Gordon Wood Tells Us The Founders Were No Amateurs

John Trumbull, "The Declaration of Independence" (1817), U.S. Capitol Rotunda

When Gordon Wood writes an essay on Americans, self-governance, and the political practices of the Revolutionary Era, smart students of United States history should give it a read. The one he filed as an opinion piece in the May 2 edition of The New York Times is a jewel, written to refute the idea that the Founders were somehow political ingénues unused to governing themselves. That false sense of amateurism is appealing to many Americans who are rightly at the end of their collective wits because of the shenanigans of the professional political class, a group that apparently will say or do anything just to get re-elected.

            Of course, Wood is trying to remind readers colonial self-government was a practice the revolutionaries thought worth defending – a key reason for the American Revolution. Several grievances in the Declaration of Independence outline how the king and Parliament had usurped representative government from the colonies.  Furthermore, a national government that derived its just powers from the consent of the governed was what the Founding Fathers and Mothers were fighting for – just read the Declaration. If we embrace the inaccurate image of the Founders as men who had no real experience in government and therefore were somehow morally unsullied because of this purported amateurism, we paint a portrait of America’s essential and seminal era so inaccurate the reason for revolution is unseen by anyone looking at our past.  When it comes to their character, the founding generation had much to admire compared to the current crop of the ruling class. However, they were not political amateurs – and their experience guided and benefited the establishment of a brand-new nation.

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Filed under History of the Declaration of Independence, Scholarship and Historians

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