Perhaps it was inevitable that the American Right with its bottomless pot of money would pour some of it into the pockets of clever propagandists who would rewrite the nation's founding narrative and transform the Constitution's Framers into anti-government zealots.
After all, the founding narrative has a powerful appeal to many
Americans -- as the Bible does to Christians -- and can be selectively
cited by unscrupulous politicians to justify pretty much whatever they
want. The Right also has invested in a giant megaphone that can amplify
messages so loudly that lies and myths become history and truth.
The actual Tea Party and the "Don't Tread on Me" flags, which were both directed at the British imperialists in support of American independence, are today repackaged as attacks on the U.S. government, the same institution that the Founders created so they could start building a strong and independent nation. Up has become down.
The real historic counterpoints to the anti-British Tea Party and "Don't Tread on Me" flags were the "Join, or Die" banner demanding American unity and the Constitutional Convention in 1787, which repudiated the states-rights-dominated Articles of Confederation in favor of a vibrant central government in the U.S. Constitution.
But that isn't history that helps the Right's propagandists because it reveals the key Founders to be dedicated to a constructive national unity seeking pragmatic solutions to the country's problems, not to free-market extremism at any cost.
Because the real history doesn't work for the Right, it has spent much time and money turning the history inside-out. Bright young ideologues scour the historical record to cherry-pick a few out-of-context quotes to bend the founding narrative rightward. [For instance, see Consortiumnews.com's "Madison: Father of the Commerce Clause."]
This historical revisionism is a testament both to how much money the Right has dedicated to propaganda and to its appreciation of the power derived from national mythology. Even as the American Left largely dismisses the importance of history -- wishing to focus on the needs of today -- the Right has embraced Orwell's insight that "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past."
So, the Right continues to shape-shift the Framers of the Constitution (and more broadly the nation's Founders) into ideologues who despised government and cared only about individual liberty. But the actual history reveals them to be pragmatic individuals who viewed government as a crucial force for organizing the new society and building a strong nation.
Yes, the Founders cared about liberty (at least for white men) but most of them viewed a constitutional government as a means for restraining the excesses of democracy, then a fairly untested system of governing. That explains the Constitution's intricate system of checks and balances and the six-year terms for senators, originally appointed by state legislatures.
To the Constitution's architects, government also was the means to focus the nation's resources on building a nation to withstand the economic and political challenges from the far more powerful European states. These Founders saw the disorder from the Articles of Confederation as a threat to the hard-won independence.
In other words, if there was a dominant "originalist" notion of how the nation's governance should work, it was pragmatism; it was pulling together to get done what needed to be done. The key Founders were not wedded to some fixed economic ideology or some extreme vision of liberty.
Abigail Adams' Black Market
These were real people with real problems. As the Revolution dragged on, many of its leading figures faced not only physical danger but financial ruin. They looked for ways to make ends meet even if they had to cut ethical corners.
For example, one of the couples most widely revered for their contributions to the Revolution, John and Abigail Adams, resorted to a black-market scheme to raise enough money to avoid losing their home and property in Massachusetts.
Many of Abigail Adams' famous letters to her husband, as he served the revolutionary cause in Philadelphia and Europe, amounted to requisitions of supplies that could be sent back to Boston, along with his official correspondence, via the fastest and safest means of American transportation.
Abigail Adams then marked up the prices on the precious goods and sold them through a relative, Cotton Tufts Jr., so her involvement -- and that of her husband -- would not be revealed and provoke a possible scandal. [See Woody Holton's Abigail Adams.]
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