The Mount Vernon Statement, A Poor Man’s Manifesto… VERY Poor

A group made up of some of the biggest names in contemporary conservatism got together a few days ago and crafted what they are calling the “Mount Vernon Statement,” a manifesto of sorts meant to give direction to today’s conservative movement. Put succinctly, it fails to fill the bill.

Taken as a whole this statement is fine as a short history lesson. It explains pretty clearly what the founders had wrought when their basic work was done with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. But as a statement of principles that might guide today’s discussion I do not think the letter works.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that this effort is harmful. In fact, I think every young person should read it for its explication of our historically conservative American principles. The problem is that this thing doesn’t seem to speak directly to what we are facing today like a statement that perhaps aims to become boilerplate should.

Some of those involved with the statement said that the 1960 “Sharon Statement” served as their inspiration. The Sharon Statement, intended to give some ideological umph to Goldwater conservatives, is an effort that works much better as a rallying cry to action. Sadly, the Mount Vernon Statement falls a little flat in this respect.

Historically I have two minor qualms about the newest effort. First of all its name doesn’t resonate. Yes, George Washington was the indispensable man of our early republic. Without him the warring factions facing off in political battle during our early republic just might have strangled this baby in its crib. But, as steadying a force as he was, Washington was not really the ideological or intellectual father of our nation. He was the father that kept the kids from beating each other up, the father we looked up to as a model of comportment, the man we looked to as the solid rock of the family, certainly, but he wasn’t the idea man. For that we looked to men like Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams among many others.

So, naming this letter after George Washington’s estate seems a bit odd. Better that these folks should have met in Independence Hall, Philadelphia and called this the Philadelphia Statement, the Independence Statement, or some such thing. The words “Mount Vernon” are obviously meant to lend historical heft to the document but they just don’t succeed as a meaningful ideological association. In fact, it’s sort of hollow. Are we naming our bedrock ideological principles for the man that didn’t craft them? That seems a bit odd to me.

Secondly, I find fault with this paragraph (my bold):

The conservatism of the Declaration asserts self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature’s God. It defends life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It traces authority to the consent of the governed. It recognizes man’s self-interest but also his capacity for virtue.

The word “recognizes” is not the correct word to use for what the founders thought about the word “virtue.” They didn’t merely “recognize” virtue existed. They built their entire political edifice on the insistence that our political leaders practice virtue and that they base their every move on the need to be seen as civically virtuous. This is an idea about which few of our political leaders today have the slightest clue, not to mention that the public is generally ignorant of what the founders meant when they discussed public virtue. Sadly, this letter doesn’t help us regain a proper perspective on the founder’s idea of public virtue.

The Mount Vernon Statement missed an opportunity to better explain what virtue in government could mean as a rallying cry for today’s conservative movement.

The Mount Vernon Statement is a fine little history lesson but compared to the Sharon Statement, it just doesn’t seem to as immediately take on the issues that we face. Where is the discussion of the destruction of our educational system, where is the warning against our worst foreign threat, where is the assertion that our system of jurisprudence has been undermined? All these things are broadly implied by the Mount Vernon Statement, granted, but one wishes that today’s problems were more directly addressed.

While we don’t want a statement that names names or attacks specific policies directly -- that would detract from the essential universality of such a statement of principles -- still to my mind the Mount Vernon Statement is a bit too broad. I feel that we need something a tad more direct. The Sharon Statement was perfect for its mixture of what were then current issues and timeless conservatives principles.

Should you have signed onto the Mount Vernon Statement, or should you feel that you’d like to do so, I can find no harsh words for you. As I said, there is no great harm done by this effort. Unfortunately, there is also correspondingly little succor that this effort can lend to our cause. It seems like a nice history lesson but as a manifesto to rally around it is more like a staid assertion than a battle cry. It is eminently forgettable.

Part Two

Yes, it’s easy to criticize. Surely it will occur to the minds of many readers of my criticism here that I should offer solutions along with my criticisms. So I offer the following basic idea of what I’d consider a better “statement” than what resulted from the efforts at Mount Vernon, Virginia. I’ll call it the “Huston Statement” for lack of a better title and since, well, I’m the one writing the thing.

Remembering that I am one man, not a committee of 80 some high-powered conservative operatives, here are the ideas I thought of while reading the Mount Vernon Statement, humbly offered as a basis upon which to further the discussion:

The Huston Statement

Since our political climate has long since drifted from the first principles of our founding and since we now face a crisis threatening to tear down our American moral center we commit ourselves to re-establishing our American character.

We believe that our Constitution and the principles espoused in the Declaration of Independence form the best guide by which to nurture our American character and provides a firm bedrock upon which to build a government.

We as Americans believe:

That as individuals we have the right of self-determination, to be free of overweening involvement in our lives by government at all levels from local, to state, to federal.

That as free men we must strongly assert that we are responsible for ourselves, our family, and our property and that others owe us nothing but to observe our rights as we observe theirs.

That our liberties depend on our civic virtue and that it is up to each of us to become informed citizens.

With these God-given liberties in mind, that our representatives must strive to keep government out of the lives of the people to the greatest extent practicable and that they should honor the principles of limited government as handed down to us from our founders.

And we assert that adherence to these principles will act as a beacon of freedom to the world, that we should actively promote them abroad giving succor to all those that would follow in our footsteps, and that we should not lend legitimacy to foreign bodies or nations that retreat from them.

We affirm that:

Private property is sacrosanct

The market-based economy free of government meddling must be preserved

Employees must be free of compulsory associations

Governments must be accountable to the voters not to judges and unions

Communities have the right to draft standards without federal approval

Education is a local responsibility solely under local and state control

It is freedom of religion, not freedom from religion

And that our Second Amendment rights are God-given and cannot be infringed

Additionally, we as Americans also reaffirm that legislation is the rightful duty of our constituted bodies of representatives and not the venue of capricious judges. Ruling from the bench is no better than the ill-considered tyrannies from the throne from which we so long ago rebelled.

Finally, let us understand these principles to be an affirmation of our American character one that has made our nation the richest and strongest nation in human history. Any force, whether domestic or foreign, that wishes to materially alter this character is an enemy to our nation and one that should not be treated lightly but faced squarely and with resolution.

