George Washington owned slaves. We all know this. Whenever we try to revere our Founding Fathers, someone on the Left will speak up and remind us of this fact. Of course, the context of the times means nothing to them. We’ll forgive Robert Byrd’s racist and KKK past because of the context of his times. But not the father of our country.
Washington inherited his slaves. With the property he inherited. He wasn’t a huge fan of slavery. In fact, he wanted to replace his slaves with paid laborers. Because he wasn’t making a lot of money with his slaves. There were large families. Many old who could no longer work. And lots of children. This large slave holding consumed a good percentage of his crops for their subsistence. While a smaller percentage of them contributed labor to produce those crops. He tried to sell them. But others were only interested in the workers. Not the old and the young. But he didn’t want to break up the families. So he didn’t sell. He continued to use slave labor. Made less money than he could. Because it was the decent thing to do.
His will freed his slaves after his wife’s death. It also provided for them. His heirs were to provide sufficient training to help these former slaves get a job. To help them integrate into the community. But you don’t hear that part from the Left. Just that he owned slaves.
In the context of his times, he was a great man. And he still is. Despite what the Left will remind us of. He was the father of our country. The indispensable one. Without him, there would have been no nation. For he truly was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Ben Franklin lived a long life. So long you could say he lived a couple of lives. Printer and entrepreneur. Writer and publisher. Inventor and scientist. Diplomat, peacemaker and Founding Father. A great man. And, yes, with a few flaws. He saw a prostitute or two in his youth. Sired an illegitimate child. William (who would go on and father his own illegitimate child). He wasn’t the greatest husband. He could have been a better father. But he did a lot for this country. Few did more. So we can forgive him these few trespasses. Most did. Even John Adams would speak kindly of him.
Franklin and Adams were very different people. Yes, Franklin wrote, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a young man healthy, wealthy and wise.” But as an elder diplomat in Paris, he came to see the pleasures in staying up late. Enjoying the company of the ladies in the Paris salons. And drinking Madeira. He was a social butterfly. And the people of France loved him. The great American scientist and inventor.
When Adams joined Franklin in Paris, their personalities clashed. Adams went to bed early. Got up early. And didn’t enjoy the company of the very forward (for the time) salon women of Paris. Only one woman interested him. His beloved Abigail.
Adams resented Franklin’s celebrity. And had difficulty working with him. Especially with the hours he kept. But Franklin’s style worked. Paris preferred him over Adams. And they made it known to the Continental Congress. This strained their relationship. Adams was concerned the French were playing Franklin, for the French were very adept at diplomacy. But in the end Franklin proved to be no slouch himself. He maintained French funding, arms and supplies for the American cause throughout the Revolutionary War, promising all along there would be no separate peace with Great Britain (France was, after all, in it for the spoils a British defeat would provide). But we made a separate peace. France got little for all her efforts (other than her own revolution). And Franklin minimized the damage to the Franco-American friendship. Not bad for a naughty old drunk.
John Adams is the most unappreciated of the Founding Fathers. There’s no memorial for him in our nation’s capitol. And yet there probably wouldn’t have been a nation without him. So why is he the Rodney Dangerfield of our Founding Fathers?
Adams was a flawed man who knew his flaws. He didn’t try to hide them, though. He tried to fix them. But he wasn’t very successful. He was a very religious man. And he was oh so pious. But irascible. And vain. It always bothered him that others got so much credit. For doing far less than he did. Especially Jefferson. These were his flaws. Which could make him hard to like at times. And bitter. The story that Adams often told about the writing of the Declaration of Independence went like this. He said Jefferson should write the Declaration of Independence, not him. First of all, Jefferson was a Virginian. With all the trouble in the North, it was important to show a united front. All the colonies. Even those not facing the wrath of the British army and navy. Second, no one liked him (Adams). So no one would like anything he wrote. (Which was not true as he did help some colonies write their state constitutions.)
And sometimes he could come across as kind of an elitist. Because he was so well learned and so well disciplined. He was part of that old school who thought that the best and brightest should serve in government. And some thought he was too British. Yes, he represented the British soldiers implicated in the Boston Massacre and supported the Jay Treaty, but he was no British toady. At a last attempt at peace and reconciliation, King George was willing to forgive many who rebelled against the crown. But not Adams. He was ‘too’ responsible for all that independence trouble. He would hang.
Anyway, that’s about the extent of Adams’ flaws. A bad personality trait or two. Nothing scandalous. He had a loving marriage. He was a good father. Highly principled. Honest. And just. One of the best of the best.
James Madison was the most erudite of the Founding Fathers. Jefferson may have thought big thoughts. But Madison could, too. As well as master the details. When it came to constitutionality in the inaugural administration, Washington didn’t turn to his Secretary of State (Jefferson). He went to the Speaker of the House. James Madison.
Washington had no children. But he admired and loved Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison like sons. And then the fighting started between his ‘children’. Especially between Hamilton and Jefferson. Who saw two different Americas. This animosity would extend to the president. And the entire Federalist ‘party’. Jefferson and Madison saw Washington as a senile old man manipulated by a puppet master. Hamilton. So Jefferson and Madison led an opposition party against the Washington administration. While Jefferson was still a member of the administration. The Jefferson-Hamilton feud got so bad that Jefferson would eventually leave and ‘retire’ to Monticello. Madison would carry on the opposition, taking his orders from Monticello. Sort of a Jefferson toady.
