I have written several “handy pocket guides” briefly describing groups of important people. After our nation’s birthday last week, I thought it might be useful to similarly describe our Founders.
George Washington: The Father of our Country and “indispensable man” in winning the American Revolution, mostly because he fashioned a military strategy that avoided large battles against the numerically superior British while using “home field advantage” by fighting defensively when geography was his ally. As president he brilliantly acquired the executive power necessary to do his job while staying within the constitutional boundaries. He also knew that most everything his administration did would set precedents and acted accordingly, and he was smart enough to know who was smarter than him on certain issues, and he listened. His cabinet meetings were freewheeling affairs.
Alexander Hamilton: Integral to the ratification of the Constitution — he wrote most of The Federalist Papers defending it — Hamilton was also the nation’s financial wizard. As Washington’s Treasury secretary, Hamilton created the banking and financial institutions that would transform America from its agricultural beginnings to the world’s most powerful commercial, industrial and manufacturing nation — which it remains today. As George Will once wrote, “We honor Jefferson, but we live in Hamilton’s country.”
Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson included just three lifetime accomplishments on his tombstone — author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and founder of the University of Virginia. The first is America’s Mission Statement, the second the first legal requirement that a state government remain neutral regarding religious faith, and the third my alma mater. (Enough said.) Oh, and engineering the Louisiana Purchase was helpful.
John Adams: Only Washington sacrificed more in the service of his country than did Adams, who was constantly away from home, either serving in Congress or representing it abroad. His one-term presidency was controversial, but Adams chose Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence and ensured that George Washington would lead the army that fought the resulting war. As historian David McCullough noted, if those had been Adams’ only two deeds, his imprint on American history would be indelible.
James Madison: Our most underrated Founder and greatest political thinker. He is chiefly responsible for two of the three documents on which our nation is founded, the Constitution and Bill of Rights. He was the leading member of the first Congress created under the Constitution, which put the machinery in place creating our national government. And yet until 1980 there was neither a monument, nor even a federal building dedicated to him in our nation’s capital. Fortunately — Madison would have approved — what was dedicated to him in 1980 was The James Madison Building, the Library of Congress.
Bruce G. Kauffmann’s email address is email@example.com @BruceKauffmann