Well, this is how I see a statement of principles that are geared to today’s issues but are still the sort that attest to our timeless conservative ideals.

I hope this can serve to continue the discussion that the Mount Vernon Statement started.

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Comments

It is a limp statement,

It is a limp statement, there's no doubt, and your criticism of the Washington iconography is spot-on, but Washington has always been primarily a symbol (in real life, Washington was an incompetent boob whose major accomplishment was having a great PR department), so that use isn't really out-of-character, historically speaking. You can't really bring in the other "idea men," because then it becomes contentious, because they were contentious, and not the amorphous mass secularly worshiped as The Founding Fathers. When it comes to embracing "the principles of our founding fathers," you have to decide which principles, and which founders.

Honestly, though, I fail to see any real point to such a "statement" anyway, whatever it may be called. It's a lot of talk about freedom, self-government, and so on by a gaggle of contemporary conservatives who don't believe in such things, a veneration of The Founding Fathers by people who don't know the first thing about them, and wouldn't like most of the important ones if they did (huge tip-offs: the rant about "the conservatism of the Declaration," and the name "Edwin Meese" as the first signatory). These are regular bugaboos of mine. Another is the by-now-routine dismissal of the notion that U.S. history didn't end in 1776 or in 1787 by characterizing it as a move "away from... our founding principles."

Where in the bible is the second amendment again?

And on the 8th day, God said "let there be guns so that we can blow each others brains out and from a greater distance.   I did not create this world but to allow you to carry your bazookas into my house of worship. All ye who doubt me put a bullet in your children's skull and then blow out your own brains. If your brother needs a bullet, give it to him between the eyes or feel my wrath, for I am a vengeful God, a powerful God, and next time I'll bring my gun."

And Jesus Wept.

- YouAreAMoron 3:16

Foolish

Such an idiotic statement as yours, Bobbie boy, shows you really have no clue what you are on about. It is clear you have no historical knowledge about why the founders felt self-protection was God-given. Try reading a book or two in your life. Ya might learn something!

You can find this in

You can find commands to have weapons in the 9th chapter of Esther and all through the First Book of Maccabees (for Jews) and the 22nd chapter of Luke (for Christians).

In other words, maybe you should Read the Furshlugginer Manual before spouting nonsense.

so jesus wants you to have guns?

Jesus wants you to have guns?  Oh really?  What is more important a single quote buried in Ester or Macabees (Not even a book in the Christian Bible, but that's cool. If you need to go to secondary resources, I understand that you need to grasp at straws)  Certainly gun toting wackos believe that a line like buy a sword, is more important than the golden rule or turn the other cheek.

The founders also believed that women should not vote and blacks were property. So since everything that the founders believed must be followed by our more civilized society then I guess you want to bring back slavery?

 

 

Secondary sources?

Religious traditions are the accumulated experience of a community. They are logically prior to the texts. Nobody would believe in the Bible if it didn't have a tradition backing it. It's the traditions that say that something is the Holy Bible and not just a bunch of squiggles. The texts are simply those parts of the tradition that were written down first. Today, the traditions say that people must be allowed to own guns because a disarmed citizenry leads to tyranny.

On the other hand, sometimes the above-mentioned accumulated experience goes awry. For example, the story of the Exodus is obviously about the rescue of a people from the horribly unjust system of slavery. For centuries, it was reinterpreted in Judaism and Christianity to be about a special case with no lessons for any other situation. (After all, everybody knew that slavery was a necessary part of the economy.) A few centuries ago, a handful of evangelical Protestants (which included, for example, Unitarians back when Wahhabi Muslims were compared to Unitarians by people who weren't being ironic) went for a more literal approach and declared that slavery could not be tolerated. This actually worked.

On the third hand, subsequent generations of fundamentalists tried living off their reputation for being on the right side of the angels (the same way leftists have been trying to live of their reputation for backing civil rights more recently) but can no longer get away with it.

Real message: I know far more about this stuff than you'll ever know.

Real message: I know far more about this stuff than you'll...

...Nice, Joseph.  I assume you also trumpet that "elites" are horrible persons, despite your utterly elitist attitude. 

The Second Amendment is in the Old Testament

Exodus 22:2. If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.

Home defense using lethal force was allowed under Mosaic Law. And the death penalty was mandatory for murder otherwise.

Exodus 21:12 He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.

 

Ummm. Not sure what you mean

So in the first example:  Nothing there about God saying that you have the right to use a weapon to smite folk, just that if you have provocation you are allowed to.  Certainly you can kill a man with your bare hands by choking them and don't need a gun to do that.

The second line basically says that if you kill someone, you yourself should die. It doesn't mention that it is describing murder like you imply, only that just if you kill someone then you should be killed yourself.

So what these two quotes basically say is: If I kill someone, I can be put to death but only in a manner that spills no blood. 

So again, an argument against allowing society to have the tools to kill people that spill blood. Kinda what guns and bullets do. 

Oh you mean that I shouldn't take the Bible literally but it should be interpreted in context of the time and society? 

Keep trying. You're knoting your panties in a bunch.

Constitution serves as the principles of the founding fathers

Writing the Constitution took a significant amount of Time and Effort, years in fact, and it provides a condensation of the Prinicples of the men who wrote it.

There are not many "Bugaboos" in the Constitution, but there are certainly principles.

I also fail to see the need for the Mt. Vernon Statement, but it is somewhat harmless, unlike the Congress of the United States as it currently stands with a very harmful legislative majority, and our current crop of "legislating" Judges all over the country who have written some really harmfull "Judgements" in direct contradition to the principles of our founding fathers.  

It used to be you could count on the Principles of the Founding Fathers to stand up to these tyrannical administrations, and Congress would assist in that effort.   The Gyroscope of the Constitution rights itself over time, and the Principles of the founding Fathers, with or without George's input, have continued to stand the test of time.

While George did not have the Intellect of the Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, etc...he did have a critical ingredient or two for the new Republic.

As President, Washington strove to establish public confidence in the new government and to demonstrate that political leaders could act virtuously. He believed his character was much more important to the success of the republic than his policies, and he spent much of his adult life creating and preserving a reputation for integrity and uprightness. In 1788, the planter wrote to his trusted confidant Alexander Hamilton, “I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an honest man.” His character helped hold the other founders together in the midst of tremendous trials and reassured them that they could construct a workable republic.

