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|NUMBER 147||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||APRIL 1998|
Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America, Thomas G. West, 1997, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 179 pps., $22.95
Given the hostility with which many contemporary scholars regard America's Founding Fathers, Thomas West's book is a welcome reclamation of our country's heritage.
West constructs his "vindication" by building upon the framers' own words, pointing out, for example, that to a man the Founders believed slavery was morally wrong. He writes that, "By the end of the founding era, more than a hundred thousand slaves had been freed by the outlawing of slavery in seven of the original 13 states." He argues that the groundwork was laid during the founding period for the eventual abolition of slavery in "the establishment of the equality principle at the center of the American polity by Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, Adams, Washington, and other leading Founders."
The book also challenges the liberal assertion that the Founders were sexist. "Women were understood by everyone to be included in the 'all men' (all human beings) who are created equal," West writes. "The Founders saw men and women as having equal importance, but different roles in the family and society." In the founding era, the protection of rights of both men and women went hand-in-hand with the core belief in lifelong marriage and the family.
In response to the charge that the poor were excluded from the democratic process in the Founding era, West asserts that the electorate was comprised of nearly 90% of free males. The Founders emphasized the protection of private property rights "as a necessary means for the poor to escape the kind of subjugation by the wealthy that they had experienced in Old Europe."
West laments how it "sometimes seems as if the American Founders have no admirers except among those who are relatively uneducated." He successfully refutes both liberals, who accuse the Founders of "mean-spirited elitism," and conservatives, who claim that the Founders "believed in equality too much." He advises Americans not to squander our "brave and noble heritage."
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