Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America

Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America

Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America

Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America

Excerpt

This book will show that America's Founders well deserve the respect that citizens and schoolchildren still pay them, but which has long been out of fashion among America's elites. The Founders wrote and approved a Declaration of Independence whose central proposition was that "all men are created equal." They set up a government that did what no democracy had ever done before: It combined majority rule with effective protection for minority rights. It enabled a larger number of men and women to live in prosperity and liberty than any other nation has ever done.

In spite of this undeniable success, many of our leading sophisticates today would rather talk about the Founders' failures. Instead of the victories they won on behalf of freedom, we hear loud complaints about their supposed racism, sexism, and elitism. The Founding Fathers, we are told, did not really believe that "all men (and women) are created equal." Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. Women and the poor were excluded from voting. So how can we take seriously the Founders' supposed belief in human equality?

These arguments are well entrenched in the conventional wisdom of our time. They are repeated endlessly in the media and in popular books, by professors and politicians, as in these typical statements:

On blacks: "The sublime principles of the Declaration did not apply to them. They are for whites only." (Writer Conor Cruise O'Brien) The "prevailing opinion of the framers" was that blacks were "so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect ... and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit." (Former Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black appointed to the Supreme Court)

On the poor: They were "defined ... in a sense as an alien race that had to be held to close discipline." (Yale historian John Blum)

On women: "In colonial society ... a married woman had virtually no rights at all.... The Revolution did little to change [this]." (A college American history textbook)

On voting rights for the poor: "Most states had numerous [property] requirements that had to be met before a man could vote.... In general . . .

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