Questions to ask when someone says, “But the Founding Fathers wanted [fill in the blank here]”


They’re probably rolling in their graves. They’re invoked constantly–but rarely with any specificity.

I’m talking about the US Founding Fathers and the narratives we’ve spun about their political, social and economic thoughts.

That is, when someone says, “But The Founders wanted [fill in with whatever justification someone wants here],” it’s important to ask:

  • Which Founders? They disagreed with themselves–a lot.
  • Where does your understanding of what the Founders thought come from?
  • Have you read their diaries? Whose?
  • Have you read their correspondence with each other? George Washington and James Madison communicated via snail mail about how the Articles of Confederation should be amended–no, completely thrown out in favor of a whole new and more powerful central government at the expense of state power.
  • Have you read those?
  • What bios about the Founders have you read? Who wrote those bios?

Pray tell: 

What gives you authority to speak for men who lived more than 200 years ago?