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Alito, Thomas & Trump: A Betrayal of the Founders’ & Framers’ Ideals

No matter how hard Republicans try to reinvent the Founders & Framers in the image of their libertarian billionaire patrons, the reality is that America was history’s first great liberal experiment...

Thom Hartmann | The Hartmann Report | June 12, 2024

We’re hearing a lot of rhetoric from Republicans these days — particularly those on the Supreme Court and their nutty wives — suggesting that the Founders and Framers of the Constitution would feel right at home with Sam Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Donald Trump. They’ve even appropriated some of the flags the Revolutionary generation used, as if to say they’re the real heirs to American patriotism.

Don’t believe it.

While Republicans love to misquote the Founders of this nation and pretend a similar patriotism, the simple reality is that all of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution would have been disgusted by these modern-day grifters.

For example:

Today’s Republicans (and Sam Alito) claim that America was founded as a Christian nation; the truth is that one of the most unique things about the “American experiment” was that we were the first explicitly secular nation in the history of the world.

Every country, throughout history prior to the 1770s, was either run by a specific religion (from King David’s day through the Holy Roman Empire to the Ottoman Empire and beyond); a collaboration between church and state (French kings and Catholic popes; English kings and the Church of England); by a hereditary leader claiming to descend from divinity (Alexander the Great, the Pharaohs, the Japanese royal family); or by a breakaway sect claiming to speak for their god (Mormons in Salt Lake City, the Pilgrim political leaders in early Massachusetts).

The United States was the first country at that time in history to openly reject any role for religion, a prohibition that appears twice in our Constitution and repeatedly in the writings of the Founding generation as you can read in great and astonishing detail here.

Religious leaders in the Founders’ day, in defense of church/state cooperation and collaboration, tried to argue that for centuries kings and queens in England had said that if the state didn’t support the church, the church would eventually wither and die. They wanted subsidies, like Bush’s and Trump‘s “faith based initiatives,” and to avoid all taxation.

“Father of the Constitution” James Madison, himself an active Christian, flatly rejected this argument, noting in a July 10, 1822 letter to Edward Livingston:

“We are teaching the world the great truth, that Governments do better without kings and nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson: the Religion flourishes in greater purity without, than with the aid of Government.”

He added in that same letter:

“I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”

Madison also opposed — although, as president, he couldn’t stop — the appointment of chaplains for Congress.

“Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?” he rhetorically asked in 1820. His answer: “In the strictness, the answer on both points must be in the negative. ...The establishment of the chaplainship to Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles.”

Madison went on to suggest that if members of Congress wanted a chaplain, they should pay for it themselves:

“If Religion consists in voluntary acts of individuals, singly, or voluntarily associated, and it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their Constituents should discharge their religious duties, let them, like their Constituents, do so at their own expense.“How small a contribution from each member of Congress would suffice for the purpose! How just would it be in its principle! How noble in its exemplary sacrifice to the genius of the Constitution; and the divine right of conscience! Why should the expense of a religious worship be allowed for the Legislature, be paid by the public...”

But always, in Madison’s mind, the biggest problem was that religion itself showed a long history of becoming corrupt when it had access to the levers of governmental power and money.

In 1832, he wrote a letter to the Reverend Jasper Adams, pointing this out:

“I must admit moreover that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points.“The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the other or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them will be best guarded against by entire abstinence of the government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others.”

As he wrote to Edward Everett on March 18, 1823:

“The settled opinion here is that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both...”

Another example of weird GOP claims:

Today’s Republicans and the Supreme Court claim America’s Founders wanted everybody armed so we could shoot at corrupt or “tyrannical” politicians.

This is one of the right’s most bizarre lies. Nowhere in Madison’s notes from the debates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention or any other founding document is there even a slight intimation of this: the Second Amendment was written to give the country a military backstop in the event Congress were to dissolve the US Army during times of peace, a process numerous Founders advocated, as standing armies during peacetime had frequently overthrown European governments throughout history.

The Framers of the Constitution were so concerned about the “mischief” a bored standing army could cause that Article I, Section 8 requires that Congress must, every two years, decide whether to keep the army at all. It’s the only prohibition on congressional spending in the entire Constitution. The document was extremely radical in that regard; it still is today, in some ways.

After the War of 1812, however, when the state militias failed to stop the British/Canadian invasion that led to the sacking and burning of the White House, the issue of ending our Army never again came up, and for over 150 years the Second Amendment was largely ignored as an anachronism, an abandoned appendage to the Constitution.

