The Legacy of the Founding Fathers

John Trumbull’s Depiction of the Drafting Committee of the Declaration of Independent Presenting the Draft to Congress.

The Founding Fathers have a complicated legacy, and that legacy is constantly undergoing change. While the reverence of the Founding Fathers fluctuates generation-by-generation, certain questions emerge about the Founding Fathers’ effectiveness in setting the foundation for the United States.

Gordon Wood, in Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, presented the Founding Fathers’ legacy as: “If it was the intense commitment of this generation of founders to new enlightened values that separates it from other generations, why, it might be asked, and indeed, as it has been asked by recent critical historians, did these so-called enlightened and liberally educated gentlemen not do more to reform their society? Why did they fail to enhance the status of women? Eliminate slavery entirely? Treat the Indians in a more humane manner?” Gordon Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, 26.

It has become popular, glamorous even, to question the principles and integrity of the Founding Fathers in recent years, for their lack of ridding the country of its most foul traits. The Founding Fathers lived in a much different world than contemporary Americans.

To be fair to the Founding Fathers, accomplishing any of the goals similar to abolishing slavery, ensuring equality of men and women, and treating Indians in a humane manner, must have come after ensuring the creation of a government that would last ages. As Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence and James Madison drafted the Constitution, and the Founding Fathers came to sign and approve those documents, their priority was creating an environment and a country that would facilitate future successes and ensure equality in for future generations.

The Founding Fathers were not in a position to contemplate every injustice and inequality, amidst the Revolutionary War, the tumultuous years of the early Republic, and the rapid growth of the country.

To expect them to have addressed and resolved every issue that was perhaps foreseeable at the time of the Revolution is to ignore their extraordinary accomplishments. The Founding Fathers collectively deliberated what the best form of government should be. They created the most extraordinary government that has thrived for over two centuries and has been a model for successful government.

While it is popular to question the Founding Fathers’ accomplishments, the context of their work must be remembered. We remember each American icon for their accomplishments, given the circumstances that existed during their respective times. The Founding Fathers’ time was perhaps the most tumultuous and contentious in American history, and yet they devised a system that has allowed one of the most free and just societies known to the world.

Leave a Reply