Today, Americans have a view of the Founding Fathers, and of the founding and evolution of young America, that is highly idealized and mythologized. The Founding Fathers themselves have reached an almost deified status and many people think of changing anything regarding the structure of our government as tantamount to blasphemy. However, much of what people think they know about the founding of America is a bit inaccurate (or at least only part of the truth), confused over the years partly by idealized myth and sometimes by outright propaganda.
10. The Republican Party Of Today Has Nothing To Do With The “Party Of Lincoln”
Many Republicans today will try to hype themselves up to others by talking about how they are from the “Party of Lincoln.” They figure this will make them look good, as Lincoln’s presidency helped keep the country together. However, the truth is that the platform of Lincoln’s Republican Party, and that of today’s Republican Party (or the Democrats, for that matter) is so far removed that it really cannot be compared.
Slavery simply dominated back then, and no one really cared about anything else. Apart from a line about railroads, which really had to do indirectly with the overall slavery issue, the entire platform of the freshly made Republican Party was related to slavery, or the spread of slavery, especially in the recent flashpoint of Kansas. Lincoln, if he were alive today, may well have simply made his own party.
9. The Founding Fathers Were Not Really Interested In Common Folk Voting
Most people revere the Founding Fathers today as if they were gods, which is perhaps fitting, because the Founding Fathers certainly thought that we were beneath them. As far as they were concerned, the idea of the common folk voting wasn’t good, because the uneducated masses could band together to make decisions that were bad for everyone, especially the more well-to-do landowners.
For this reason, the Founding Fathers idea of freedom was just the rich, white landowners. After the Revolutionary War, it started to slowly become those who were paying any taxes, and were white males of age, but it took some time to reach that point and it was never something the founders were really interested in achieving. Most of them were even less interested in achieving suffrage for women and minorities, which came even later.
8. Abraham Lincoln Was A Rock-star Corporate Lawyer By The Time He Ran
Abraham Lincoln was perhaps one of the most successful politicians ever when it came to personal propaganda. He was very good at putting across a sort of aww shucks farm-boy persona, and this helped disarm people and trust him as he was running for political office. Some people really do think he was just a farm-boy, who worked overnight in a small room, studying by candlelight to be a lawyer so he could one day be president. While all of this is mostly true, once he became a lawyer, things were different for him.
Lincoln was making extremely good money, which helped him launch his later campaigns, and learned all kinds of valuable speaking skills trying cases in court, which also helped him. He was also not the lawyer for the downtrodden that many might expect, but a rock-star corporate lawyer for the railroads — the equivalent back in the day of, say, working for the oil companies — and he took cases many today might have criticized him for defending.
7. The South Can Squawk About “States’ Rights” But Their Own Words Damn Them
Today, many Southerners stubbornly believe that the Civil War was the war of Northern aggression, and that slavery would have died out on its own. Many insist the war wasn’t actually about slavery anyway, but about states’ rights, and that the North was just being despotic. Now, to be clear, the issue was about states’ rights… to have slavery. Some revisionists have been trying, and sometimes succeeding, to confuse people for a good 150-odd years now that it was for anything else.
In their own constitution, they have several lines ensuring that black people within the South would never, ever be free under their rule. They resolved that this is why they created the Confederacy, solely to protect this alleged “right” over black people. The states’ various declarations also speak at length about slavery as their main and sometimes only grievance, and the South’s greatest leaders echoed the same sentiments. Despite this, with a few lies, those who wish to believe otherwise are easily fooled and go on thinking things were much rosier than they were.
6. People Revere George Washington, But They Tend To Forget His Gravest Warning
George Washington is revered by many Americans as the greatest American, the greatest president, and one of the best leaders the world has ever seen. He is a legend today, and his exploits are taught to every child in school. But his final speech likely didn’t have the impact he hoped it would. While people did take an example from him to resign after two terms (and after it was breached, it was turned into an actual law), the real brunt of his speech has been largely ignored.
Washington warned against getting too involved in the foreign affairs of other countries. He thought it could bog us down into quagmires, or get too many enemies besetting us, cost us a great deal of money, and in general, just be more trouble than it was worth. He would likely be very alarmed at the incredible amount of foreign involvement we have today. We have military bases in many allied countries, foreign aid and embassies all over the world, and are incredibly caught up in various conflicts around the globe. More than likely, he would shake his head in disappointment, and go hit the bottle that he was so famously known for enjoying.
5. The Constitution Was Absolutely Not Meant To Be A Permanent Document
While the Constitution has had amendments added to it, the body of the document and the structure of our government have remained largely the same over the years. Also, at this point, many experts now feel we have something called an “entrenched Constitution” wherein it would require an incredible effort just to make a small Constitutional amendment in our current political climate, or even a change to an existing one.
