Why We Still Care About America’s FoundersRoundup
tags: Founding Fathers, Constitution, Revolutionary War, presidential history
Mr. Atkinson is the author of “The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777.”
There’s a lot to dislike about the founding fathers and the war they and others fought for American independence.
The stirring assertion that “all men are created equal” did not, of course, apply to 500,000 black slaves — one in five of all souls occupying the 13 colonies when those words were written in 1776. Nor was it valid for Native Americans, women or indigents.
Those who remained loyal to the British crown, and even fence-straddlers skeptical of armed rebellion, were often subjected to dreadful treatment, including public shaming, torture, exile and execution. In a defensive war waged for liberty and to secure basic rights, the Americans invaded Canada in an effort to win by force of arms what could not be won by negotiation and blandishment — a 14th colony.
The enduring image of a yeoman farmer leaving his plow in the furrow to grab a musket on behalf of freedom is mostly mythical; during the Revolution, George Washington’s army was rarely larger than 20,000 troops and on occasion dwindled to 3,000, in a country of two and a half million.
And yet, the creation story of America’s founding remains valid, vivid and exhilarating. At a time when national unity is elusive, when our partisan rancor seems ever more toxic, when the simple concept of truth is disputed, that story informs who we are, where we came from, what our forebears believed and — perhaps the profoundest question any people can ask themselves — what they were willing to die for.