Not only were state militias not envisioned as a check on federal tyranny, private civilian militias like those that strut around on our streets and attacked our Capitol on January 6th are expressly prohibited by law in all 50 states, with most of those prohibitions going back to the founding of the states. It’s a crime in every state in the union to dress up in camo and “parade” with weapons, as you can read in detail here.

James Madison did write in Federalist 46 that should the federal government ever become tyrannical the “armed” militias could take it down, but read the entire paragraph rather than the fragment often quoted: Madison was explicitly talking about state-authorized militias, created and armed by state governments and commanded by state governors, not private militias, which are illegal in every state and have been since Madison’s day. This was to protect the states from Proud Boy types.

He thought that in the worst possible situation, enough states would have enough sense to set things right even if that required the use of force. But never in his wildest dreams did he mean to suggest that random groups of civilians should get together and shoot at police or government officials or blow up federal buildings.

Also, the Federalist Papers are not law; they were merely the sales pitch that Hamilton and Madison put together in 1788 to sell ratification of the Constitution. So even if you want to take them out of context or interpret them in some bizarre fashion, it’s legally meaningless. Taking up arms against our government is still treason, and that is still a crime. The highest of High Crimes, in fact.

One more example:

Today’s Republicans claim the Founders didn’t want the government involved in the health and welfare of America’s citizens, but that they intended for us to all be, essentially, on our own.

In fact, George Washington put into place the nation’s first vaccine mandate (smallpox), and Washington also signed the first legislation to provide for food, clothing, housing, and medical care for indigent people.

When “Father of the Constitution” James Madison became president, his first veto was on February 21, 1811, killing money Congress had appropriated for a DC poorhouse. His veto was not because of the poorhouse, however, but because some religious folks in Congress had tried to run the money through a DC church.

Thus, Madison said in his veto message to Congress, he was striking down the proposed law because caring for the poor is a function of government, “a public and civil duty”:

“Because the bill vests in said incorporated church an also authority to provide for the support of the poor, and the education of poor children of the same;...” which, Madison said, “would be a precedent for giving to religious societies, as such, a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty.”

The “general Welfare” of the people of the United States was on the top of the minds of the Founders and Framers of the Constitution. The preamble of the Constitution lays it out explicitly as one of the seven reasons the Constitution was written:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” [emphasis added]

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says it again:

“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States…” [emphasis added]

Here’s another weird example of what Republicans falsely believe:

Republicans claim the Founders would have been fine with $2 trillion in student debt guaranteeing, as multi-multi-millionaire Senator Rick Scott argues, everybody has “skin in the game” by owing thousands to banksters.

In fact, the Founding generation were huge fans of free education being as widespread as possible. While modern public education didn’t get state-level government support until the late 1800s, in the early days of our republic communities routinely put together their own money and labor to build and fund a local schoolhouse and teacher.

Thomas Jefferson — who was President of the United States from 1801 to 1809 — founded the University of Virginia on the idea that it would be free of tuition forever, something he believed was essential for a functioning republic.  He designed and wrote his own tombstone, reflecting his belief that starting a university was even more important than being president. It ignores his being president, vice president, and secretary of state, and, instead, simply says:

Here was buried Thomas JeffersonAuthor of the Declaration of American Independenceof the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom& Father of the University of Virginia

No matter how hard Republicans try to reinvent the Founders and Framers of this nation in the image of their libertarian billionaire patrons, and no matter how imperfect and even brutal their time was, the simple reality is that in 1770’s America this nation’s Founders undertook history’s first truly great progressive experiment.

And they put their lives on the line to do it: when they signed their names on the Declaration, a death warrant was issued against each one of them by the largest and most powerful empire in the world.

But in the end, they believed they had succeeded.

As President George Washington wrote on March 15, 1790:

“As mankind become more liberal they will be more apt to allow, that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the Community are equally entitled to the protection of civil Government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations in examples of justice and liberality.”

It could as easily have been written by abolitionist Alexander Hamilton (and may have been: Hamilton often ghost-wrote for Washington).

With the exception of the past 40 years, America has almost always been a leader among nations in advancing progressive values and experimenting with progressive taxation and business regulation.

We were slowed down in our forward motion by the Reagan Revolution, but one of these days America will again be the positive example for the world that President George Washington envisioned…

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