Writing the Constitution took

Writing the Constitution took a significant amount of Time and Effort, years in fact, and it provides a condensation of the Prinicples of the men who wrote it.

Not eactly. It's mostly the product of an effort to find a workable government that suited their particular biases, with all the horse-trading and compromises that entailed. The framers were all wealthy, and that was one of those biases--to create a government that could protect their wealth (that was, in fact, what inspired the Philadelphia convention). In that sense, the document is more conservative than the sentiment that had created the nation. Fortunately, the Englightenment thought that had given birth to the republic was strong with them, and we also got some extraordinarily liberal features. The constitution repudiates monarchy and aristocracy (no small trick, given that abut 40% of those at the convention were some degree of monarchist), doesn't impose property qualifications for holding office, begins the process of separating religion and government through its bar on religious tests, and so on. The very existence of a written constitution was revolutionary.

But, as I said before, history didn't end there. We next got the Bill of Rights, which is essentially a statement of liberal principles, added to the constitution against the wishes of those who created it because the population demanded it. Madison's proposed article that would have made its limitations binding on the states (which Madison considered the most important article) didn't pass, and it wasn't until after the ratification of the 14th Amendment , nearly a century later, that they were applied them to the states. Slavery--shamefully canonized as part of the document--was eliminated with the 13th Amendment. Democracy has forever been expanded over the centuries: the enfranchisement of blacks, of women, the direct election of Senators. History didn't end with the creation of the constitution.

It's all very fine and good to make a public show of recommitting oneself to the "principles of the founders," but you have to choose which principles and what founders. That's what Americans have always done. That's how all the changes I've just outlined came to be. These "principles" aren't, as the Mt. Vernon drafters would, in practice, have it, some quaint old notion we keep in a closet all year, only puling it out on the 4th of July, dusting it off, and offering it some empty lip-service homage. They have to be applied to have any meaning.

This leads to conflict, because the "principles" in question do conflict. The direct election of Senators was a repudiation of the constitutional scheme, but it was a natural expansion of the notions of democracy that underpinned the birth of the republic, things the drafters of the constitution had tried to minimize. The founders forever fought among themselves over the principles involved. John Adams was a conservative monarchist who hated the revolution. He wanted to separate from England in order to recreate English monarchism on these shores. Alexander Hamilton was also a conservative advocate of aristocracy, but as he went along, his became an aristocracy  of the wealthy, the bankers, the manufacturers. Hamilton wanted them to rule, and wanted a powerful government to prop them up and make sure they did (both Adams and Hamilton are forerunners of today's conservatives). Thomas Jefferson was a liberal democrat, who recognized some basic truths about any government of the kinds the Americans had established, namely that their fate rested in the people. He thought it would be a good idea if there was a revolution every 20 years to overthrow the old and bring in the new--the very idea the Mt. Vernon Statement repudiated as moving away from the principles of the founders. Thomas Paine was a bomb-throwing radical then; his politics would make him a bomb-throwing radical today. And so on.

Even individual founders weren't consistent in their own principles over time (to name but one example, Adams, later in life, went to great lengths to try to revise his own history and write his monarchism, among other things, out of it).

Many of totday's fights aren't even over differing founding principles; they're attacks on those principles. If the program of the Religious Right could be summed up in a single phrase, it's "Tearing down the division between religion and government." That division was established, at the federal level, in 1791, and the states had already started moving in that direction--by the early 19th century, the process had been completed. The effort to refight that, found in pretty much every issue advocated by the Religious Right, isn't an effort to stand up for the "principles of the founders"--it's an extremely ill-advised effort by ill-informed malcontents to overthrow them. Yet they sign the Mt. Vernon Statement, too.

I think you go too far...

Classicliberal2,

Some of the ideas you have in your reply are almost right, but several of the things you said are nonsense:

"John Adams was a conservative monarchist who hated the revolution."

No. this is wrong. He did lean toward a stronger central government than Jefferson, but Adams was no "monarchist." He hated that we HAD to have a revolution but that isn;t the same thing as hating the revolution.

"Alexander Hamilton('s) [ideas] became an aristocracy  of the wealthy, the bankers, the manufacturers. Hamilton wanted them to rule…"

that's a bit simple minded, and half wrong. He didn't want the manufacturers to "rule." Yes he wanted them to have the power to grow and prosper, but "rule"? No.

"Jefferson… thought it would be a good idea if there was a revolution every 20 years to overthrow the old and bring in the new"

Again, another simple minded assessment. He said this to Madison and even Madison shot it down as ridiculous. He never persisted with this idea so you can't say he "believed" in this concept. You can say that he at the least had a passing fancy with this thought, but you can't say it was his firmly held policy of belief.

Your reading of the founders is about a mile wide, but only an inch deep in these cases. You put too much in the furthest most negative interpretation of these founder's thoughts.

Finally, you are wholly wrong that the religious right wants to "tear down the wall of separation of Church and State." You also are too simple in your claim that this separation was "established" in 1791. In truth the total obliteration of religion in the public sphere didn't even start until the middle of last century. THAT is why the religious right even came about in the first place!!! It was a reaction to the ACLU types and modern liberals trying to destroy religion completely.

Sir, you had the germ of a good point in saying that we have to choose "which" of the founder's principles we want to follow, you are also right in your observation that as a nation we've picked and chosen before. But you are wrong in some of your historical particulars and wrong that it isn't possible or isn't a worth while effort.

The thing is, these principles (both in the Mount Vernon Statement and mine above) ARE in the Founder's work. You make it sound as if we today are making it up as we go along, but we are not. These principles are there to be found and while some of them are in the founders writings and not necessarily encoded into law, some of them are so encoded.

Some of the ideas you have in

Some of the ideas you have in your reply are almost right, but several of the things you said are nonsense:

"John Adams was a conservative monarchist who hated the revolution."

No. this is wrong. He did lean toward a stronger central government than Jefferson, but Adams was no "monarchist." He hated that we HAD to have a revolution but that isn;t the same thing as hating the revolution.

