The Founders Were Antiwar
(AntiWar.com) -- by Tom Mullen --
...Critics dismiss the Tea Party as simply a Republican Party publicity campaign rather than a grassroots movement that truly seeks change in Washington. However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the Tea Party did indeed challenge the Republican establishment and defeated many establishment Republicans in primary elections—which means they obviously cared about far more than simply defeating Democrats. So, if it’s not simply a front group for the Republican mainstream, what does the Tea Party stand for?
If you ask them, they would answer that they stand for smaller, more fiscally responsible government and a return to America’s founding principles. They wish to rein in the federal government and restore the limits placed upon it by the U.S. Constitution. This is why you can find Sarah Palin touring 18th-century historical landmarks and Michele Bachmann evoking the shot heard round the world at Lexington and Concord (Concord, Mass., that is, after clarifying her original statement).
It is easy to throw stones at the Tea Party for gaffes such as Bachmann’s. However, it is wrong to attribute the shortcomings of politicians trying to acquire political capital out of the Tea Party to the grassroots members themselves. Just because Michele Bachmann might not know exactly where the American Revolution began doesn’t mean that the Tea Partiers themselves don’t understand the American Revolution or the principles that inspired it. Indeed, the issue that galvanized the Tea Party in 2010—Obamacare—fundamentally violates those founding principles for exactly the reasons that the Tea Party opposes it.
Where the Tea Party departs from founding principles is on the subject of war and the military. At any Tea Party rally, a large percentage of the speakers’ comments, the signs and banners, and the general atmosphere of the event amounts to glorification of the military. Over and over, attendees are reminded that they should be grateful to the military for their freedom and should remember that “someone paid for it.” In addition to enthusiastic support for the gargantuan military establishment itself, unqualified support is given for every overseas war or occupation that the U.S. military is involved in. Whatever the president orders the military to do, it must be right and essential to the freedom of every American.
This couldn’t be further from the ideas of most of the founders. The Constitution reveals their suspicion of any permanent military establishment. The Congress is given the power to raise an army, but only for two years. This ensures that the people can disband the army during every congressional election, as members of the House are elected at the same intervals. The power to declare war is kept away from the president and given to Congress, where two separate bodies have to vote on it.
It is apparent from the document itself and the statements of many of its framers that they were very aware of the dangers to liberty that accompanied prolonged warfare or a standing army in peacetime. Contrary to what most Tea Partiers apparently believe, the founders were antiwar.
Remember that the colonists were reluctant to fight with the British right from the beginning. The colonial militia at Concord held its fire even after the British had fired upon it, killing two Americans. It was only when one of their commanding officers yelled “Fire, for God’s sake, fellow soldiers, fire!” that they fired upon the British. Three months later they sent the Olive Branch Petition to King George in an attempt to avoid all-out war.
Once the Constitution was ratified, the administrations of the first three U.S. presidents were dominated by efforts to avoid going to war. During Washington’s administration, pro-France Jeffersonians urged the president to take France’s side in its conflict with England. Instead, Washington approved the Jay Treaty, which normalized trade relations with Great Britain.
Largely because of this treaty, John Adams spent most of his presidency dealing with a hostile France, which considered the new American nation extremely ungrateful after France’s support of it during its revolution. Avoiding war with France was the dominant issue of Adams’s presidency, this time under pressure from his own party to take Great Britain’s side. In fact, while Adams maintained a commitment to enlarge the Navy to provide “wooden walls” for the young nation, he steadfastly refused to grant Hamilton the standing army he wanted, despite the fact that Adams was fighting the “Quasi War” with France. Adams eventually achieved peace, possibly at the cost of a second term as president due to the dissension it caused within the Federalist Party. However, Adams considered peace the crowning achievement of his presidency, saying, “I desire no other inscription over my gravestone than: ‘Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of peace with France in the year 1800.’”
Not to be outdone, Thomas Jefferson went even further in repudiating militarism. Having no standing army to disband, Jefferson went to work on the U.S. Navy, decreasing it by roughly 95 percent. This allowed him to eliminate virtually all internal taxation in the republic, leaving only the tariffs to provide federal revenue. Jefferson refused to use ground troops in his clashes with the Barbary pirates until the Pasha of Tripoli actually declared war upon the United States. Later, in yet another effort to stay out of the wars in Europe, Jefferson signed into law the Embargo Act. While he was rightly denounced for this legislation, which was almost as hostile to liberty as the Alien and Sedition Acts, it did demonstrate the lengths to which Jefferson was willing to go to keep his country out of war.
It is Jefferson who is most quoted in Tea Party signs and by Tea Party candidates, and rightly so. If one is consulting the founders for the purest version of the American philosophy of liberty, it can be found among the writings of Thomas Jefferson. However, Jefferson was also the most staunchly antiwar of the early presidents, cutting all military spending not absolutely necessary to defend the American borders. This is no accident. War is the natural destroyer of liberty. As James Madison put it:
Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended. Its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare....MORE...LINK
“Father of the Constitution” James Madisonopposed war and its corrupting influence as a serious threat to American freedom and liberty
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