Best Founder

Randy Balko, via Matt Zeitlin, is taking a poll on everyone’s favorite founding father. The correct answer is clearly Tom Paine. Matt says he doesn’t count as a founder, but that is absurd. He did at least as much, if not more than Sam Adams and Patrick Henry to stir up support for the rebellion, and no one would ever dispute their status as founders. Paine gets the nod because he laid the groundwork for FDR-style American liberalism over a century before it actually got implemented. His Agrarian Justice was a great defense of a comprehensive welfare state, defending universal education and a guaranteed minimum income. He opposed slavery outright, and The Age of Reason laid the groundwork for a secular politics with its fiery opposition to both theism and the intermingling of church and state. Rights of Man remains one of the most powerful defenses of man’s right to resist despotism. I respect Matt’s choice of Hamilton; his urbanism was prescient, and his distrust of democracy necessary. But Paine has a much less mixed legacy. He was further ahead of his time than any of the other founders, a group of visionaries to begin with, and in many ways we’ve still yet to catch up.
P.S. It’s a travesty that my second favorite founder, John Marshall, is dead last in Balko’s poll. He invented judicial review – how could anyone not love him?

2 thoughts on “Best Founder

  1. In all fairness, I don’t think Patrick Henry and Sam Adams should be included either. My criteria is three-fold. One, be active in the movement towards independence, two do something in rebellion itself and three be majorly involved in the creation of governmental institutions. I would also place more important on the third one, because what made America a special country was not that it was technically independent from Britain, but instead that its institutions were so progressive (but as progressive as they should have been), unique and durable. So, any of the first four presidents would count, along with Franklin, Jay and Hamilton. I would also include Marshall because he bascially created the modern Supreme Court on his own.
    Back to Paine, if he were a founder – if his vision was more completly reflected in our founding institutions – I think the country would be a much better place. Too bad he wasn’t

  2. I guess I’m looser in my definition; I think the arguments and writings presented by Henry, Adams, and Paine for independence and republican values were integral to the success of the American project. Then again, I’m an intellectual dilettante who’d rather be at a keyboard than wielding a Kalashnikov when the revolution comes, so I guess that’s predictable. But whatever our definition of “founder”, we can all agree that Paine was awesome.

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