No, Adams was an outright monarchist. He wanted to essentially recreate British monarchy on U.S. soil. He said he backed away from this notion only because the temper of the age wouldn't stand for it, tried to get a ridiculous royal title for the president, told the Senate he would never have even drawn his sword (taken part in the Revolution) if doing so meant rejecting the notions underpinning the British monarchy, and wrote, more than once, that the adoption of hereditary monarchy and aristocracy was a lesser evil than democracy, and something that should, in fact, be adopted in the U.S. when (not if) democracy got out of hand--that was the bright, shining future he saw for the U.S.. He viewed the experiment in government that had started in America as primitive in comparison. The last of his "Discourses on Dvila" openly advocated hereditary monarchy, and it caused such a public furor that he was forced to discontinue the series. Some of his best friends deserted him over these views. He believed in building high walls against public participation in government, massive property qualifications for voting and even running for office, an established church with religious tests for government. Adams represented a point-of-view that was anaethema to the Revolution, and in the process of dying even in his prime--he lived to see it long dead, in fact, which is why he tried to rewrite his own histrory (his present day apoligists like David McCullough continue this dismal practice). That's the real John Adams.

"Alexander Hamilton('s) [ideas] became an aristocracy  of the wealthy, the bankers, the manufacturers. Hamilton wanted them to rule…"

that's a bit simple minded, and half wrong. He didn't want the manufacturers to "rule." Yes he wanted them to have the power to grow and prosper, but "rule"? No.

Hamilton went from advocacy of old-fashioned aristocracy at the constitutional convention to advocacy of a sort of neo-mercantilist view (explicitly rejecting Adam Smith) that said it was the job of government to actively prop up the, broadly speaking, business class of wealthy bankers and manufacturers. He switched from one sort of aristocracy to the next.

"Jefferson… thought it would be a good idea if there was a revolution every 20 years to overthrow the old and bring in the new"

Again, another simple minded assessment. He said this to Madison and even Madison shot it down as ridiculous. He never persisted with this idea so you can't say he "believed" in this concept. You can say that he at the least had a passing fancy with this thought, but you can't say it was his firmly held policy of belief.

To the contrary, for all of Jefferson's changes over the years, he never really changed that view, that "the earth belongs in usufruct to the living; that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it." In the aftermath of the Shaysite rebellion, he urged mildness in punishing it because of this. As late as 1816, he  condemned those who look upon "constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched" (in remarks that beat directly pon the Mt. Vernon Statement). Jefferson never wavered in his view that the dead can't bind the living.

Your reading of the founders is about a mile wide, but only an inch deep in these cases.

To the contrary, it's fairly extensive.

You put too much in the furthest most negative interpretation of these founder's thoughts.

I don't put a negative interpretation on their thoughts at all--I find their thoughts utterly fascinating, even the ones like Adams, whose "thoughts" were appalling. I just tend to insist they be understood for what they were, rather than merely worshiped as a lot of empty words and phrases.

Finally, you are wholly wrong that the religious right wants to "tear down the wall of separation of Church and State." You also are too simple in your claim that this separation was "established" in 1791. In truth the total obliteration of religion in the public sphere didn't even start until the middle of last century. THAT is why the religious right even came about in the first place!!! It was a reaction to the ACLU types and modern liberals trying to destroy religion completely.

The process of separating religion from government began in the states before there even was a U.S. Constitution. The concept of religious liberty began on these shores in Rhode Island--it was the idea that underpinned the foundation of the colony. Church was separated from state at the federal level, then state by state as the 19th century began. By about 1818 or so, the last state churches had been disestablished. The history becomes complex. Over time, religion eventually began improperly encroaching into the ambit of the state (the Civil War was widely blamed, by religious conservatives, on the secular state). The courts began to rule that the 14 Amendment applied the protections of the 1st to the states, which led to a correcting process. There is no doubt whatsoever what the likes of Jefferson and Madison would have made of efforts to make children pray in state schools; they'd be on the receiving end of the mindless rhetoric about "liberals trying to destroy religion completely. " Jefferson, in fact, was on the receiving end of that in his lifetime.

Sir

I satnd admiringly at your depth and breadth of knowledge, and your valuable commentary on our History.

4Speed ( I think as a proper Conservative, the only speed he/she should claim is Revers, of course) is way out of line in trying to claim youare " rewriting history" .

The TRUTH is hard to grasp, when it's in direct opposition to all you've been told and hold dear, huh, 1speed and other wingnuts here?

Thanks again for the magnificent lesson, I have gained greatly in perspective today.  You should be teaching graduate-level seminars I would happily attend.

 

Why do Liberals always try to rewrite History ?

As you point out to Classic Lib 2, he tries to simplify.   All the while ignoring the "principles"......as he describs the Various perceived Monarching/Conservative/Liberal personalities, he ignores the underlying Principles of the Constitution.

All these different personalities served under the Rules of the Constitution.  Regardless of how each was oriented or perceived as President, they were bound by the Senate, the Congress, the Supreme Court, and ultimately the Constifution.  

The Constitution defines the Executive/Judicial/Congressional forms of Governing agencies that were created as checks and balances to each other.   The Senate still survives in Principle, Congress Survives, and the Supreme Court interprets the laws as measured by the Principles/Words of the Constitution.  

Classic can't rewrite that History, the Constitution sill stands in the way of tyrants and Monarchists, and what better example than today's Congress and Administration, and the most recent ruling by the Supreme Court upholding the Constitution and stirking down of McCain/Feingold ?   Then the 42 years of the Massachusetts "posession" of a Seat being passed over to serv the People, and not the Party.  That is History being rewritten by voters. 

 

More good points

classicliberal2 you make some good points again (as you did in your first reply).

"No, Adams was an outright monarchist."

Again, I think you aren't fully crediting what the Founders were doing with their Revolution. In their minds they were less about creating something "new" than affirming what was essentially old. The Founders felt THEY were more British than the British, that they were observing a more true form of being "Englishmen." So, while Adams did admire the monarchy (after all he was raised on it) he did not necessarily want that for the USA. You are right that his less than "democratic" ideas made many of his friends mad at him, though. But all of the Founders stood against direct democracy. They thought that it would be dangerous to the nation. In some ways, they were right, too. This business of electing Senators, for instance, was a major mistake, in my opinion.

