Contemplating America from 250 Years Away: Would the Founding Fathers Recognize the Country We Live in Today?

Nevin Hall, Staff Writer

The ship of Theseus, used on many a perilous and mythical voyage, is a famous paradox. Over time the ship rotted, and the Athenians, true to their history and traditions, replaced every single plank with a new one. Thus arises the question dissected by the ancients: is the original ship of Theseus the same as the one with all of the planks changed? It certainly is. And here’s why: the idea behind the ship is still there. It isn’t just any old ship — it’s the ship of Theseus, the great ship that held the great warrior of yore. It would be easy to compare the old ship of Theseus to the early republic and the repaired, replaced ship to now. The founders might have this story in the back of their minds when they consider our state today.

Despite all of the changes we’ve seen since 1776, the great idea behind America still remains: the idea of freedom. As an addition to that idea, the founders, whilst likely noting the large quantity of change since their time, would see that the great idea of their country, the nation they founded, has been borne across the seas of time. And it has been held high and kept going, and their ideas remain the same to this day. The nation we see before us today would make our Founding Fathers proud that their great experiment is still ongoing and that their idea has survived longer than any democracy on earth.

It is clear that the framers weren’t as pro-democracy as we are today. Our democracy thrives because of its connection to its constituents. It simply wouldn’t function if we were further removed. And, to their credit, their moderating forces were common and a reasonable precaution to take immediately after a revolution. But the influence of some anti-democratic sentiments is clear in our Constitution. 

There are the classic examples we learn about in U.S. history class, like the three-fifths compromise or the conspicuous absence of the word “slave.” However, the one that is most overlooked is the provision in Article 1, Section 2 that provides for senators not to be elected by popular vote like today but to be elected by state legislatures. This is designed to keep the influence of the people as far away from the decision-making process as possible the opposite of our priorities today. These demonstrate that the primary goal of the Founding Fathers was to found a competent government — not necessarily one that would cater to the will of the people at whim.

There is protest about inequity on our streets and discussion about inequity in our homes and workplaces. Whether it be by race, gender or social status, politicians in the highest halls of the land claim to be utterly dedicated to leveling each hurdle to the utmost of their strength. During our time of deep and fast social change, our founders would likely not understand our attentiveness to the issue of equity. 

However, the Founding Fathers endowed our forefathers with principles that, by and large, stick with us to this day. Our Founding Fathers fought for freedom from their oppressors, and we have continued that tradition en force. Our Founding Fathers endowed their children with unalienable rights, rights we fight to extend to all. And our Founding Fathers gave us the very foundation for each and every one of our accomplishments.