Often, present generations, completely apathetic about their own sins, casts judgment upon the people who came before. This is not to say that, contrary to the prevailing wisdom currently choking our country, there are not absolute truths that were present during the inception of this country as well as in our present day. It is very unfortunate that some of our founding fathers held slaves; especially the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, who held nearly two hundred slaves at one time on his plantation at Monticello.
We do not like that the father of freedom in America could not find it in himself to free his slaves. Jefferson’s own cousin, as well as a number of fellow Virginians freed their slaves. From 1780 until 1800, the population of free blacks in Virginia rose from just over 2,000 to more than 30,000. (Burns, 1997) Where is Thomas Jefferson? However, did those who contributed to the Constitution yet held slaves, serve to invalidate the Constitution or their own individual contributions? It would have to seem that it does.
However, not to the same degree as some of America’s current policies invalidates our ability to even cast judgment on other generations in the first place. People in glass houses should not throw stones. This is a famous saying which can be applied to every person or generation who judges another while being less than perfect themselves. America is the 21st century is a far cry from America at its birth. The population, in 1776, was just under three million people. (McCullough, 2007 pg. 26) Last fall, America’s population exceeded three hundred million people.
Technology has certainly made the world a much different place and America is not only the richest country in the world, it is also the most powerful. The founding fathers could scarily fathom what this country would become in a little more than two hundred years. However, would they be proud of what had been accomplished? In some ways, the founding fathers would be glowing with joy and pride. In other ways, they could not help but feel a great deal of shame and embarrassment at what America had become.
In the past thirty years, revisionist historians have tried to tell Americans that this country was formed, not out of the pursuit of religious freedom as the Mayflower Compact reads but rather to make money and to expand their wealth and land holdings. Also, that the founding fathers were not deeply religious men but rather Deists who seemed apathetic towards absolute truths. These assertions are fallible to the core and scarily a student of history can accept such tripe.
However, even the deists and atheists were still very moral men who were led by principles and not by what was convenient as they were men of the Enlightenment. Therefore, the question which should also be asked in conjunction with this theme is: Does America stand on any moral ground to even pass judgment in the first place on any past generation. Did our forefathers risk their lives so that more than thirty million babies could be aborted since 1973 and 40% of all children are now born without a father living in the home?
Did our forefathers risk their lives so that more than 20,000 people could be murdered each year for the pursuit of money to buy drugs? When the forefathers secured freedom of speech, did that mean that pornographic movies could be shown on the television or curse words spewed at a dizzying rapidity? In a time when gay marriage is being pressed so heavily upon our members of Congress, would our forefathers; individuals who regarded the act as so impure, that they would go out of their way to describe such actions in an indirect way in their writings and all believed to be a sin?
There can be added to this list, more than a dozen modern examples and whether or not one agrees that the aforementioned are problems in this country or not, our forefathers could not help but see them as grave mistakes and impediments on our history. It seems unlikely that those individuals, such as John Adams and George Washington, to name only a few; so fervent in their religious convictions, that they freely invoked the word of God in their writings and speeches, could have consented to such depravity. More than 35% of all of the quotes of America’s forefathers came from the Bible.
Does America’s hunger for relativism and humanism disallow us from even being able to even ask the question: Were the actions of the forefathers pure enough to even form a country in the first place? For every person who would say no, there would be two of the aforementioned society which would say the same about us. Now, this is not to say that slavery was not extremely immoral which served as a cancer on our society at that time and created a legacy of racial hatred and inequality which is still present today.
Anyone who believes that this country is one of the greatest in the world, if not the entire world as I do, such apathy towards our forefathers own words, has to invoke a degree of annoyance towards men who are revered for what the gave to future generations in the formation of a democratic, capitalist and free society. One wonders why a clear consciousness was not worth simply paying their workers a modest wage instead of forcing involuntary servitude. What was going through the minds when Thomas Jefferson introduced legislation to end slavery during the Constitutional Convention?
Historians have argued that if Jefferson provided a hard line against slavery, then his other policies would have been pushed to the side and perhaps never passed. This is probably true. However, what stopped Jefferson from freeing his own slaves at Monticello? These questions may never be answered. So in the end, it would seem best for Americans to tread carefully when dismissing an entire generation and their works because of a sin which was all too apparent in 18th century America. Slavery was wrong? There is no doubt about that. However, has America lost most of its moral authority, as well as the rest of the West?
This is to be sure. As more and more people turn away from the ideas of absolute truths and towards relativism and humanism, preferring instead what is convenient and not what is right, problems which America is now suffering, is its natural result. If the incompatibility of the actions and words of the slave holding forefathers invalidates their work, then it should be placed a top a very long list of this country’s ironic measures which have grown at an exponential rate in recent decades.
WORKS CITED Burns, Ken Thomas Jefferson New York: Thirteen Productions PBS 1997 McCullough, David 1776. New York: Scribners 2007