On Washington’s Birthday – Can We Still Look to Washington?

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I love teaching students about the American Founding.  I like the philosophical debates over the nature of liberty and necessity of government.  I like the use of pen and paper as weapons in a war of ideas.  I like the manner in which gentlemen addressed one another, even when they disagreed.  I appreciate the emphasis on honor and duty exhibited by statesmen and soldiers.   Everything about early America appeals to me – the architecture, the long coats, the tricorn hats.   Even the weather.  I always think of late 18th century America as perpetually stuck in autumn, with air that is cool and crisp, and a sun that always shines.  I know that isn’t true, but that’s how I envision it.

It’s easy to romanticize the American Founding as a period of unbridled optimism, achievement, and glory.  The truth is that the period right after the Revolution, before the Constitution was drafted, was a dangerous time for the United States.  For about ten years, after the battle for independence was won, the fight for freedom gave way to the darker side of human nature.  Had less enlightened forces prevailed, the American Experiment would have failed before it began. Continue reading