Debunking the Myths of the Founding Fathers

This country’s Founding Fathers were racist, sexist white men whose opinions don’t matter in today’s world — unless they can be used to bolster liberal talking points.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers
by Brion McClanahan smashes those misguided notions by re-examining the men who helped forge this country’s government without falling back on postmodern spin.

Founding Fathers is a painstaking look at how the country began, where the Founders stood on key issues like freedom of religion, as well as how they came to their political philosophies.

It also details the spirited debates behind some of the major principles which still guide American citizens in 2009.

Despite everything that’s already been written on the subject, nagging myths still cloud the images we have of these historic men. Founding Fathers debunks many of these tall tales with alacrity.

Some myths were born from elements of truth, or evidence sharply pointing toward a popular conclusion, such as Thomas Jefferson’s connection to slave Sally Hemings. Others, like Alexander Hamilton’s gay love story, appear to be concocted from whole cloth.

But such is the power, and the lure, of the Founding Fathers till this day. Attach a cause to them and, voila, instant gravitas. For the gay rights movement, Hamilton’s alleged sexual behavior was used by some to advance gay causes, the author says.

The book also sprinkles copious sidebars along with the main text, including features like PC-shattering Books They Don’t Want You to Read and pull-out quotes that remind us of the wisdom the Founders brought to their task.

Is it any wonder that we’re still liberally quoting from the likes of Benjamin Franklin (“Haste makes waste”)?

The book doesn’t shy away from the Fathers’ flaws. Yes, they owned slaves — as did many of their peers during that era. But most of the Founders were deeply uncomfortable with the practice, and some went on to help eradicate the stain of slavery from the young nation.

“The fact that many of these men owned slaves should not denigrate their achievements,”
McClanahan writes.

Slavery certainly dominated life in the Southern states during their era, but it was by no means restricted to that part of the country. Nor was anti-black legislation, which ruled over both the North and the South.

To some, the Founders were “petulant” (James Madison), “irritable and vain” (John Adams) and “dim-witted demagogues” (John Hancock).

But their work continues to speak for itself.

If there’s one message the book returns to over and again with its colorful portraits of the Fathers and their political battles, it’s their embrace of states rights.

McClanahan recalls how strongly the Founders wanted states’ rights as a measure against a too-powerful executive branch. It’s a message modern-day conservatives still rally around, and it’s one which can be traced directly back to the Founders.

The Founders comes off as real people here, not men put on a pedestal for the remarkable documents they forged. They led lives filled with drama and didn’t always live up to societal ideals. Adams wore a sword to Senate sessions, and Franklin was a bit of a ladies man despite his less than traditional looks.

But he didn’t father nearly as many illegitimate children as some have argued.

McClanahan always serves up some juicy information not readily known about the subject matter. Jefferson didn’t want to become president and, given his humble nature, he is buried under a simple obelisk. Franklin sought “divine intervention” during a breakdown in talks while at the Constitutional Convention.

We also learn about Samuel Adams, one of several “forgotten Founders” profiled in the book.

What’s most astonishing about the new book is how it touches on issues more than 200 years old that still apply, often directly, to the current culture. Newspaper bias. Freedom of religion. The right to bear arms — and for what purpose. All these issues were considered, debated and decided upon by the Founders, and to push aside their wisdom on the issues seems a foolish gambit.

McClanahan embellishes that point with his final chapter — “What The Founding Fathers Would Do” — a look at how Washington, Adams and Jefferson might address some of today’s seemingly intractable problems  It’s likely the Founders, who saw running for office as a civil duty, not a career path, would trim federal spending, end commitments to NATO and the United Nations and put limits on immigration.

Some of those solutions sound positively conservative, while others, like amending the Patriot Act, could be gleaned from a liberal blog site.

The Founding Fathers care more about principle than ideology, something The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers understands better than some other history texts.