In Defense of the Founders: Why their Monuments Should be Preserved

Monuments of the American Founders have become increasingly controversial. Recently, a memorial dedicated to George Washington was removed from the church he attended in Alexandria, VA. The church cited the fact that a few parishioners felt “uncomfortable” with a plaque in Washington’s honor, and therefore the church decided to remove it. Across the country there have been calls for the removal of other monuments, including the Jefferson Memorial and Mount Rushmore.    

This sentiment reflects a poor understanding of the Founders’ great accomplishments. The Founders should still be celebrated today for establishing a nation dedicated to the preservation of natural rights and inspiring future civil-rights leaders in their pursuit of freedom.

They believed these liberties came from God, not Government. Because the government did not grant rights, it could not take them away. In America the people became the rulers, and the Government became the servant. The Founders believed that the Government’s main function was to protect the liberties of the individual, while at the same time preventing the individual from infringing on the rights of another individual.

This placed natural limits of the power of government as it introduced the idea of the consent of the governed. Since the rights of the people came before the government, the government could only take the authority that the people had freely given it.

Additionally, their words and actions laid the foundation for the emancipation and freedom of later generations of Americans. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and others would use the words of the Founders to advocate for equality under the law. Acknowledging the political realities of their time  Abraham Lincoln observed that the  “authors of (the Declaration of Independence) intended to include all men” and that they had meant to “confer the rights so that the enforcement of them might follow as fast as circumstances may permit”. Therefore, when Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation he was simply carrying their principles to the obvious conclusion.

Dr. King went even further when he said:”When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. All men-yes,black men as well as white men-would be guaranteed unalienable rights.” The principles they enshrined in our founding documents would outlive them. Those principles served as a template for the eventual emancipation of the slaves, and the end of segregation.

Those who would have their monuments destroyed fail to tell the whole story of the Founders. Many prominent Founders were vocal in their abhorrence of slavery. Benjamin Franklin encouraged a Pennsylvania Representative to introduce legislation to outlaw slavery in the first Federal Congress.  Franklin, as well as Hamilton and Jay, were active members in anti-slavery organizations in their states. Gouverneur Morris called slavery a “nefarious institution and the curse of heaven on the States where it prevailed.  A majority of the signers of the Declaration of Independence never owned slaves. Jefferson wrote a condemnation of the slave trade in an early draft of the Declaration, and later in his life spoke of the “hopeful advances” that African Americans were “making towards their re-establishment on an equal footing with the other colors of the human family.” Washington’s views on slavery evolved throughout his life, and upon his death he freed his slaves, becoming the only prominent member of the Virginia dynasty to do so.

The principles established by the founders should be embraced and passed onto future generations.  It is possible to memorialize men for their great works in life, while at the same time acknowledging their sins.  The founders should not be venerated like saints, but they should be memorialized for their work in founding a nation whose primary purpose was to protect the natural rights inherent in every living human being, and whose words were used to justify the eventual emancipation of slaves, and the end of government sanctioned segregation. Without them it is unlikely we would enjoy the freedoms we have today.

It is important that their monuments stand as a reminder to future generations that liberty is the base on which this country was built, and that it must be defended. If those who advocate for the removal of the monuments to the founders really want equal justice under the law, and freedom for all, they should defend the monuments against the sledgehammer.  They should embrace the words of those men whom they seek to dishonor. Dr. King, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln did just this, and so should modern day Americans.