about the universe forum commander Shop Now Commanders Circle
Product List FAQs home Links Contact Us

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What Would the Founding Fathers Do?

This is Steven Petrick posting.

One of the frequent refrains we hear from our elected (and unelected) leaders is that they know what our founding fathers would do in a given situation. To give them the benefit of the doubt, the are perhaps as ill-educated about what our founding fathers did as most of us. Our school systems do a remarkably poor job of actually teaching what our founding fathers were like.

Thomas Jefferson did not want to be involved in foreign wars, and was opposed to having a navy that was more than a coastal defense force for that reason. Naturally he became our first President to engage in an overseas adventure. What those of you who may know about the conflict have been taught to refer to as "The first barbary war."

But it was not a "war." Congress did not declare war, Congress passed "An act for the Protection of Commerce and seamen of the United States against the Tripolitan cruisers", authorizing the President to "…employ such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite… for protecting effectually the commerce and seamen thereof on the Atlantic ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas." The statute authorized American ships to "seize vessels belonging to the Bey of Tripoli, with the captured property distributed to those who brought the vessels into port."

Much as we are enjoined that Clinton (the Balkans), George W. Bush (Somalia), George H.W. Bush (Afghanistan and Iraq), Kennedy (Vietnam), and Truman (Korea) all failed to get a "declaration of war" before committing U.S. forces to combat an aggressor, Thomas Jefferson only got Congress's approval, not a declaration. Just as the individuals above did.

There is also Spanish Florida, which saw the U.S. government send agents (U.S. Marines actually) to land on the coast of Florida in clandestine operations to stir up the population against Spanish rule. Notably under the presidency of James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution."

The truth about our founding fathers is that, more so than many of our current leaders, they were realists, and dealt with the world as they found it, not as they imagined it.

Yes, Jefferson thought the moat (Atlantic Ocean) and a some gunboats would be enough to protect us from invasion (and that did not keep the British from burning Washington in the War of 1812) and was opposed to a strong navy. He did,  however, recognize that paying "danegeld" was not stopping the Danes (or in his case, Algerians). Madison was perfectly willing to use U.S. troops to destabilize a the government of a colony so that the United States could annex it.

So when someone tells you they know what the Founding Fathers would have done, you might ask them if they have actually studied what those gentlemen actually did.