Most founders were libertarians
September 1, 2011
Some of America’s founders were scientists — and were good ones to the best of their ability, considering the prevailing culture they lived in, and to the extent their understanding, available resources, and equipment would allow. They had some ideas that were quaint, and wrong, as we can now see clearly because of advances made since then, looking back as we do from the early 21st century. Electromagnetism, DNA, and quantum physics were beyond them. However, no one could reasonably claim they didn’t try.
Most of the founders of America were also libertarians, although the term hadn’t yet been coined. They were libertarians to the best of their ability and to the extent that the world they were immersed in allowed them to understand liberty. Sure, they had inconsistencies that are pretty obvious to us now. No one is immune to the culture they find themselves a part of. That doesn’t mean we discount the huge philosophical leap they undertook, over and beyond their contemporaries, but it also doesn’t mean we should be content to remain where they were and not put our better understanding into practice.
For the time in which they lived, those who founded America were probably even more radical about liberty, compared to their neighbors, than I am compared to the average person today. That is pretty incredible.
What bothers me is that too many people today claim to value liberty, but can’t seem to move beyond a late-18th century conception of its principles. They still believe some people are exempt, or unqualified for self-ownership. “Liberty is OK for me, but I’m not so sure you can handle it” seems to be a prevailing notion. That may have been fine for most people back when America was founded, but it is antiquated today, plus it invariably leads to egregious violations of basic human rights.
The founders even understood that rights did not depend on where you lived. Nowhere in the Bill of Rights will you see any claim that the listed rights — actually “non-negotiable prohibitions on government actions” would be a more accurate description — depended upon the citizenship of the person. Rights were rights, and things that were prohibited to government were always prohibited no matter who the government might have been targeting.
That is one thing the founders got dead-on right. Even if those who have governed since then have managed to obscure the truth.