But who were these men? Did their deeds always match their words? Not hardly.
Perhaps the most famous of our founders are Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. Four extraordinary men during extraordinary times, certainly. All far from perfect.
Franklin smoked weed, fathered a child out of wedlock, and was a womanizer into his seventies.
Washington supported the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 that sought to diminish free speech against the government.
Adams was a member of the Federalist Party formed by Alexander Hamilton that was lead primarily by urban bankers (and we all know how people feel about urban bankers don’t we?).
Jefferson was perhaps the most paradoxical of the four. He was offended by intellectual women (save that of Abigail Adams), and was against women’s suffrage in general. He wrote “All men are created equal” but owned slaves until the day he died. He coined the term, “Noble Savage” but made great efforts to push the American Indian west of the Mississippi.
In fact, three of these four men owned slaves (only Adams did not) at one time in their lives while claiming to be abolitionists.
Franklin’s history with slaves is relatively brief and minor when compared with that of Washington and Jefferson. Franklin is personally (dis)credited with the ownership of two slaves although in his younger days he did buy and sell slaves out of his shop, performing a “middle man” service.
However, Washington–much like Jefferson–died on Mount Vernon with 123 documented slaves working on the grounds of his home. While Washington did free all of his slaves upon his death, he was not a completely benevolent slave owner (if such a thing can exist). He was not above flogging slaves (both men and women) if he found them to be lagging.
Of course, Washington had nothing on Jefferson, who sired multiple children with his slave, Sally Hemmings. It was also believed that Hemmings may have been the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha.
Washington and Jefferson were not much better when it came to the American Indian either.
Washington once compared the Indian race to wolves–”both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape“– and practiced a policy or extermination. In 1779 Washington charged General John Sullivan with laying waste “to all thee settlements around…that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed.”
Of the American Indian, Jefferson once said that America must “pursue [the Indians] to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach.”
Now, you might think that these are pretty un-Christian ideas, but it’s worth noting that neither Washington nor Jefferson (or Franklin for that matter) would probably qualify as Christians. Their personal religious beliefs would probably fall under the category of Deism. Which is to believe that one supreme being has indeed created the universe. However, Deists do not believe in the divinity of Christ or an interventionist God, or even miracles for that matter.
All of which is worth remembering the next time you hear someone talk about our “Christian Nation,” or protest the erecting of a mosque.
I mention all of these warts and flaws not because these four men didn’t live exceptional lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. No, I bring these facts forward because they were able to sign (and in Jefferson’s case, write) a document that declares the equality of all men, while owning slaves (save Adams) and attempting to eradicate the existence of the indigenous people (minus Adams and Franklin) whom they found on “their” land. I think it’s fair to say, that their interpretation of the constitution was as elastic as the times warranted. Which in some ways, makes them as jacked up as anyone else.
In other words, they were men not Gods.