Anyway, perhaps you are right that he was more virulently a monarchist as many had a suspicion of even in his life. I just don't see it as strongly as you do.

Still, Adam's favorable opinion of monarchy, whether he was "virulent" for them as you say or not, still doesn't matter toward the founding or our founding principles. He could have loved monarchy all he wanted but that he never made policy on that basis and that his fellows never included a monarchy in our American system means that for all of Adam's love of monarchy it is immaterial to our founding principles. Monarchy just didn't figure into our founding on that level. So, bringing Adam's ideas on monarchy up in this context is, in my opinion, a red herring.

"Hamilton went from advocacy of old-fashioned aristocracy at the constitutional convention to advocacy of a sort of neo-mercantilist view (explicitly rejecting Adam Smith) that said it was the job of government to actively prop up the, broadly speaking, business class of wealthy bankers and manufacturers. He switched from one sort of aristocracy to the next."

Now, I fully agree with that assessment. You are spot on. But this is a bit different than your negative view that he wanted the merchant class to "rule" us, isn't it? What I bristled at was you accusation that he wanted the merchant class to "rule" us. Maybe it was me that made too much of your usage of "rule" but to me that is a pretty strong word.

"Jefferson never wavered in his view that the dead can't bind the living."

But did he ever make policy on these feelings? Not to my knowledge. If you have examples of it I'd like to add to my own knowledge. He may have had the sneaking feeling that this was a good idea, but if he never made policy on it, I'd say he understood that it was one of his less solid ides. Like I said, Madison immediately knocked down this idea when Jefferson wrote him about it (I don't remember if this letter occurred while Jefferson was in France, but I think it was). I guess what I am saying here is that citing Jefferson's idea that succeeding generations should eliminate the previous one's rules and laws is not a founding principle, just one of Jefferson's harebrained ideas, one even he never made policy on. So, citing this Jefferson idea is a red herring that doesn't fit in my original post above.

"To the contrary, it's fairly extensive."

Yes, I apologize for that swipe. It was uncalled for. I retract it with apologies.

"There is no doubt whatsoever what the likes of Jefferson and Madison would have made of efforts to make children pray in state schools; they'd be on the receiving end of the mindless rhetoric about 'liberals trying to destroy religion completely.' Jefferson, in fact, was on the receiving end of that in his lifetime."

Here is where I disagree with you: Yes they would be against any appearance of forcing religion on people, but they'd also be on the side of the states deciding what THEY want to do with the issue and against the federal govt and the courts forcing the end of religion in the public sphere. In fact, that is precisely what Jefferson was saying to the Danbury Baptists in his letter where he first used the words "wall of separation between Church & State." He was telling the Baptists that Connecticut has their own rules and that he as president is only concerned with federal rules. Notice that in his letter Jefferson said, "the whole of the American people," and "supreme will of the nation"? By that he was saying that his point concerned the nation, the federal government, not the states. He is pretty clearly saying that whatever Connecticut does with its religious rules is a state matter that he had no business interfering with.

In my opinion, if Madison and Jefferson were they alive today they would continue to SAY that religion should be out of the public schools but would stand 100% behind the states should they decide to keep it there anyway. And both Jefferson and Madison distrusted the courts so they'd REALLY be against the federal judiciary forcing the issue as a homogeneous, country-wide ruling.

Anyway, like I said, I think you make good points. Thanks for the messages thus far.

So, while Adams did admire

So, while Adams did admire the monarchy (after all he was raised on it) he did not necessarily want that for the USA.

Rather than seeing the American experiment as a step beyond monarchy and aristocracy, he saw it as primitive, and monarchism as the advanced stage of society, one into which America would eventually grow ("the hope of our posterity," as he put it). This was exactly the opposite of the spirit that animated the Revolution, a spirit history vindicated. Adams lived to see the latter development--that's why he spent so many of his later years rewriting history and insisting he was never a monarchist (to this day, you'll find copies of his Discourses on Davila floating around from which the last essay, featuring some of his most explicit endorsements of hereditary monarchy, has been excluded).

You are right that his less than "democratic" ideas made many of his friends mad at him, though. But all of the Founders stood against direct democracy. They thought that it would be dangerous to the nation.

More precisely, they thought it would be dangerous to wealthy aristocrats like themselves (their own narrow economic interests played a major role in how the convention turned out, which is probably the part of this history about which people least like to talk). Their denunciations of democracy were aimed at Athenian-style literal democracy, but what they were creating was actually a framework for modern representative democracy. Jefferson , Paine, Franklin, and, eventually (though not at first) Madison had a much clearer view of this than  many of their contemporaries.

It wasn't just Adams' dislike of democracy that made so many enemies of friends, though; it was his monarchism. As president, his rule was so despicable, so contrary to the spirit of America, that it nearly instigated a second American Revolution in opposition to it.

In some ways, they were right, too. This business of electing Senators, for instance, was a major mistake, in my opinion.

And I would argue the opposite, that it, alone, was inadequate, and that the electoral college should have been elminated with it. With the Senate, that's just a question of democracy vs. rule by an elite. I'm never much for the latter. I think history has provided more than adequate examples of its extraordinary dangers.

Still, Adam's favorable opinion of monarchy, whether he was "virulent" for them as you say or not, still doesn't matter toward the founding or our founding principles. He could have loved monarchy all he wanted but that he never made policy on that basis and that his fellows never included a monarchy in our American system means that for all of Adam's love of monarchy it is immaterial to our founding principles. Monarchy just didn't figure into our founding on that level. So, bringing Adam's ideas on monarchy up in this context is, in my opinion, a red herring.

Not at all, because Adams was a major player in the form of the constitution, and those were the ideas that were in his head. Institutions like the electoral college, the Senate, and the Supreme Court, as they were originally conceived, were aristocratic institutions. I didn't bring up Adams' monarchism as a "red herring"; I just brought it up as part of a larger comment about the wide ranger of views among the founders, and the discussion proceeded from there.

"Hamilton went from advocacy of old-fashioned aristocracy at the constitutional convention to advocacy of a sort of neo-mercantilist view (explicitly rejecting Adam Smith) that said it was the job of government to actively prop up the, broadly speaking, business class of wealthy bankers and manufacturers. He switched from one sort of aristocracy to the next."

