The American founders gave little emphasis to their thoughts about race, gender, or sexual orientation. That lack of notice itself is noteworthy. You see, they seem to have declined to waste their time on identity issues altogether.
For Progressives this is an OMG… How could the founders not think as correctly as we obviously do? Reading today’s progressives one might easily think the founders cared for little else. But alas, such is simply not the case.
This does not mean the founders were racists or sexists. Rather they had a broader view with which they were concerned. They cared about the norms of society. They emphasized the typical case in conducting their work. For them what unites men was more significant than what divides them. Are we wise enough to grasp why?
They were familiar with differences between the races. These men understood their wives and daughters were part of the succession of the ages. It seems incredible that the most worldly men of the colonies did not have an acquaintance with the phenomenon of LGBT even if the naming convention then was different.
But they were not building their society based on the outliers rather they were building it with protection and tolerance of the outliers as important. You see, they understood the basic principles of inclusion and tolerance. They also knew the principles to be effective for the group must apply at the individual level. Therein lies the rub for progressives. The founders focused on the individual as the building block; not the collective. The founders focused on what we have in common not what divides us.
Universality not difference
It is human for us to become angry and frustrated when others do not see things as we do. The fact of the matter is though, most often others are utterly indifferent to positions we hold as important. The good news is there is an inclusion principle in the founders work. Note: the operating principle is universality… not difference. This is an example of how progressives get humanity wrong. The question is differentiate or unite?
Let’s take an example. Frederick Douglass was born a slave. He viewed the American founding as a slave. As a young man he could not grasp why the founders could not outlaw slavery from the outset. It made him angry and bitter. Douglass could not see what Lincoln saw.
He did not recognize the founders could not do this and still make a union. Prior to the founding slavery was legal in all states, because it had been legal in England and around the world. Many states would have refused to join a union that forbade slavery. It was a reason to not separate from England.
The founders chose to create a union. First things first meant they had to find what united the colonies against England. Yes, it meant forming a union tolerating slavery; an imperfect union. The founders hoped; they expected slavery would lose political power in the new union.
The founders believed all men are created equal. They wrote their aspiration into the Declaration of independence. The founders just could not immediately make good on the aspiration. They chose to declare rights whose enforcement followed as soon as circumstances allowed.
The growth of wisdom
Douglass’ reaction to this argument was that it was an easy rationalization for a white man to make. He called Lincoln a white man’s president. Blacks were, he said, the accidental beneficiaries of his actions. Lincoln campaigned not to get rid of slavery, but to limit its spread. He charged, even that was framed in terms of opening up the new territories to white settlement.
Douglass never considered the question from Lincoln’s side until the two men met. Lincoln was white, so why should he give priority to blacks? Douglass considered it right and natural to give priority to his own race. But when the men met Lincoln treated Douglass not as a black man but as any other man. Douglass realized that was enough. Lincoln did not need to see the differences between them. It was far more important to recognize their common humanity.
Over time Douglass reconsidered his lifelong hatred of the founders. He came to see they articulated universal norms. The rights they articulated included him while not recognizing his blackness. As he aged Douglass broadened his view to champion women’s rights. These too spring from the equality principle. All men, from the beginning of America, was a term intended to include all humanity. It is not a gender-based differentiator.
United we stand… divided we fall. Which side are you on?