Don’t tell that to Romney or Santorum. During the ABC-sponsored Republican debate in January, Romney told Diane Sawyer that “I was in a state where the Supreme Court stepped in and said, marriage is a relationship required under the Constitution for — for people of the same sex to be able to marry. And John Adams, who wrote the Constitution, would be surprised.”
In the same debate, Santorum also cited the founders in opposing abortion.
“I am for overturning Roe versus Wade,” Santorum said. “I do not believe that we have a right in this country in the Constitution to take a human life. I don’t think that’s — I don’t think our founders envisioned that.”
Enter the historians, proving Benjamin Franklin’s observation that “admiration is the daughter of ignorance.”
Brookhiser says that the founders, who wrote on countless issues, were silent on abortion. “The closest thing I could find is that [Alexander] Hamilton once gave a speech at New York State Assembly against a bill that said that a woman whose out-of-wedlock child died needed to be able to present two witnesses to it,” Brookhiser says. The measure was designed to prevent unwed mothers from killing their newborns. Hamilton, whose mother was not married to his father, said the measure would subject women to shame.
The Federal Reserve has also become embroiled in the founders fetish. Paul wants to abolish it. Gingrich wants to rein in its independence and oust the Fed chairman.
“Since I’m a historian who’s written a whole series of books about the Founding Fathers, I would think that they had the better grasp consistently and that’s why I would substantially reduce the power of the Federal Reserve,” Gingrich said in January. “I would audit it annually; I would call for Bernanke to resign or ask that he be fired the first week I’m president.”
Maier said in an e-mail that if the founders “were opposed to a national bank, why did they found the Bank of North America during the Confederation and then the First Bank of the United States?” Noting that Hamilton and Washington supported a national bank, she said, “maybe [Gingrich] doesn’t think Hamilton and Washington were FFs. Madison was opposed but came around by 1816 and approved of the Second Bank of the U.S. Maybe he wasn’t an FF either.”
Then there is foreign policy. Washington’s Farewell Address — with its warnings “to steer clear of permanent alliances” and not to “entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice” — provides material for isolationists such as Paul.
But one of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s blogs has argued vigorously against that interpretation. It cites a line in Washington’s address that says, “If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off . . . when we may choose peace or war, as our interest guided by justice shall Counsel.”
“To me, he’s saying we should stay out of things now, but a time will come when we will call our own shots,” Brookhiser says.
Zagarri has a different interpretation: “It surprises me that someone would argue that the Farewell Address was not isolationist. But once again, that is not to say that all the other Founding Fathers shared Washington’s views. In fact, there were many members of Washington’s own party who wanted him to get more involved in international conflicts.”
As Zagarri points out, “It’s all a matter of whom you are appropriating for what purpose.”