The Founding Fathers were Progressives

If we view the Founding Fathers and the 55 framers of the constitution through the lens of the present, it is apparent that they would be considered progressive thinkers. The purpose of the formation of our democratic republic was to create a system of institutional alternatives to what was available at the time. A new way of living that had never existed before. It was a time in American history where human imagination and cooperation created new alternatives to the historical organization of economic, political, and social structures.


Circumstance and choice

The Thirteen Colonies grew from 2,000 people to over 2.5 million from 1625 to 1775, often by displacing native Americans. During this period the colonies were treated as merchant ventures, the core objective being to generate wealth for England. The citizens did not have access to the same legal rights as English citizens and were subject to taxes without representation. The colonies did have a high amount of autonomy, self-governed with elections they developed independent identities. Objections to the expansion of English control coupled with frustration from the Seven Years War led to heightened tensions with England and an increasingly unified Colonies. The Continental Congress was held, independence was declared, and the American Revolutionary War was fought.

When the time came to design a new set of legal institutions the framers focused on developing a system that would represent a new kind of freedom in the world. Two of the most innovative concepts designed into the American Constitution are the separation of power through a system of checks and balances and the development of federalism.

In theory, the three branches of government keep one another in check. Decentralizing power and democratizing access. Expanding from one center of power to three branches represented a fundamental shift in how citizens of a nation could constrain the strength of their central government. Federalism is the idea that states are an experiment in ways of living. Each state acting with a high degree of sovereignty. Using a specific Founding Father as an example, George Washington symbolically gave birth to the United States government when in 1797 he peacefully transferred power. This act affirmed the in and out system of government we have today. It was this type of visionary imagination of the possible that cement the Founding Fathers and 55 framers as standard bearers of Progressive projects.


Being Progressive

“…But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times…”

– Thomas Jefferson in a letter to To Samuel Kercheval Monticello, July 12, 1816

Being Progressive isn’t a political affiliation, it’s a way of thinking about change. It’s understanding that as humanity progresses technologically, intellectually, and culturally there is a parallel need for our institutions to evolve with us. In present time Progressives should approach our policies based on data-driven approaches that focus on the maximization of agency and access for all individuals, even those presently under the spell of an oppressive authoritarian. Only by shedding the labels and ideas of parties focused on power maintenance can we begin to transform society into the model of democracy the Founding Fathers had intended.

The Founding Fathers were Progressives because the vision of the future that they created and manifested extended beyond the existing institutional arrangements available at the time. Their concept of an ever-evolving system of government founded on the Federalist ideal of states acting as labs of experimentation in different ways of living was a tribute to the power of human imagination. They believed in our collective ability to transcend our circumstances while understanding that no change is without struggle and effort. In acting per the beliefs, they laid the groundwork for Progressive thinking extending hundreds of years to the present.

Progressives of the present are supporting ideas and vision encoded into the fabric of American society. The current Conservative views of change and society are the antithesis of what the Founding Fathers has intended. The plan seems to be to stifle agency of the impoverished through the cutting of social protections [7], limiting our ability to maximize our total human potential while the President spews vitriol that ignores the demographic data of the changing United States [8]. Liberalism fairs no better, as it is just as guilty of aligning itself with the best interest of corporations seeking to remain undisrupted in their influence. Change is inevitable, and a Progressive approach to the institutional arrangements of society is the most viable alternative to the current regimes of thought. By choosing to embrace and encode change into the arrangements of society we make the most American choice possible, one that the Founding Fathers would be proud of.

[1] The Tea Act: The Catalyst of the Boston Tea Party The Boston Tea Party Ship

[2] The American Revenue Act of 1764 U.S.

[3] Stamp Act Wikipedia

[4] Declaration of Independence U.S.

[5] The Real Birth of American Democracy by Joseph Stromberg

[6] To Samuel Kercheval Monticello, July 12, 1816 University of Groningen

[7] Mitch McConnell says it out loud: Republicans are gunning for Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare next by Michael Hiltzik Los Angeles Times

[8] 10 demographic trends that are shaping the U.S. and the world by By D’Vera Cohn and Andrea Caumont Pew Research

Ron is the Founder and Executive Director of the OurSociety Experiment.  He’s passionate about shifting our social, political, and economic institutions towards a system that maximizes agency and access for every individual.