Alan Taylor: “We honor the founders best by sustaining their debates over core principles of government.”


As a historian, I think it is fair to say that there is much about the 2016 presidential race that is unprecedented. But, as Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor reminds us, even the founding fathers fought bitterly over the best way to secure a bright future for the United States.

Here is a taste of his recent New York Times op-ed: “Our Feuding Founding Fathers.”

Instead of offering a single, cohesive and enduring vision for America, the founders were diverse and squabbling. They generated contradictory political principles that persist to our own day. Instead of offering us an antidote to our divisions, those clashing founders created them.

Our early politics were so edgy and shrill because the stakes involved were so high, as leaders and their followers struggled to define the revolution and Constitution. The union of states and the republican form of government were new, tenuous, vulnerable and open to debate. It was easy to imagine one’s political rivals as ominous threats to free government. When Mr. Trump accuses Mrs. Clinton of cofounding the Islamic State, he echoes the recklessness with which Hamilton associated Jefferson with the bloody Jacobins of the French Revolution.

We often hear pundits declare that our politics have never been more polarized. In fact, politics were even more divided and violent in the era of the founders, when one minister worried that the “parties hate each other as much as the French and English hate” each other in time of war. In one town, when a Republican neighbor died, a Federalist declared, “Another God Damned Democrat has gone to Hell, and I wish they were all there.”

Read the entire piece here.