by Thomas Graham Jr.
Book review by Michelle Jacobs
"...understanding the intentions of the original texts can help us identify the current challenges to our political system and perhaps guide our thinking in overcoming them."
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend writes in the foreword to Graham’s book that the Founders “hoped to write not for the Times, but for the Eternities, as Thoreau would wish.” Graham’s hope is also that citizens will read not for the “Times” but for the “Eternities.” For this, he provides thoughtfully selected original texts of the Founders with the aim that readers will rely on the values and principles set forth when America began as a republic. Using speeches, letters, diaries, notes and essays, Graham groups the Founders’ documents around issues that seem modern but are the same ones Americans have been wrestling with since the birth of our nation. Corporate power, income inequality, tyranny, health care, the right to bear arms, and the environment are some of the pertinent issues Graham includes in this timely and relevant book.
Unlike other scholarly books about the Founders, Graham does not incorporate analysis or explanation of the Founders’ words with these primary documents. The excerpts are grounded in topical headings which are divided further into more specific subtopics. The words of the Founders are for the reader to interpret and to connect to modern life and current debates. This unique approach empowers the Founders as relevant voices in the noise of blogs and the constant stream of breaking news. The reader is also empowered to be part of the thinking populace Jefferson and others depended upon for a thriving democracy.
The 24-hour news cycle and groupthink atmosphere of Facebook demand even more contemplative reflection to uphold the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Political analysts on 24-hour cable news and Internet bloggers are fast becoming policy experts who are shouting down the Founders’ voices with buzzy headlines and opinion-soaked monologues. Graham assures us with this collection that the Founders can contribute to the dialogues and monologues of today’s non-stop news cycle. Their contributions are informed by the experiences they lived through as they rebelled against tyranny and concentrated power.
Graham’s thoughtful selection of excerpts is wide-ranging and inclusive and moves beyond the typical top-five Founding Fathers. Abigail Adams contributes alongside Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Washington, Franklin, and others. Graham rightfully leaves out the use of “fathers” in the title in a modern move away from linguistic patriarchy and away from the folksy feel “Founding Fathers” invokes of fatherly wisdom. This is the Founders’ vision—men and women of great intellect living in extraordinary times with great purpose and deliberation on democracy and liberty and governance.
Thanks to the success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, Hamilton, the Founders are surging in popularity in the 21st century. While Graham has not rewritten the Founders’ vision as rap songs or Broadway hits, infusing the old words with hip-hop influenced paraphrases, the modern application is evident in the book’s organizational structure. With topics like “On the Moral Character of the President and Other Public Servants,” “On The Risks of Political Deadlock,” “Propensity for Lies and Deception to be a Part of Public Life,” and “On Immigrants” Graham ensures the relevance of the Founders’ words and ideas for generations to come.
Beyond the arts and pop culture, the Founders are gaining in popularity because of these strange times of rising nationalism and potential threats from authoritarians. Graham’s purpose of “to raise awareness of what our Founders meant for this country” is more pressing than ever in this time of great strain on America’s “binding principles.”
RECOMMENDED by the US Review
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