In his masterful new book on early America, author Myron Magnet uses concise biographies of George Washington and other Founders to illustrate why our revolution unleashed more than two centuries of freedom and prosperity. “The Founders at Home” is a work of scholarship and a labor of love, and offers vivid reminders of the courage of extraordinary individuals who birthed a new idea on Earth.
Take, for instance, the back-stabbing rivals trying to oust Washington as head of the Continental Army. Even as soldiers were leaving bloody footprints in the snow at Valley Forge, their commander had to defend himself against a vicious campaign by supposed comrades. Imagine if they had succeeded.
Or consider the unsentimental wisdom of John Jay, the diplomat who negotiated the treaty for independence with Great Britain and later became the first chief justice of the Supreme Court. Jay warned against the false “nostrums and prescriptions” of the ambitious and greedy, and urged his countrymen to “take men and things as they are.” Otherwise, he wrote, “the knaves and fools in this world are forever in alliance,” and self-government was doomed.
Magnet’s warts-and-all tour is so seductive in part because of our current troubles. Despite the success of the Founders’ grand experiment, events in Washington and around the world have many Americans fearing we are headed for a crack-up.
The fear provokes a wish we had a Washington or a Jefferson to guide us now. But the genius of Magnet’s book is that the “home” in the title refers not only to the actual homes the Founders built, many of which still stand, but also to the profound personal responsibility they felt to their new nation.
At enormous risk and cost, they created a model of patriotism that is not reserved for great men with lofty responsibilities. Their examples still matter because American exceptionalism ultimately is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
It is not enough to complain about our leaders and declare a pox on both their houses. We the people are sovereign and get the government we deserve. If bums are running the country, look in the mirror.
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Michael Goodwin is a Fox News contributor and New York Post columnist.