By Michael Kay | [USA]
It’s a question that’s been asked in almost every post-revolutionary state, sometime in their histories. Why should the founding fathers dictate the way in which we run our nation? In this article, I seek to examine this question in the context of the United States, and then discuss how this applies to our current administration.
The first major point to identify is the time difference. In 1776, upon the Declaration of Independence, the “American” colonies were highly wary of powerful governments and thought of their own state governments as mere means of protection against British imperial power. Keep in mind, for example, that Alexander Hamilton did not establish a national bank until years later, which suggests that the states were highly divided. Taxation merely existed in the form of light tariffs, and neither states nor the national government had the means to infringe upon the rights of its citizens. In fact, the governments had a vested interest in a laissez-faire approach to the market. But this time difference has other implications as well, including some very pressing pieces of the Bill of Rights. For example, the Second Amendment was written for two main purposes. First, in the circumstance that the National Guard (which was merely an idea at the time) was unable to properly hold off the British Army, the Congress wanted the populace to bolster the army with civilian reinforcements. The amendment was further written as a means of providing a defense for the citizens, provided that an elected US government did not abide by the Constitution or infringed upon the inalienable rights of its citizens. So I think, given that the US has one of the most powerful standing militias in the entire world, the first clause is somewhat redundant. However, as a libertarian, I am still fundamentally opposed to anything besides some heavy firearms registration laws.
The second point to consider is that the founding fathers were not in agreement. For example, Alexander Hamilton opposed the entire idea of the Bill of Rights (more on that later), while Madison and Jefferson were strongly opposed to the establishment of a Treasury and a national bank. And of course, Hamilton and Washington were opposed to slavery (so was Jefferson, privately), yet they did not write it into the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
First, why did these disagreements come about? Many of them were based on the traditional North-South divide. Jefferson and Madison didn’t like the idea of the National bank because the economies of Virginia and (in general) the South were mostly agrarian in nature. A stronger national government would have more difficulty implementing economic policies that did not either unfairly disadvantage the agrarian economy or the industrial economy of the Northern states. The slavery argument is obvious, as many of the founding fathers saw slavery as directly hypocritical to the words of the Declaration of Independence, as one would then have to assume that not ALL men were created equal. However, according to Jefferson (in his journal), he knew it was wrong, but be simply couldn’t imagine a life without slavery, as he believed that without it, the Southern economy would die (as it did, after the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment). Finally, the most interesting and complex disagreement came from Alexander Hamilton, when he opposed the existence of the Bill of Rights. Hamilton argued that if we bind the government with negative clauses, that restrict the government, we allow the government to do anything that isn’t explicitly written. This is how we ended up with gun control, as it isn’t explicitly written. Hamilton preferred a system in which common sense ideas and positively restrictive laws existed and instructed the government to carry out specific legislation. Something not explicitly written would not mean it is or is not legally permissible.
These disagreements on the fundamental ideas of our nation would suggest that the founding fathers were not necessarily correct in every respect. Instead, consider the idea of a rewritten Constitution, where we can still consider the ideas of our founding fathers by reading documents such as the Federalist Papers, which were written defending each clause of the Constitution, and written by both Northerners and Southerners. I think that if the founding documents are outdated and controversial, it makes sense to rewrite them based on the current atmosphere of our nation.