On the way from State College to Philadelphia yesterday I read David McCullough’s Jefferson Lecture, The Course of Human Events. It’s a short and accessible ~30 pages; worth reading if you’re unacquainted with McCullough as an historian or if you’re just interested in a refreshed perspective on the Revolutionary era:
“One of our innumerable advantages as a nation and a society is that we have such a specific moment of origin as the year 1776. And that we know who the Founders were—indeed we know an immense amount about an immense number of those at all levels who in that revolutionary time brought the United States of America and the reality of freedom into being.
But while it is essential to remember them as individual mortal beings no more perfect than are we, and that they themselves knew this better than anyone, it is also essential to understand that they knew their own great achievements to be imperfect and incomplete.
The American experiment was from its start an unfulfilled promise. There was much work to be done. There were glaring flaws to correct, unfinished business to attend to, improvements and necessary adjustments to devise in order to keep pace with the onrush of growth and change and expanding opportunities.”
This speaks to the reflexive and frankly stupid complaining I hear too often of the founders as “a bunch of old white men” and as complex and imperfect creators of a nation that itself is complex and imperfect. As McCullough illustrates, America has always been a work in progress and the founders understood that work to be the work of every generation.
To assault their memory as tainted by the flaws of their character and the imperfections of their statecraft is an assault that is, in time, applicable to every generation in every culture.