We have mistaken a temper tantrum for democracy. In these midterm elections, the rant of mad men passes for political discourse. The person who shouts the loudest on television or says the most inane things is considered a “spokesperson,” and the media thinks that balanced reporting requires that voices of moderation and reason are paired against people who think the President is not an American or a Christian.
We learn very young that Benjamin Franklin with charm and cunning forged the Franco-American alliance that won our Independence.
That’s what we were taught, anyway. But it’s not true.
We are accustomed to reading histories that deify the Founding Fathers. They, after all, overthrew the world’s greatest military power to establish a republic, and they did it with rhetorical grace that even today stirs the heart. Our idealized view of the Founding Fathers obscures their failings as often as it eclipses other great American political leaders who did not have the good fortune to be alive in 1776.
Six years ago I was writing a book with that title on the history of international law in U.S. courts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The challenge was trying to make that book interesting to a wider audience.