Building a Free Nation
The Founding Project begins a series of short articles dedicated to the founding of America and the ideals of the founding men and women whose vision formed a nation destined to be the the greatest experiment of freedom in the world. Join The Founding Project for Part 1 of “Building a Great Nation”, The Founders’ Vision of Liberty and watch for the continuing parts on this website.
Part 1 ~ Founders: A Vision of Liberty
People and patriots (not vast, impersonal forces) shape history out of the ideals they cherish in their hearts and the ideas and visions they have in their minds. It is their passion, ideals and quest for freedom, which form inspirational direction and lead nations to goodness.
The Founders of the United States of America chose ideas and ideals that drove them to take up arms and fashion a new government formed by reflection and choice, as Alexander Hamilton said, rather than by accident or force.
America was created centered on three ideas: the people are entitled to life, liberty and private property and the strongest of these was a thirst for liberty. The Founders understood it as clearly as those who knew the opposite and who lived under tyranny.
The Plymouth Pilgrims were the first of many who came to the New World to escape religious persecution. British law once forbade non-Anglican Protestants to worship freely — jailing and even burning them for dissenting in the 16th and 17th centuries, and later fining them and barring them from universities and political office.
Freedom to Worship
Thousands of Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists and Quakers fled, bringing with them a dissenting tradition of governing their own congregations and a political culture of self-government.
Because they were accustomed to reading the Bible and believing God and his word were independent of worldly institution or authority, they had a deeply-rooted culture of individualism and personal responsibility. For them, the individual and his conscience were of preeminent importance.
These men understood oppression and tyranny.
William Livingston, a signer of the Constitution and governor of New Jersey in the 1750s, ran a journal key in turning the American mind toward revolution, reminding readers how “the countless sufferings of your pious predecessors for liberty of conscience, and the right of private judgment,” drove them “to this country, then a dreary waste and barren desert.”
John Jay, the first chief justice, wrote an account of how his paternal grandfather returned home from a trading voyage to find his family and neighbors, their homes occupied by soldiers, the local church destroyed, and their savings confiscated.
As Edmund Burke warned his fellow members of Parliament four weeks before Lexington and Concord, “All protestantism . . . is a sort of dissent,” but American Protestantism “is a refinement on the principle of resistance,” Whatever might be the differences among them, he said, they all agree “in the communion of the spirit of liberty.”
Defining Real Freedom
While taking part in drafting Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, James Madison rejected Thomas Jefferson’s original provision for religious toleration because it was not the government’s business to tolerate someone’s beliefs, saying if a person isn’t free to think their own thoughts and believe their own beliefs, they are not free.
“…Constitutions can be easily breached if demagogues subvert the spirt and letter of the document.”
– Quote by George Washington
While Madison would never use Jefferson’s lofty language, he agreed with his sentiment, his vision, that “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
These men understood oppression and tyranny.
When King George III began making demands of the American colonies, the Founders had a ready explanation for his intentions. Washington concluded in 1774, that the king aimed “to make us as tame and abject slaves.”
The Founders saw the government as a means to protect life, liberty, and property from the depravity of human nature, but recognized that government was a double-edged sword and when arming officials with the power to protect, it can also use the power to oppress.
They also realized that even when representatives are elected, there is no guarantee of liberty and, as Madison stated in the Federalist Papers, taxation with representation can be tyranny.
Government Strength, But Appropriately Limited
This danger worried the Founders as they struggled to protect the new government and at first, the government was too weak to oppress them, but also too weak to do its job of protecting against violence.The Revolutionary War proved long and hard because the central government could not tax to pay soldiers or buy arms.
When the Founders set out to write a new Constitution, it gave the federal government powers sufficient to its purpose and limited it to only powers deemed essential.
It was divided and subdivided, making each branch of government a check on the others, required frequent elections, gave the president a veto, while making him and other government officials subject to impeachment.
Madison was one of the chief designers of the Constitution and endeavored to create a balanced mechanism – ambition countering ambition and interest countering interest.
“I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
– Quote by James Madison
Washington noted that a democratic republic requires a special kind of culture and Constitutions can be easily breached if demagogues subvert the spirt and letter of the document.
There were specific principles that all 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention could agree on, their shared vision, and directed the design of the document: (1) Rights come from God, not government; (2) All political power emanates from the people; (3) Limited representative republic; (4) Written Constitution; and (5) Private Property Rights.
With these central ideas, their vision, in the minds of the creators, the Bill of Rights and Constitution of the United States came to life to form the base of a great nation.
[Editor’s Note: Please visit The Founding Project’s website often and watch for the ongoing parts of this series, “Building a Great Nation”.]
Lynda’s writing career began as early as her teens, writing for equine publications. As an adult, her journalism career took her from journalist for a Texas newspaper and advanced to positions as Editor-in-Chief and currently she is News Editor for a large local news media.
In addition to her journalism experience, Bryant Work also pursued medical studies for several years and spent several years doing clinic work. Lynda is also a certified paralegal, but even when working in other fields, she continued to work as a freelance writer and ended up returning to journalism.
Lynda enjoys creative writing and has written hundreds of poems. She is the proud mother and grandmother of her son, daughter-in-law and grandchild and resides in Texas.