How Great were America’s Founding Fathers?

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Founding Fathers

Mormons believe America is exceptional. We learn that in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. In the Book of Mormon it says,

“…this [America] is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (Ether 2:12).

“This land shall be a land of liberty … and there shall be no kings upon [it]. …

“… For I, the Lord, the king of heaven, will be their king, and I will be a light unto them forever, that hear my words. …

“… For it is a choice land, saith God … wherefore I will have all men that dwell thereon that they shall worship me” (2 Ne. 10:11–19).

In the Doctrine and Covenants, Christ states,

“And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood” (D&C 101:80).

constitutional convention
via teachingamericanhistory.org

Said Elder L. Tom Perry:

The success of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War came about through men who were raised up by God for this special purpose. You must read the Declaration of Independence to feel its inspiration. You merely need to study history to recognize that a group of fledgling colonies defeating the world’s most powerful nation stemmed from a force greater than man. Where else in the world do we find a group of men together in one place at one time who possessed greater capacity and wisdom than the founding fathers—Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and others? But it was not to their own abilities that they gave the credit. They acknowledged Almighty God and were certain of the impossibility of their success without his help. Benjamin Franklin made an appeal for daily prayers in the Constitutional Convention. In that appeal he said, “If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? I believe without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the building of Babel” (Mark E. Petersen, The Great Prologue, Deseret Book Co., 1975, p. 88).

The Constitution was and is a miracle. Both Washington and Madison referred to it as such. It was an inspired document, written under the divine guidance of the Lord. James Madison, commonly called the Father of the Constitution, recognized this inspiration and gave the credit to “the guardianship and guidance of the Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations whose blessings have been so conspicuously displayed to the rising of this republic.” (Prologue,p. 95.) We believe that the Constitution was brought about by God to insure a nation where liberty could abound, where his gospel could flourish. Joseph Smith said, “The Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 147).

We know that the establishment of the United States of America was pre-ordained and miraculous. The Founding Fathers were young and varied in their interests, philosophies, and goals, yet all seemed to feel that theirs was a special work influenced and pushed on by God.

But how do historians see it? Do they see something special in the creation of the constitution and the work of the Founding Fathers? Look at this quote from renowned historian Barbara Tuchman in the introduction to her book, The March of Folly. She wrote the book as the story of four governments in history that made really stupid mistakes. It was tough, she said, to choose just four, because so many governments have made very poor decisions since the beginning of time.

The product of a new nation, George Washington, was a leader who shines among the best. While Jefferson was more learned, more cultivated, a more extraordinary mind, and unsurpassed intelligence, a truly universal man, Washington had a character of rock and a kind of nobility that exerted a natural dominion over others, together with the inner strength and perseverance that enabled him to prevail over a flood of obstacles. He made possible both the physical victory of American independence and the survival of the fractious and tottering young republic in its beginning years.

Around him in extraordinary fertility political talent bloomed as if touched by some tropical sun. For all their flaws and quarrels, the Founding Fathers have rightfully been called by Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., “the most remarkable generation of public men in the history of the United States or perhaps of any other nation.” It is worth noting the qualities this historian ascribes to them: they were fearless, high-principled, deeply versed in ancient and modern political thought, astute and pragmatic, unafraid of experiment, and—this is significant—“convinced of man’s power to improve his condition through the use of intelligence.” That was the mark of the Age of Reason that formed them, and although the 18th century had a tendency to regard men as more rational than in fact they were, it evoked the best in government from these men.

It would be invaluable if we could know what produced this burst of talent from a base of only two and a half million inhabitants…. the Founders remain a phenomenon to keep in mind to encourage our estimate of human possibilities, even if their example is too rare to be a basis of normal expectations (The March of Folly: From Troy to Viet Nam, 18, 19).

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Got Millennials or Gen Z’s at your house? Here’s a fun video from 3 Mormons about the Founding Fathers.

Gale Boyd is the copy editor for More Good Foundation. She is a Jewish convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has lived all over the world. She has raised 6 Third Culture Kids and is always homesick for somewhere.