The Jefferson-Madison hatred of the Federalists bordered on the ridiculous. They saw everything through a prism of conspiracy. That the Federalists were trying to reunite America with Great Britain. Thus making them, the Republicans, fiercely pro-France. Even during the height of the Terror of the French Revolution. Jefferson once advised the French ambassador not to worry about Washington. He was old and senile. Those of right mind were clearly on France’s side. When Washington learned of this, he never would talk to Jefferson again.
Madison kept up the hysteria. Even during the Adams administration. He was sure Adams wanted war with France. And when the French insulted the Americans in the XYZ Affair (you want to talk to us French? First you give us French a lot of money), Madison said Adams fabricated the whole thing. So he could declare war on France. Well, he didn’t make it up. It happened. And while war fever gripped the nation, Adams tried one last time. And got peace.
Despite this Hamilton/Federalist paranoia, Madison was one of our best. He was the father of our constitution. He (and strangely enough Alexander Hamilton) led the ratification process. And Madison led the fight to add the Bill of Rights. Few men have been so instrumental in the founding of a nation.
Thomas Jefferson may have had an intimate relationship with a slave. Some may call it rape. But, in the context of the times, it was no big deal. Others were doing it. Just like we forgive the Aztec for their human sacrifices. In the context of their times, it was no big deal. A lot of less-advanced people were doing it.
Jefferson was a complex man. Some would call him a sphinx. He could tell lies that even he believed. Quiet and shy, he was not the ladies man. He looked like one, but he wasn’t. Rejected once while in college and he was ready to live a life of celibacy. But he did meet another woman. Who he loved and married. She was a frail thing, though. And a couple of babies later, she died. This just devastated Jefferson. Shook him to his core. It took months before he emerged from that deep depression. He would never marry again. And the female company he kept after that was often with married women. His daughters. Or, perhaps, a slave. He no doubt yearned for female companionship. But he would never open his heart again to another woman.
Perhaps he did, though. With Sally Hemings. His slave. His concubine. If the allegations are true (DNA evidence cannot conclusively prove but indicates a high probability). She looked after his daughters. Sort of a mother role. Perhaps she was a surrogate wife. If so, perhaps it was less than rape. Maybe there were mutual feelings. Anything is possible. But we’ll never know. What we do know is that if anything did happen, they hid it. Out of shame on one part. Perhaps fear on the other. She was, after all, only a concubine. Property. And being a concubine is not being a wife, wedded or common-law. No doubt it was a complicated ‘relationship’. If there was a ‘relationship’.
That said, he did do a lot of good. He was one of the greatest champions of limited government. He was one of the gentlemen of the Enlightenment. And there was little to fear from them. But some of these gentlemen wanted to give the new central government great power. Because it was the dawn of a new era. Where like-minded gentlemen would follow them and continue to govern with disinterest. But Jefferson had his doubts. He didn’t trust men with power. He didn’t trust government. And because of him, they’d keep the beast of Big Government at bay. For a little while.
Alexander Hamilton had illusions of grandeur. And this from a man who had done some fantastic things. Still, he always wanted more. He was a driven man. Probably goes back to his illegitimate birth and abandonment. He always had something to prove. To himself.
Some feared him. First Jefferson. Then Madison. They thought he was pulling the strings in the Washington administration. When he proposed his funding, assumption and banking plans as Treasury Secretary, Jefferson & Madison were frightened by what they saw. A way too powerful central government. So they formed the opposition. Thus American party politics was born. But neither side was as bad as the other side thought. Still, it didn’t stop Jefferson from trying to destroy Hamilton.
Hamilton had money from a successful law practice. And he ran the treasury department. Someone took notice. A guy named James Reynolds. A con man that was in Philadelphia preying on veterans. His wife, Maria, was beautiful. And quite the actress. One sob story of an indebted husband who abandoned her with his debts later, she lured Hamilton into her home. He brought money to help her settle her debts. But they soon ended up in her bedroom. Once they consummated their affair, Mr. Reynolds stormed in on cue and began the extortion of Alexander Hamilton.
Well, when Jefferson learned of this juicy little morsel, he leaked it to the press. The newspapers attacked him. Said he was stealing money from the treasury to pay his blackmailer. He wasn’t. They did look, though. And how they looked. When they couldn’t find the evidence they wanted to find, Jefferson said that was proof positive of what a good thief Hamilton was.
But Hamilton was no thief. Say what you will about him, but he was a man of integrity. And the father of American capitalism. The American dream took root and grew largely because of him. And his financial acumen. You know what they say. Money talks and bull [excrement] walks. Jefferson could write and he wrote some good stuff. But words don’t build a nation. Money does. Foreign credit. And Hamilton delivered.
Flawed but Great
Flawed men, yes. But compare them to our contemporary politicians. To their flaws. To their accomplishments. Who were/are better? And who were/are more flawed? More corrupt? The comparison is ridiculous. For there is no comparison. Our Founding Fathers, with all of their flaws, are THE greatest generation.