The Setting Sun of the Founding Fathers

John Adams.

As the 1800s progressed, the era of the Founding Fathers was coming to an end. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams would outlast most of the Founding Fathers, only to die on the same date: July 4, 1826. The Founding Fathers would leave a profoundly different country than the one they created.

Common Americans had created the sense that the United States was “a land of enterprising, optimistic, innovative, and equality-loving” people. Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 733. The entrepreneurial, ambitious American spirit was born and permeating the entire country.

Particularly after the resolution of the War of 1812, manifested in the Treaty of Ghent, Americans began to feel a permanent independence from Europe and a separation from European ideals. Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 735. Americans began to look at themselves as worthy of analysis, introspection, and recognition.

Thomas Jefferson believed that, as of 1823, America would serve “as a light to the world showing that mankind was capable of self-government.” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 737 citing Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 4 Nov. 1823, in Ford, ed., Writings of Jefferson, 10: 280. Jefferson confessed that his ideals for America “may be an Utopian dream, but being innocent, I have thought I might indulge in it till I go to the land of dreams, and sleep there with the dreams of all past and future times.” Id. at 738 citing Thomas Jefferson to J. Correa de Serra, 25 Nov. 1817, in L and B, eds. Writings of Jefferson, 15: 157.

Jefferson’s dream of America may not have been achieved in exactly the way he imagined, but the country was becoming a player on the global stage. Americans had shown that they would not be a British colony, twice, and that Americans would create their own spirit which was loosely based on Europe and the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome.

With the success of America increasing, the specter of slavery began to loom over the country. It presented an ideological divide for the North and South, but it also economically divided the country. In retrospect, the Civil War seemed inevitable, but as the sun was setting on the Founding Fathers’ America, there was hope that a major conflict could be avoided.

One Comment

  1. jeffersonstclair

    I think the Adams-Jefferson “frenemies” relationship is a fascinating one, aside from contributing so much to our country. I wrote a piece about their 1800 campaign, which makes much of what Trump is doing look like child’s play. Thanks for sharing!

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