This week I posted on another blog I write for, The American Catholic, a recent post I wrote here about Alexander Hamilton and the National Debt. In the comments to that post, the following question was asked of me:
What do you suppose Hamilton would have said about whether we should raise the debt ceiling?
In many ways that was an unanswerable question. Taking someone from one historical era and asking what they would say about some current controversy involves too many imponderables: our imperfect knowledge of the past and of most historical figures; judging the stance of a historical figure on an issue arising usually in vastly changed times and circumstances; the difficulty of attempting to understand the mental processes of someone based upon the records that they and others left behind them; etc. However, fools rush in where angels wisely fear to tread, and I gave the following response:
I rather suspect that he and many of the other Founding Fathers BA would wonder why the American people hadn’t long ago risen in revolt. What the Founding Fathers intended as the government of our new nation is not what we have now, and the Federal government bears an uncanny resemblance to the government of King George III, in many respects, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Governmental intrusion in the daily lives of the citizenry they would have regarded as shocking. Our expenditures and tax rates they would regard as obscene. The number of Federal criminal statutes they would regard as an engine of tyranny. In judging most aspects of modern American life, except for our technological advances, I suspect the views of the Founders would be pungently negative.
My answer was incomplete now that I reflect on it. The Founding Fathers would be pleased that American independence has been preserved all of these years, that Americans still enjoy the right of vigorous debate, that so many Americans still look to them for wisdom, and that the United States stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic. These and many other facets of modern America I think would please them. Most Americans, throughout most periods of our history, have looked with dismay on their current political leadership. Certainly the Founding Fathers did, and sometimes they were responsible for that dismay. The election of 1800 still ranks as the most vituperative in our nation’s history, and presented a most unedifying spectacle at the time, and for all the generations of Americans to come. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were almost entirely responsible for that mess of an election. Fortunately there is much more to America and its history than the antics of politicians. Something to remember when we recall the Founding Fathers. The details of their political careers are known only to scholars: the principles behind most of those careers still, at bottom, are cherished by most Americans. Something to recall when we are tempted to give way to despair when we observe examples, all too frequent, of current political foolishness.