“The American civilization is unique in history. Never before, and not since, has a nation been born of such fresh ground and cultivated so deliberately by ideals.” The constant gardeners of freedom were our Founders. Here is my list of my favorite Founders.
5. Samuel Adams. “No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued.” Every cause needs an early voice and Sam Adams was that voice. “By 1768 Samuel Adams and James Otis were calling for a more unified resistance of the colonies against “taxation without representation.” “Samuel Adams, who at least one historian said “controlled” Boston with his “trained mob.” Another said Adams had “few equals as an agitator,” “with a reputation as a violence-soaked incendiary,” whose pen “stung like a horned snake.” Adams’ “seductive whispers” were said to leave “unsuspecting listeners ‘closely attached to the hindermost past of Mr. Adams as the rattles are affixed to the tail of a rattlesnake.’” It was Adams who sensationalized the early conflict in his writings and ensured the flame of revolution would not die out; and yet, paradoxically by today’s standards, eventually Adams would be called “the great forerunner of the race of American politicians” by Henry Cabot Lodge.” The Divided Era p. 42
4. John Hancock – the first and most prominent signer of the Declaration of Independence and perhaps our most underrated Founder. It was Hancock who funded our early Revolutionary efforts. He was the richest man in the Colonies by most accounts and he risked it all – abandoning most of his property and family in Boston to be President of the Continental Congress. His stature furthered the Revolutionary efforts in no small measure. His name was alone on the Declaration for a month – committing the ultimate act of treason and bravery.
3. Patrick Henry. “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death.” Henry gave focus to our Revolutionary Thoughts when he said those words in response to the Stamp Act – the first direct tax on Americans. “Henry took History’s center stage and chose to raise the stakes even further. Not only did he denounce the Stamp Act, he introduced five revolutionary resolutions for passage in the Virginia House of Burgess in 1765. One of his resolutions stated what never had been said before—namely, that only the Virginia General Assembly had the right to lay taxes against Virginians—not Mother England. During the debate of that resolution, the speaker of the Assembly and other burgesses accused Patrick Henry of treason for making such an assertion and others like it, to which Henry famously replied: “If this be treason, make the most of it.” The Divided Era p. 32.
2. Thomas Jefferson. “Men by their constitutions are naturally divided . . .” Jefferson was the philosopher of the Founders. Likely the most read of them all, he understood government and the human experience as much as anyone who has ever lived. The richness of his understanding was displayed with brevity and brilliance in quotes such as these.
On government . . .
“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”
“When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”
“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories.”
On the important of following the Constitution . . .
“Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.”
On defense . . . the original peace through strength quote . . .
“Whatever enables us to go to war, secures our peace.”
On life . . .
“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
1. George Washington. “More than anyone else, George Washington deserves credit for “uniting” our United States. That is the assessment of George Washington’s contemporaries and of historians alike.”
“Washington made the American experiment work because he constantly did the right thing—where perhaps no one else could or would. Consider that as the Revolution was winding down, and Washington’s stature was at a peak, “some of his senior officers had urged seizing congress and setting up a military dictatorship.” It was not the first time “dictatorial” power for Washington had been suggested. At that moment and that time, Washington stood in the breach of history. History could have gone one way or another—but not in Washington’s mind. Instead, “Washington, horrified, had confronted them. He urged them to ‘place full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress.’ Again, at Princeton, he warned his departing troops that ‘unless the principles of the federal government [are] properly supported and the powers of the union increased, the honor, dignity, and justice of the nation would be lost forever.’”
At the end of the war, standing even taller in the eyes of Americans and the world, Washington again did the historically unimaginable; he willingly relinquished his power for the greater good. The Divided Era p. 114.
They are why the greatest experiment in freedom began . . . and inspire me every day. I hope they do the same for you.
Happy 4th of July.
Tom Del Beccaro
Author of The Divided Era