Now, I fully agree with that assessment. You are spot on. But this is a bit different than your negative view that he wanted the merchant class to "rule" us, isn't it? What I bristled at was you accusation that he wanted the merchant class to "rule" us. Maybe it was me that made too much of your usage of "rule" but to me that is a pretty strong word.

If the entire government is made subservient to their needs, they're ruling. I'm not sure what distinction you'd have to make to see any difference.

"Jefferson never wavered in his view that the dead can't bind the living."

But did he ever make policy on these feelings? Not to my knowledge. If you have examples of it I'd like to add to my own knowledge. He may have had the sneaking feeling that this was a good idea, but if he never made policy on it, I'd say he understood that it was one of his less solid ides. Like I said, Madison immediately knocked down this idea when Jefferson wrote him about it (I don't remember if this letter occurred while Jefferson was in France, but I think it was). I guess what I am saying here is that citing Jefferson's idea that succeeding generations should eliminate the previous one's rules and laws is not a founding principle, just one of Jefferson's harebrained ideas, one even he never made policy on.

The question of whether he made policy of it is completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand, which is, recall, about principles, not policy. His view that the earth belongs to the living isn't "harebrained," nor is it one of Jefferson's "less solid ideas." It's a simple statement of fact. The dead can't bind the living. Far from some odd deviation from founding principles, this was, in fact, the animating spirit of the Revolution. It's there in Common Sense, which lit the fuse. It's there in the Declaration of Independence.

So, citing this Jefferson idea is a red herring that doesn't fit in my original post above.

Again, I brought it up as part of a larger statement of the disparate ideas among the founders, not as a "red herring."

"There is no doubt whatsoever what the likes of Jefferson and Madison would have made of efforts to make children pray in state schools; they'd be on the receiving end of the mindless rhetoric about 'liberals trying to destroy religion completely.' Jefferson, in fact, was on the receiving end of that in his lifetime."

Here is where I disagree with you: Yes they would be against any appearance of forcing religion on people, but they'd also be on the side of the states deciding what THEY want to do with the issue and against the federal govt and the courts forcing the end of religion in the public sphere.

The problem with this assertion: Both were on the record as being against the states doing that sort of thing, as well. Both were strong advocates of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, with its religious freedom clause. Both supported disestablishment in Virginia. Jefferson authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which called for strict separation of the church from the state. Madison later sheherded it through the legislature. Madison also successfully led the charge against Patrick Henry's attempts to procure a state stipend for "teachers of the Christian religion." Madison's original proposals for what became the Bill of Rights would have applied the limitations on the federal government to the states, as well. It was defeated, then, but that's exactly what the courts ruled the 14th Amendment had, in effect, done, and that's the basis for all of the decisions so demonized by the louder-than-thoughtful faction we call the Religious Right.

Whatever you think you'd been taught about this was VERY wrong.

In fact, that is precisely what Jefferson was saying to the Danbury Baptists in his letter where he first used the words "wall of separation between Church & State." He was telling the Baptists that Connecticut has their own rules and that he as president is only concerned with federal rules. Notice that in his letter Jefferson said, "the whole of the American people," and "supreme will of the nation"? By that he was saying that his point concerned the nation, the federal government, not the states. He is pretty clearly saying that whatever Connecticut does with its religious rules is a state matter that he had no business interfering with.

That's such a complete mischaracterization of the exchange in question that I have to believe you're getting this secondhand from some clown like David Barton. Here's the actual excahnge between the Baptists and Jefferson. The Baptists wrote him that they are treated as second-class citizens in Connecticut, and offer these sentiments:

Sir, we are sensible that the President of the United States is not the National Legislator and also sensible that the national government cannot destroy the laws of each State, but our hopes are strong that the sentiment of our beloved President, which have had such genial effect already, like the radiant beams of the sun, will shine and prevail through all these States--and all the world--until hierarchy and tyranny be destroyed from the earth.

IOW, they hope his separationist views will prevail in the states (exactly as later did happen). Jefferson restates his commitment to those views, says the public has already enshrined them in the federal constitution via the 1st Amendment, and says he hopes they'll spread, too.

Career Politicians are a mistake, not the Senate

its obvious Classic doesn't like the Senate.
Why does Congress have Recess ?

Are they 1st graders ? No, Congress and the Senate were created when being a farmer/business man required more of your time than being a politician, and Crops were to be harvested or planted or marketed....hence, Congress needed recesses. There were almost zero career politicians 200 yrs ago.

Nowadays, we would embrace a Business mgr. as a part time politician and hope for less DC legislation.

Zero health care legislation has been great, and Stimulus spending by career politicians has been a disaster.

Its not the Senate. its the Career Politician in the Senate....becoming millionaires without having any REAL job.
As for your comment....."because Adams was a major player in the form of the constitution, and those were the ideas that were in his head when he did"
Gee, what amazing insight and channeling of dead people......at least others qualify statements with "in my opinion"......but I'm beginning to think you are really John Edwards with your seance type channeling from inside the minds of our founding fathers.

Yeah, but...

Classicliberal2 is right that you're cherrypicking the founders and ideals that you like better than others.

Additionally, I think it's incredibly telling that your language moves from "individuals", being rightfully inclusive, to eventually exclude women from your conservative value statetment:  "That as free men we must strongly assert...".

Indeed, to truly advocate for a return to founding principles, you must repudiate suffrage, emancipation, etc.  Some wonder if that's not actually your aim altogether, but I fall into the camp that thinks there's a core flaw in conservative thought.

Flame away.

Absurd

"Telling"? No, what is telling is your genderist styled PCism. "Free men" is used as a general term for people. It is not male exclusive. It is the same when you say "you guys," or when you use the male pronoun when discussing people (i.e. instead of using the clumsy "He/she" or saying "a man or woman." You just say "he" as is traditionally accepted as a term for any person). It is not meant to "exclude" women! Your bending over backwards in some lame salute to "gender studies" styled thinking is out of place in this discussion. No one is excluding women or minorities from these statements and it is ignorant to inject that sort of bomb throwing into this discussion.

Bomb throwing?

