What if I were to tell you that the United States in 2016 is a dramatically different place than the United States in 1776? Well, yeah, you would probably say. Way to state the obvious, right? But from the way a lot of us invent talking points about constitutional issues, you would think we were still fighting the British and dying of smallpox.
It’s a common enough rebuttal, “Well the Founding Fathers blah-dee-blah-dee-blah.” We read it on social media threads. Our drunk uncles say it when politics comes up during our annual celebration of indigenous genocide. We are culturally obsessed with a bunch of dead men who, while notable in their political and philosophical accomplishments, would know how to contend with current sociopolitical schisms about as effectively as the turds we elect into Congress today.
There were no gun control debates in the 18th Century because Joseph the farmer and Jonathan the haberdasher were the damn military. There also weren’t 33,000 fatalities by firearm annually. An invocation of the Founding Fathers has absolutely no place in any debate regarding the LGBT community’s fight for equality. After all, these are the same men who not only refused to abolish slavery, but reinforced its practice and were complicit in the manifestation of the horrifying civil war that followed 100 years later. These powder-wigs had no concept of “all men are created equal,” despite using it as a guiding philosophical force in the birth of the United States.
Despite a musical that has earned 11 Tony Awards, the Founding Fathers were still people, not false idols on which to hang our every thought 240 years after the fact. They were fallible. They lived in a different time. “What the Founding Fathers would have done” has absolutely no bearing in a world that likely didn’t even exist in Benjamin Franklin’s wildest dreams.
Because of this, it is important to keep the Founding Fathers in the appropriate context. Their time is long gone. Our time is now. Mass shootings, Super PACs, police misconduct, domestic and international terrorism, the influence of religion in secular politics, and other sources of sociopolitical conflict among the citizenry and its leaders are our problems, not theirs. We need to stop giving in to the urge to invent ideas and place them in the mouths of a bunch of colonial ghosts in the hopes of justification.
Who cares what the Founding Fathers would think about the issues currently engaging American society. This isn’t 1776 anymore. Thomas Jefferson is dead. John Adams is dead. James Madison is dead. The United States they founded is dead. Our pressing issues are far too important for us to invent bullshit arguments and attribute them to men who cannot say one way or another whether those arguments make sense to them.
Featured image by John Trumbull and is in the public domain.