Some people think they are honoring the founders by keeping an incredibly outdated set of rules, laws, and structures largely the same, but the truth is the founders would likely consider us quite foolish. Some of them, like Jefferson, believed that not only should it not be a permanent document, but that the healthiest system would have the new generation — roughly every 25 years or so — pretty much completely restructure our current system of government to fit their generation’s needs. In no way did he, or most of them, think it should be a document kept mostly the same, save some amendments over the course of a couple hundred odd years.
4. The South May Have Been Able To Keep Slavery, If Not For Their Unquenchable Greed
Many people like to think of the North as crusaders for good who wanted to take down the evil South and free the slaves — we all love a cut and dried story about heroes and it is nice when everything is black and white. However, the truth is that some in the North were not so enthusiastic about going after the South actively, or trying to pursue a long-term end to slavery.
While there were, of course, plenty of abolitionists, there were also a lot of Northerners who thought slavery was ethically wrong, and did not want it to expand, or want it in their country, but still deeply looked down on the intelligence and general capability of black people. The truth is that the conflict between the North and the South partly heated up so much over time because Southerners kept wanting to expand slavery westward to new states and the Northerners wanted to keep the new parts of the country slave free — they wanted the stigma contained.
Some politicians, like Lincoln in his debate with opponent Stephen Douglas, wanted the citizens of the new state to decide — a compromise that pleased few, except some of the more aggressive Southerners. The truth is that if the South had kept slavery to the South and not tried so aggressively to expand, things may never have reached the point they did and the North would never have been motivated enough to waste so much blood freeing people they already mostly looked down on, and the South may never have even tried to secede in the first place, as the drama wouldn’t have reached that point.
3. The Founding Fathers Didn’t Think You Were Smart Enough To Vote For Senators
Recently, a lot of Americans voted for new senators, although the current balance in the senate seems to be staying largely the same for now. Many people took selfies with their “I voted” stickers and more young people are voting than ever, so that is certainly a good thing, regardless of who they vote for. However, while today we may be able to enjoy the opportunity to choose our senators, that wasn’t always the case.
Sadly, back before 1913, even rich, white, landowning males did not have the power to choose their state’s senators, as the Founding Fathers had not thought them capable or smart enough to make such an important decision for the country. It wasn’t until 1912 that congress passed a law giving the power to the people, and it was finally ratified in 1913. Before then, you just voted for your state legislature’s representatives and they chose the senators for you — now, your democracy is a little less representative and a little bit more direct.
2. Most Freed Black People Went Straight Back Into Slavery And Never Left It Again
Many people think that Lincoln freed the slaves and that the 13th amendment ended slavery, but both of these things are essentially untrue. The Emancipation Proclamation did free all slaves currently held in states in uprising, but that was not even close to all of the slaves at that time. And unfortunately, the 13th amendment did not fix things either. It left a loophole wherein if you were incarcerated for a crime, you could be forced to work against your will (for nothing) all the same. Which, you know… is basically slavery.
In the South, black people were tricked into sharecropping and tenement farming, which was basically a form of debt bondage. Those people were often the lucky ones, though, as many black people were tried and convicted in what were basically kangaroo courts for the most ludicrous of crimes, even well into the Civil Rights era. Going to jail for whistling at a white women, or other ridiculous charges, were not just stereotypes or racial jokes — they were very real and horrible things that happened to real people, long after most of us would imagine it could have possibly been happening.
1. The Founding Fathers Happily Tore Into Each Other Like Politicians Of Today
Perhaps one of the most amusing things about the Founding Fathers of America is just how much Americans have practically deified them in history. People like Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Hancock, Franklin, Paine and so many others still stir the imaginations of people today, and hold a truly mythical status. Now, we’re not trying to denigrate these men and convince you they weren’t really so great after all. Far from it. In fact, all of them accomplished great things for their time and had a lot to be proud of, and while some may have had beliefs we would disagree with today, many were still ahead of their time.
The source of amusement lies with the fact that while we deify them all almost reverently, they fought, had fallings out, bickered, quarreled and argued vehemently for opposite political parties just like politicians today. Some of the earliest elections involved multiple Founding Fathers and were some of the dirtiest political fights in our history, with both sides using name-calling that would have made many hardened partisans today blush. The Founding Fathers worked together for a common goal, but it doesn’t mean they were a hivemind who had one idea for America that they expected us to follow perfectly from then on. They were a group of men with various different beliefs who came together and formed an imperfect system, expecting us to change it and make it better to suit our needs as we went along. Now, it is up to us to honor them by doing just that.