(Miscalculating) The Nation’s Love Affair with the Founding Fathers

In a Facebook post a few days ago, Senator Bernie Sanders wrote: 

As usual, I found this post frustrating and historically inaccurate because of the “Founding Fathers” reference; however, this time I was very surprised to find comment after comment “schooling” Sanders on his error.

Take a look at these sample gold mines:

Actually, The founding fathers were rich aristocrats who valued property rights at a premium, so much so that they limited the right to vote to land owners, who at the time were the billionaires of their day. It isn’t right that billionaires can buy elections, but that probably would have been the intention of the founding fathers.

To be honest Bernie… I think they did. Our founders who wrote the constitution were wealthy slave owners. We should stop idolizing our founders.

Yeah, they just did not allow black people, indigenous people, women and men without property to vote. Gotta hand it to the “Founding Fathers” they were one hell of a one percent!

I hate to correct you, Bernie, but I’m afraid that’s what our Founding Fathers did. They did so because they, too, were rich white slave owners themselves, and they agitated for the American Revolution to distract our ancestors’ economic problems and to stop any political movements back then.

To be fair, they probably were. Americans view the founding fathers with a peculiar reverence. They were progressive for their time, but by contemporary standards their age shows. The initial constitution failed to even provide for universal suffrage, leaving it up to the states who typically restricted the franchise to white male property owners. This wasn’t a matter of the rich buying elections, but more about the rich being the only people who could vote in elections. Obviously the US obtained universal male sufferage earlier than many other nations, and universal white male sufferage far earlier, but this wasn’t really something the founding fathers wrote into the constitution. This reverence of the past is fairly dangerous. America was built as a nation for the rich, undoubtedly, by the rich. It may be unpopular to admit, but the senator is fighting against the very fabric of the nation itself and this hark back to tradition is rather dishonest (even though I support his sentiment wholeheartedly).

Well… actually, they were thinking along the lines: “Let’s make sure that we plutocrats can control the entire political system. No voting for women; no voting for the African slaves; no voting for the white trash that do not own property”… am I wrong?

I think we think too highly of the founding fathers. But I don’t care what they wanted. I care what I want. That’s why this is supposed to be a democracy and not a theocracy where we worship what we think a bunch of old dead racist sexist slave owners wanted. Let’s focus on the world we want to build and not worry about the approval of skeletons.

Not one to disagree with Sanders often, but yes, that is exactly what they had in mind. Our republic was set up to be inefficient and have safeguards to protect “the minority” as explained in the Federalist Papers. This minority was not referring to minorities as we consider them today, but the minority of property owners (wealthy white men) whom made up our founding fathers. Their greatest fear was giving the majority too much power and them taking their wealth and property for the benefit of the majority. Our corrupt politicians are only following in the footsteps of the founding fathers.

Well, they did create the Constitution to uphold an unequal, unjust society, where liberty and freedoms were regulated and largely made available to an elite. Perhaps we ascribe to much egalitarianism to the creators of our government.

These post are fascinating because they are articulate, they show that these posters have accurate, sophisticated understandings of History, and they show that people do more than “dumb arguing” on the Internet. 

The sooner every one realizes that the Constitution is not the embodiment of anything near equality, the better. The very notion of “Founding Fathers” is exclusionary and patriarchal.

And to respond to Sanders’s post, the so-called Founders would have loved the idea, given how things have developed, of billionaires buying and selling the election to those who promise to protect their wealth and Whiteness, along with the inequality of others. They would especially love that people en masse believe they have unlimited freedom and opportunity.