LOL!  My questioning of your use of the term "free men", whether or not you think it's exclusive of women, is not some crazy idea I came up with.  I think it's VERY well reflected in the oodles of polling data indicating that U.S. "conservatives" are primarily men (and caucasian men from the South, at that), and poll rather poorly amongst women in general, and in particular compared to Democrats.  Not really a crackpot theory, more an accurate depiction of reality.

Furthermore, "conservatives" lost the ability to cry "POLITICALLY CORRECT!!!!!!!1111" once your hero-of-the-day Sarah Palin made her comments about the Chief of Staff's use of the word "retarded".

Finally, typical "conservative" dodge of the "pick and choose your founders/ideals" comment.  But I'm accustomed to straw-dog/change-subject/attack-messenger arguments from so-called "conservatives".

The Mount Vernon Statement

I enjoyed reading every word of the debate about the characters of Adams, Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton.  I read the Chernow book and learned that everything that Hamilton did was perfect, Adams was at best unfit to be a leader of men/women/others, Jefferson was a bully and used Madison to do his work, and Washington was a dignified and honest man who couldn't have done much of anything without Hamilton.  

But I decided to go back to the original posting.

I am very much in agreement, Mr. Huston, that the Mount Vernon Statement is inadequate.  Like you, I find nothing to argue with in it, but that's the problem, from my point of view.  I believe that a committed liberal (let's use President Obama as a particular example) would gladly sign this document (with a few words changed, as listed below).  Admittedly, they would do that half with cynicism, knowing that they are forced to say and agree with such things if they want to hold office, but I would say that about half of their endorsement would be sincere and heartfelt and with a completely straight face.

(I say that only a few words would have to be modified before you could get a member of the Congressional majority to read it out loud on the steps of the Capitol.  The third paragraph is the throwing of the gauntlet, and the only unambiguous accusation that it's them, and not us, so they wouldn't go for that.  The fourth paragraph is just two questions that shouldn't be in a manifesto.  Finally, everywhere it says conservative, it would have to say "American" or "patriotism", etc.)

Don't we have some timeless core principles that are more specific than this language?  I won't attempt to draft any timeless credo.  But could we agree on some of some of ideas below, stated in some form?

  • National defense is the one and only example of government spending best left to the federal government.  
  • National defense should be adequately funded and conducted so as to protect American citizens wherever they are.
  • Virtually every other activity of government is better managed at a lower level.  
  • Vigorous and determined opposition to new federal spending and unnecessary regulation is difficult, noble service to the country, not senseless obstructionism, a lack of civility and comity, or reluctance to make progress.   
  • Anything that can be managed by virtuous and self-reliant individuals and the communities they lead should not even be a part of government.
  • Every non-defense federal expenditure is first and foremost a disincentive to all economic activity and a drain on the resources needed by lower levels of government.
  • High taxes create the impression that government can solve all problems.  
  • The payment of high taxes saps our financial generosity and sense of personal responsibility to our family and community.
  • Every subsidy and transfer of government funds to a private entity distorts the market and very often has unintended negative consequences.
  • The federal government cannot restore prosperity to every victim of a natural calamity.
  • Basic healthcare is the responsibility of an individual, their family, and their community.
  • Cutting edge, state of the art healthcare given by the best doctors is by definition better than that generally available, and cannot be afforded to everyone, and is not a right.  
  • Citizens who have no need for government financial support should refuse it.

There are exceptions to every simple rule.  Anyone can make their own list.  There are many federal laws that ensure core American values.  I am glad we have an interstate highway system, and I know that it is more useful for interstate commerce than national defense.  I think the exploration of space is a worthwhile American undertaking that states couldn't do by themselves.  I personally think a foreign aid program is a moral responsibility for the richest nation on earth, beyond our obligations as individuals.  But whatever exceptions are considered by the Congress should be weighed carefully against such a list of principles.

I would love to see a statement that forms a clear and specific foundation for our political work.  Something in the vast space between lofty generalizations and the day to day issues like solidarity in filibusters or opposition to individual policies.

While I agree with it, and support the movement and ideas of those who have signed it, the Mount Vernon statement is short on words more clearly differentiating our ideas from theirs, and long on sentences I frankly find nearly meaningless, such as "A Constitutional conservatism unites all conservatives through the natural fusion provided by American principles". 

Wow, garyteal

First, the thought that Obama is a liberal is laughable and entirely belied by his first year in office.  For example, the current health care bill he's pushing at tomorrow's summit is a moderate Republican proposal.  If it were liberal, it'd be single-payer at most, or have a public option or Medicare expansion at least.

Regarding the rest of your post, I began to envision the nation that you describe by your principles.  My vision was very similar to modern day Afghanistan.  Here's a country with an army but everything else is left to the locals.  Without the army it'd basically be Somalia.

Seriously, that's what the "conservative" vision adds up to - a deeply dysfunctional nation prone to disease, strong-men and invasion.  A nation where minorities are radically discriminated against, where basic rights are given and suspended on the whim of strong individuals, and where the education of the citizenry is so poor that the nation couldn't begin to be competitive in the world market without reliance on oil or black market products.

To an extent, we were that nation long ago.  Over time we've taken the steps to address those very deficiencies.  Why "conservatives" want to return to a position of weakness and vulnerability is beyond me.

Now we're rewriting CURRENT History

"the current health care bill he's pushing at tomorrow's summit is a moderate Republican proposal"

Wow, Zero Republican votes, and yet its a Republican Bill......just, WOW.....didn't know that.

Just amazing

"the current health care bill

"the current health care bill he's pushing at tomorrow's summit is a moderate Republican proposal"

Wow, Zero Republican votes, and yet its a Republican Bill......just, WOW.....didn't know that.

Well, it's a fact, so now you do. Obama adopted as "his" health care bill a retread of the Massachusetts health plan established by Mitt Romney (that's the Mitt Romney who won the CPAC straw poll two or three years in a row), a proposal by now-retired Bob Dole, and one by Republican Sen. Judd Gregg. Market-based, industry-friendly, and totally alien to the single payer plan favored by the liberals (and around 60% of the public) for a few decades, now. Obama's only significant change was the addition of a public option, which he quickly abandoned when it faced criticism. Like so many other things Obama has tried to do, it was a Republican plan right up until he endorsed it. Then, all the Republicans who thought it up started calling him a socialist for pushing their legislation, and accusing Obama of excluding Republican ideas.

