THOMAS G. WEST, Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997), 219 pp., $22.95 cloth (ISBN 0-8476-8516-0).
This is an important book about the history of political thought in America. Thomas West, a professor of politics at the University of Dallas, takes us back to the beginning of our history to find out what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they created the great republic.
This book deals with what the Founding Fathers were trying to accomplish when they wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Some now say that they were racist, sexist, and even elitist. West challenges each of these accusations with facts and historical perspective. Some of the subjects covered include slavery, property rights, women and the right to vote, poverty and welfare, and immigration.
West makes it quite clear that all of the progress we have made as a nation traces back directly to work of the founders. Even with the advantage of hindsight, we as Americans in the twentieth century cannot match the wisdom and clarity of thought of our Founding Fathers. Revisionists can take cheap shots at the founders, but in the final analysis, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution stand as giant beacons against irrationality.
Yes, it is true, the Constitution did not eliminate slavery immediately, but it did create the environment necessary for the abolition of slavery. West puts it this way: "The political logic of the revolution pointed inexorably to the eventual abolition of slavery" (p. 6).
Slavery was a very divisive issue at the Constitutional Convention. The problem was not between the big states and the small states but rather between the northern states and the southern states. West frames the problem this way: "There was little that opponents of slavery could have done about slavery at the convention unless they were willing to risk breaking the union" (p. 15). West goes on further to say that "if liberty for anyone was to have a future in America, the indispensable first step was a stronger national government on a democratic basis" (p. 15).
The Founding Fathers could not snap their fingers and change the society instantly into what they wanted. Change had to be gradual. West writes, "Lincoln and the Republican party of the 1850s were able to mobilize a national majority against the expansion of slavery only because of the commitment the founders had...