Our nation’s Founding Fathers had ‘good brains’

A trip to the archives assured me that no one can repeal the essence of America.

By: Alex Freeman

In 2016, Donald Trump appeared on the television show Morning Joe. During his appearance, he said he “consulted himself” on policy issues because he has a “very good brain.”

Our Founders had very good brains as well.

Their good brains led them to devise a government strong enough to endure the devastation of Civil War, Great Depression, and World Wars—among countless other tests of national resiliency.

Thomas Jefferson, a chief architect of the Declaration of Independence, passionately defended the stability of the American experiment in his first Inaugural Address. “I believe this [to be] the strongest Government on earth.” Jefferson trusted it would truly take a force majeure to cripple the American republic. No single administration, politician, or person could invoke her demise. This impenetrable construction of government did not happen whimsically; it took assiduous crafting on the part of our Founders.

This crafting is reflected in the durability of our nation’s Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Yesterday at the National Archives, I had time to reflect on these documents as they sat before me, ensconced behind thick glass and dimly lit by low-intensity LEDs.

The Constitution is just four pages long. Yet on those four pages, our Founding Fathers established a republic deemed worthy of imitation by nations around the world. It has been the paradigm of modern democracy, guiding political leaders to make noble decisions in the name of a greater cause: the preservation of the American republic.


The National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C. Photo: National Archives

Our people and leaders owe a tremendous gratitude to the Constitution’s early champions who devised three branches of government that, while juristically distinct, remain inextricably linked to the shared end of American exceptionalism. Article I of the Constitution, which outlines the structure of the legislative branch, captured my attention for some time yesterday. The primacy of the clause, meaning it comes before Article II on the presidency, indicates the Framers’ focus on establishing a government immune to monarchical tyranny, just as they had experienced in Britain. This is one illustration of the painstaking thought our Founders put into creating a nation that they hoped would exist in perpetuity.

Our Founders were also resolutely candid in their description of the vices of humans and power, which resulted in clauses of the Constitution such as those pertaining to Titles of Nobility, impeachment, and distributions of authority, among others. Their intent was to nullify the penchants of powerful people (e.g., refusal to abdicate power peacefully, disloyalty to the body they govern, and generally unethical behavior).

The intrinsic stability afforded by our Constitution should not be forgotten. Too often do we let our passions and emotions shroud our appreciation for the government our Founders invented. We bear the right to be disillusioned by the outcomes of elections, but not our democracy. We own the privilege to express our opinions on government, but not to demand those in government to capitulate to public caprice.

This holds true for those who cannot see past the tumult of 2016. On January 20, 2017, a new epoch of American politics will begin; it is certain that this new epoch, as any other, will expose deep national fissures with no clear remedies. Our Founders anticipated populism, factional divide, and extremism in government. These issues weighed heavily on their considerations—just read the Federalist Papers. Yet, upon the conclusion of their founding endeavors, they remained optimistic that they had designed a government fortified against even the most undesirable unknowns.

Donald Trump presents plenty of unknowns. He is a foreign policy cavalier, Twitter monger, and a self-proclaimed economic divinity. No one knows the repercussions of his presidency—and it would be naïve to suggest he could do no harm to America, our republic, or the world.

Yet I remain faithfully committed to the same belief shared by our Founders: no person can repeal the essence of our nation. Just as our government derives its power from the consent of the governed, our cause derives its stability from the resolve of the public. From January 20th and there forward, we must resolve to commit ourselves to the preservation of the essence of our republic—which means protecting the freedoms guaranteed in our founding documents.

So yes, the ramifications of Donald Trump’s administration are almost entirely unpredictable. While reflecting yesterday at the archives, however, I came to conclude that the Founders saw him coming long before anyone. The brilliance of our constitution’s signers some 230 years ago makes sure that insofar as we remain committed to the idea of America and its founding principles, we will see another tomorrow.

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