Consider yourself educated on the point.

Consider yourself out of touch with Reality

To consider the Current HC bill Moderate (2000 pge or the 11 pge) you must be so far left of center field, that you're in foul ball territory.
The 11 page "O" version includes HC non compliance fines for Individuals and Companies, even MORE unconstitutional than the 2000 page version.
I'd give you more facts, but you "Can't handle the Truth".
But you did make me laugh.

To consider the Current HC

To consider the Current HC bill Moderate (2000 pge or the 11 pge) you must be so far left of center field, that you're in foul ball territory.

The bill's Republican pedigree is exactly as I outlined it above, and this isn't subject to being wiped away because you find the facts to be politically inconvenient at this moment.

Riddle me this, Batman

How do you find your way to work in the mornings, if you can't tell Right from Left ?
Did you watch the HC Summit today ? There were plenty of Political facts on display there, how embarassing to be a supporter of Obama and friends.

No, see, you "conservatives" aren't paying attention

The Obama health care plan is to the RIGHT of Nixon's plan.  It's very, very similar to the plan Lincoln Chafee offered in '93 as an alternative to the Clinton plan.

Get your facts straight, "conservatives".  Clearly intellectually lazy and easily swayed by Beck/Limbaugh talking points when it comes to health care reform.

Here is a Stupak talking point - he's a Democrat, ya know ?

Bill Hemmer on America's Newsroom or some show, asking Stupak if he could support Obama's HC Bill.
-----------
STUPAK: Despite the abortion language, no, there's other problems with this bill. The president has tried to bridge the House and Senate bill. But at least to the House members I've talked to -- probably about 15 or 20 of them in the last 24 hours -- they've said there are other problems with this bill. Remember, the House rejected the idea of passing health insurance plans. We just totally rejected that idea. But yet that's part of the bill. Parts of the bill doesn't kick in until 2018. We're saying, "Well, why are we passing the bill now that's not going to kick in for another eight, nine years?"
-------
He's a Democrat, ya know ?
He's a Democrat, ya know ?

Losing the forest for the trees

I think many of our commentators are being bogged down asking specifically which founders' principles the Founder's represent.  The truth is that the Founders have a written document which embodies the principles that all agreed were to be the governing principles of our nation: The US Constitution.  The animating principles of the Constitution are principles of limited government further frustrated through a series of checks and balances.  Madison may well have wish for an enlightened monarchy, but it's not in the constitution, so it is not part of the Founding Principles.  The Constitution as written by the Founders did not include a bill of rights, not because it was supposed to be all powerful, but because it was not to have authority to do anything beyond the specifically enumerated powers.  The Bill of Rights actually changed the scheme from a document granting specific enumerated powers to a document prescribing specific limitations on federal power.  In essence, the Bill of Rights changed the tenor of the Constitution from, "The federal government can only do X" to "The federal government cannot do Y"  To say there are no discernible animating principles of the constitution is incorrect.  Therefore the debate on the animating principles of the constitution are better described as a debate between a limitation of federal power positively granted as enumerated powers as originally drafted or a government granted powers unless limited by the constitution as adopted by the states.

Personally, I believe the Constitution as adopted by the states is the correct interpretation since that is what the states agreed to, but that we should interpret the constitution with due deference to the founders principles of limiting the government to avoid the evils of government that the Founders feared.

I think many of our

I think many of our commentators are being bogged down asking specifically which founders' principles the Founder's represent.  The truth is that the Founders have a written document which embodies the principles that all agreed were to be the governing principles of our nation: The US Constitution.  The animating principles of the Constitution are principles of limited government further frustrated through a series of checks and balances.  Madison may well have wish for an enlightened monarchy, but it's not in the constitution, so it is not part of the Founding Principles.

Actually, it was an enlightened aristocracy that was supposed to lead, and that fact undermines the point you thought you were making. The framers at Philadelphia wanted an  elite to rule, a pre-industrial-era enlightened aristocracy made up of the "better sort of people" (that being the people like themselves), people who would, in theory, benevolently look after the affairs of state. The Senate, the electoral college route for presidential elections, and the Supreme Court were all manifestations of this. That thinking is in the constitution. It's one of the central ideas that underpinned the document. If you ignore it, you can't understand the original document at all.

At the same time,. there were the strong democratic impulses that had actually animated the Revolution, represented, among the elite founders, by the likes of Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, and, eventually, Madison. They offered a counter-interpretation of the government established by the convention, and, among the people, their views, historically, carried the day. The later amendments don't establish things like hereditary succession for Senators, or property qualifications for voting or for holding office; they do things like expand the franchise, and provide for the direct election of Senators. That's why I was so adamant in my earlier remarks about history having not ended in 1787. A constitution belongs to a people. They can make of it what they will. That's what Americans have done.

The Constitution as written by the Founders did not include a bill of rights, not because it was supposed to be all powerful, but because it was not to have authority to do anything beyond the specifically enumerated powers.

That was the Hamiltonian argument, worked out in the Federalist. It was a very bad argument, which is why it lost. It is the nature of government to expand its power, and the constitution contained much ambiguity, intentionally included for the purpose of making it flexible. As much as the notion is condemned in some circles today, it was meant to ba a living document. It's impossible to strictly construe ambiguity. The liberal democratic faction knew  that, without some explicit restrictions, government would eventually walk all over the rights of the people. That's why they insisted on a Bill of Rights. It's why Jefferson convinced Madison to embrace the notion. The promise of a Bill of Rights was the only reason the document was ratified by the states in the first place.

And, of course, history bore out the liberal democratic factions' concerns--even with a Bill of Rights, John Adams resorted to the use of street thugs to repress dissent during his administration and rammed through the Sedition Act, along with the various Alien Acts, to make criticism of him a crime. Concepts like freedom of speech and of press were reduced to nothing more than paper, and really only grew real teeth in the 20th century. The roots had to be there for the teeth to grow, though, and the Bill of Rights--and, much more importantly, respect for the guiding principles of the Bill of Rights--has, today, made the U.S. one of the freest societies in the history of the world.