Monday, October 01, 2007
Well, it was nice to visit Williamsburg, finally, and now I am re-visiting this wonderful town in my post.
Let me first say that I was pleasantly reminded of how important it is for a historian to visit and touch, if possible, those things he reads about. Such adventures take one's musings about a place and time out of the imagination and make them tangible. One can not only retrace the footsteps of our nation's founding fathers, but also re-live their past, see what they saw and smell what they smelled.
And in all my smelling this weekend, several matters became abunduntly clear and real for me. No man who joined the American War for Independence did so because he didn't have much to lose. His predicament was very real. Win or die. Washington, Jefferson and Patrick Henry laid it all on the line. Had their attempts failed, they would undoubtedly have met their end at the gallows. As patriots, we should reflect on their sacrifices and be better for it.
And this leads me to my second personal revelation. What if, on an ideological level, you disagree with the American project, or at least parts of it?
Well, I suppose this could be the subject of a small library, but basically I have this to say. The founders of this country were educated in the Enlightenment, which may be objectionable on its own, but as men they took grave risks to establish our nation. For that we must respect them. They had backbone. They put their lives on the line no matter how you cut it, and so their valorous deeds ring true.
As far as the Enlightenment part goes, well, this was certainly a part of who the founding fathers were as educated men. Notwithstanding their personal piety, organized religion--as far as the Enlightenment is concerned--goes to the back of the bus when confronted with the general "progress" of mankind.
That said, the founding fathers, Jefferson most notable among them, were often fine humanists, and their contributions to our cultural patrimony are central to our identity as Americans. Whatever their ideologies may have been, places like Monticello and procedures like our practice of Law were established with noble intentions and stand as a testimony to their greatness.
So in a word I believe it is best to judge these men by their positive merits and actions rather, perhaps, than by their education alone. America's founding fathers stood up and were counted when their time came and when their countrymen needed them the most.
We should be so good to do so as well.
Over and out.