The Tea Partiers have made a big deal about returning to the principles espoused by the Founding Fathers. In this morning's Oregonian (and in the New York Times a few days ago) Ron Chernow's Op-Ed piece lays to rest the myth that the Founding Fathers were a bunch of like-minded men who moved in step with each other.
Like many popular insurgencies in American history, the tea party movement has attempted to enlist the Founding Fathers as fervent adherents to its cause. The very name invokes those disguised patriots who clambered aboard ships in Boston Harbor in December 1773 and dumped chests of tea into the water rather than submit to the hated tea tax. At tea party rallies, marchers brandish flags emblazoned with the Revolutionary slogan "Don't Tread on Me" while George Washington impersonators and other folks in colonial garb mingle with the crowds.
So all the Founding Fathers were states' righters? Here is what Chernow writes:
Jefferson and his Republicans (not related to today's Republicans) advocated states' rights, a weak federal government and strict construction of the Constitution. The tea party can claim legitimate descent from Jefferson and Madison, even though they founded what became the Democratic Party. On the other hand, Washington and Hamilton -- founders of no mean stature -- embraced an expansive view of the Constitution. That would scarcely sit well with tea party advocates, many of whom adhere to the judicial doctrine of originalism: i.e., that any interpretation of the Constitution must abide by the intent of those founders who crafted it.
No single group should ever presume to claim special ownership of the Founding Fathers or the Constitution they wrought with such skill and ingenuity. Those lofty figures, along with the seminal document they brought forth, form a sacred part of our common heritage as Americans. They should be used for the richness and diversity of their arguments, not tampered with for partisan purposes. The Dutch historian Pieter Geyl once famously asserted that history was an argument without an end. Our contentious founders, who could agree on little else, would certainly have agreed on that.
Give this article a read.
"If the first amendment doesn’t work, the second will." -- Tea Party sign