The Founders' triple test

In 1973, Historian Richard B. Morris wrote the seminal work Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries.  The book details  a series of biographical sketches of the seven most influential leaders of the American Revolution along with a detailed chronology of the events that led to their commitment to the American cause.  Mr. Morris refers to the men as passing the "triple tests" of leadership, longevity, and statesmanship.

All these men played indispensable roles in the formation of the United States of America.  Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were members of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence.  The Federalist Papers, which advocated the ratification of the Constitution, were written by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.  And last but not least, George Washington was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, president of the Constitutional Convention, and our first president.

Franklin, Jay, and Adams also negotiated the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which recognized American independence, bringing an end to the American Revolutionary War.  Of the seven men, four went on to serve as president of the United States.  Many of their written works are often quoted and repeated in legal decisions today.  Their respective legacies have stood the test of time long after their deaths and still shape who we are as Americans.

In addition to their individual successes, these men shared a common bond of courage, along with their fellow representatives from the thirteen colonies, signing the Declaration of Independence while knowing and recognizing that this would be seen as an act of treason punishable by imprisonment and death had the Revolutionary War been lost.  Anything worth fighting for takes the fortitude and commitment to follow through to the end.  These men risked it all for the nascent idea of a free civil society, where citizens were at liberty to create a new sense of community and assume the responsibility to labor together and to solve their problems despite their diverse backgrounds.

In creating our constitutional republic, the Founding Fathers were not perfect, nor did they pretend to be.  They were neither gods nor angels, but rather complex, prejudiced, yet visionary men who dared to create this great experiment that we know today as the United States at the risk of losing their lives and all possessions.  They also knew that they were in  a race against time because the window of opportunity to launch such an endeavor rarely comes in history and quickly closes.

They were ordinary men who carried out extraordinary acts while serving the people and not the government they represented.  None thought he was better than the common man, yet they set out to do the will of the people, providing the foundation for each of us as individuals to build upon.  In this partisan and highly politicized environment, let's hope we can find those who possess the qualities of leadership, longevity, and statesmanship to move our broken country forward within the Founders' ethos of the "triple test."

Image: DonkeyHotey.

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