Ideals of Our Founding Fathers

-By John Armor

Thank you Mr. President for this interview. We’re both lawyers and students of history. I look forward to your comments on the “ideals of our Founding Fathers” you referenced in your Inaugural Address.

Which Founders are you particularly thinking of?

Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin? That’s a superlative group.

Yes, of course, we must exclude that slavery matter. Both Washington and Jefferson, until they died, held slaves.

Did you know that one of your four men founded a secret society that anonymously published a pamphlet by Thomas Paine favoring abolition?

Yes, it was Franklin. If he’d come out in public and said that, would he ever again hold high public office?

Right. You can’t get too far ahead of your times. What would we have lost, without Franklin’s services?

Yes, wed have lost the American Revolution without Franklin’s treaty with the French. That gave us the French fleet and marines at Yorktown. But there’s another huge loss.

Give up? We would have lost the Constitution, as well. Franklin’s advice for wise compromise was essential. Plus he was the only Founder who really understood “intellectual property rights.”

When you referred to “markets that have unmatched power to generate wealth and expand freedom” did you think of the Copyright and Patent Clause?

I thought so, but did you know that Franklin created that clause? Did you realize that Clause led directly to Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Alfred Hitchcock, Count Basie, Patsy Cline, and Oprah Winfrey, among many, many others?

No, you’re right. Most people don’t consider the consequences of the ideals of the Founders.

Thank you for using a Tom Paine quote. Please tell the listeners more about that event.

Yes, they no longer teach students, in high school or college, that George Washington’s troops were about to end their enlistments, which were only for six months. So, Washington made an all-or-nothing gamble on Christmas in 1776 and took his remaining 3,000 able-bodied troops across the Delaware, at night, in a snowstorm, to attack the Hessians at Trenton.

Did you deliberately avoid the opening quote from Paine’s American Crisis, because it’s been overused? “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his nation. But he that serves it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Understandable. Showing some variety in your speech.

Among all the Framers, who was the most important?

Jefferson for his intellect? Madison for the Constitution? Yet, all things considered, you choose George Washington for his leadership in all ways?

I think most citizens who think about the Founders at all, would agree.

Let’s pursue an event in General Washington’s leadership of the American Revolution. Do you recall the fate of British Major John Andre?

Right. He was the British agent for Benedict Arnold’s intended betrayal of the garrison at West Point. Andre was captured behind American lines, in civilian clothes, with incriminating documents in his boot.

What happened to him?

Right. General Washington had him hanged. Under what authority?

Yes, he was a spy. But American generals cannot go around the world, point at any civilian, say “He’s a spy,” and have him killed, can they?

Yes, there does have to be “some kind of trial.” Andre got a “drumhead” trial before General Washington. We call those military tribunals today.

They were conducted under the Law of War, which is centuries older than the United States, and was adopted into US military law in 1789.

Were you aware of that?

I thought not.

That process was approved by a unanimous Supreme Court in the 1942 Quirin case. Did you know that?

Do you have your Blackberry handy? I’ll bet you have Internet access on that thing, don’t you?

Search for Ex Parte Quirin in 1942. It’s a quick read, just 26 pages.

So, by shutting down the military tribunals at Guantanamo, aren’t you attacking, rather than defending, both the ideals of the Founders and the Constitution that they wrote?

Mr. President?

Mr. President?

Well, if you say the interview’s over, it’s over.

Thank you, Mr. President.
John Armor is a graduate of Yale, and Maryland Law School, and has 33 years practice at law in the US Supreme Court. Mr. Armor has authored seven books and over 750 articles. Armor happily lives on a mountaintop in the Blue Ridge. He can be reached at:

Fair Use: This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of political, human rights, economic, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. I believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research, educational, or satirical purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site/blog for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001