Resolves.
In response to the Stamp Act, the House of Burgesses, with Henry’s sponsorship and at his urging, passed the Virginia Resolves on May 29, 1765, which adopted the position of “no taxation without representation.” Henry’s skillful passage of this act in the Virginia House of Burgesses would ultimately prove to be one of the first actions of the War for Independence.
The Virginia House of Burgesses was the first colonial assembly to make this declaration (and possibly the first colonial legislature to openly defy Parliament), but it soon spread throughout the colonies and gave way to the War for Independence. This idea of “no taxation without representation” has been a part of the ideological fabric of our society for the last 200-plus years, and we can thank Patrick Henry for his ardent advocacy of this fundamental truth.
Another action that endears me to Patrick Henry was his insistence that a Bill of Rights be included in the U.S. Constitution to protect against a tyrannical government. When we look at the constant assaults on our rights to free speech, freedom of religion, and the right to bear arms by the progressives, it is scary to imagine where we would be without a defined Bill of Rights in our Constitution.
Patrick Henry was a great man because he was continually vigilant to ensure that the government (whether Parliament or the U.S. federal government) would not lapse into tyranny. He was one of the greatest protectors of our individual liberties. That is a man to be revered.
Paul Jacob, President of Citizens in Charge: The Declaration of Independence is the most inspiring statement for individual freedom in all of hoistory. I reread it with pleasure and awe every July 4th. But no matter how eloquent and true, our freedom wasn’t won by words, but by deeds. It took the courage and blood of thousands of soldiers on the battlefield and the leadership of General George Washington to secure the new nation.
If George Washington had been Napoleon or Fidel Castro, our noble revolution would likely have been diverted to just another in a long line of violent power grabs, the revolving only of who is in power over ‘We the People’ without any regard to our right to self-government. Thank goodness Mr. Washington was a principled patriot and not a power-lusting politician. Twice he took critical steps to place the Republic above any personal ambition.
At war’s end in 1783, England’s King George reportedly asked what Washington would do. When told that Washington would return to his farm, he scoffed, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” But that’s precisely what Washington did!
There had been talk about Washington becoming the next king. By returning his commission as Commander of the army to the Continental Congress, he both bolstered the civilian government and squashed any suggestion of a military takeover. This act furthered Washington’s esteem throughout the young nation, which in turn was crucial because it allowed Washington by presiding over the convention in Philadelphia to add to the public’s confidence in the drafting of our Constitution.
As president, Washington would again set an example for a free country by stepping down after two terms. Thus, he established a tradition of rotation in office that was followed until FDR, whose election to four presidential terms led to the passage of the 22d amendment limiting the president to two terms.
George Washington will always be known as “The Father of Our Country.” So it isn’t as if he deserves “more credit” than he has received. But he truly behaved as a father does, putting the greater good above his own immediate interests and desires. America has prospered, in no small part, because we had a great Father.
Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council: Without question it is Samuel Adams. No less a luminary than Thomas Jefferson called Adams “truly the man of the Revolution.” Ira Stoll, in his book, Samuel Adams: A Life, paints a bleak picture of the end of September, 1777. The situation was desperate. Over a year had passed since Samuel Adams and 55 others signed the Declaration of Independence, and now British Troops controlled New York. General Washington recently suffered a stinging defeat at Brandywine on September 11 with 200 killed, 500 wounded, and 400 captured. Another 300 were killed by the British in the Paoli Massacre on September 21. The Continental Army was in retreat, and the enemy was closing in.
The good people of Philadelphia lowered the 2,080-pound Liberty Bell from the spire of Independence Hall and carted it to the basement of the Zion Reformed Church of Allentown. Members of the Continental Congress fled to Lancaster, then westward to York. Some narrowly escaped with just the clothes on their backs. It was just in time because the British captured Philadelphia, America’s largest city, on September 26.
John Adams wrote these sad words in his diary: “The prospect is chilling, on every Side: Gloomy, dark, melancholly, and dispiriting.” Only 20 of the 56 signers of the Declaration were present in York to discuss their grim prospects. Yet on that last day of September, 1777, Samuel Adams rose to address the discouraged delegates:
If we despond, public confidence is destroyed, the people will no longer yield their support to a hopeless contest, and American liberty is no more… Through the darkness which shrouds our prospects the ark of safety is visible. Despondency becomes not the dignity of our cause, nor the character of those who are its supporters.
Let us awaken then, and evince a different spirit,—a spirit that shall inspire the people with confidence in themselves and in us,—a spirit that will encourage them to persevere in this glorious struggle, until their rights and liberties shall be established on a rock.
We have proclaimed to the world our determination “to die as freemen, rather than live as slaves.” We have appealed to Heaven for the justice of our cause, and in Heaven we have placed our trust.
Numerous have been the manifestations of God’s providence in sustaining us. In the gloomy period of adversity, we have had “our cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.” We have been reduced to distress, but the arm of Omnipotence has raised us up. Let us still rely in humble confidence on Him who is mighty to save. Good tidings will soon arrive. We shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we act worthy of its aid and protection.
Samuel Adams’s rallying cry, delivered at a crucial moment when Congress was losing hope, not only strengthened their resolve to continue the fight for freedom, it also turned out to be prophetic. On October 17, we won the battle of Saratoga, and General Gates accepted the surrender of 5,800 British troops. It was the turning point in the War for Independence, and defeats began to turn into victories.
Adam’s words still ring with encouragement for our times. Yes, America is struggling economically, politically, and morally. Yes, the odds seem to be against those who hold dear the values of faith, family, and freedom. But those who love the America that Adams helped to found must not despair. As the Apostle Paul said in 2 Cor. 4:8-9, “We are hard pressed, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; knocked down, but not knocked out.” Like Adams, let us appeal to Heaven for the justice of our cause, in Heaven place our trust, and act worthy of Its aid and protection. As we celebrate the 234th birthday of our nation, may the God of Samuel Adams guide and strengthen us to prevail in this our day of trial.