If you want to learn the real story behind the founding of America, I can't imagine a better book than "The 5,000 Year Leap: The Miracle That Changed The World". I cannot recommend this highly enough to you, and every day you do not read this is another day you live in obliviousness under the woefully inadequate incompetence of the American educational system.
Skousen's purpose was to pull together the essence of the Founders' intentions, their struggles, and their motivations as they did something no one else in human history had done before them: create a government of the people, by the people, and for the people specifically designed to value individual liberty above all else.
As you read through this book, you'll come to realize just how much of a miracle our nation truly is. I can't help but think what a fortuitous circumstance -- one might even say divinely directed -- it was that so many truly brilliant political, legal, and moral minds came together in one time and place to institute a government based on individual liberties and freedom, and do it in a way that still maintained stability.
Skousen starts by explaining the two basic positions that the Founders had to balance: tyranny and anarchy. Think of it as a spectrum, with one extremity being tyranny (what they called Ruler's Law, like complete control by a single monarch) and the other extremity being no rule of law at all (what they called No Law). They strove to create and keep America in the middle of that spectrum, and their genius system of checks and balances is concrete evidence of their painstaking attempts to maintain that middle in all possible circumstances. They reasoned that the single best way to maintain this middle was to allow the people of the nation to guide the nation's ultimate course. Their wisdom has been borne out over the past 230+ years.
The Founders then based our government on 28 core principles. These are things upon which they all agreed, and which can be found inextricably woven through the entire fabric of our government. A few of these include:
- The Genius of Natural Law
- Virtuous and Moral Leaders
- The Role of Religion and the Creator
- Equal Rights, Not Equal Things
- Free-market Economics
- The Separation of Powers
- Majority Rule, Minority Rights
- Peace Through Strength
- Manifest Destiny
This is the red meat of the book. Skousen goes into detail on each of these 28 principles, explaining how the Founders debated the various sides of the issue, including some of the best quotes that I've ever read explaining what they truly believed about the issues. If only we would have been taught this stuff in school, our nation would be an entirely different place!
I'll just summarize a couple of sections to give you a sample of the goodness here.
1st Principle: The Genius of Natural Law
As I understand it, Natural Law is the concept that there is a universal set of 'right and wrong' laid down by a Creator, and that humanity is capable of moral and rational thought sufficient to discover that set of rules and live according to it. By extension, man's laws should rightfully mirror the Creator's laws, and be subject to them. The Left would have us believe that the Founders were indifferent to religion, or perhaps even atheist, but that is simply not true. These men were extremely well-read and well-versed on political theory, theology, and philosophy, and the concept of Natural Law was one to which they all adhered. The 2nd Principle expounded upon this one: a free people cannot survive unless they remain virtuous and morally strong. The primary purpose in the Founders' desire to create a public education system was to raise young Americans who had mastered 'reading, writing, ciphering, history, geography, and Bible study'. The Founders went out of their way to write explicitly and repeatedly how integral God and religion were to be in the fabric of American society. All in all, many of these founding principles are based at least in part on the very same religious concepts that the Left viciously rejects today.
7th Principle: Equal Rights, Not Equal Things
The Founders recognized that true equality should be measured on the basis of opportunity rather than outcome. Every person is different, comes from different circumstances, and has different talents and resources available to him or her. Thus, the only way to truly ensure equality was to ensure an equal opportunity to succeed, and leave the actual results up to the individual. This bears out in the fact that true 'rights' can be guaranteed to any given citizen without taking something from any other given citizen. Free speech, a speedy trial, voting, and so on...all of those can be guaranteed for all citizens without penalizing any others. On the other hand, for example, a 'right' to free health care can only be provided by taking resources from one citizen (doctors, taxpayers, etc.) and giving them to other citizens (those receiving the 'free' health care). The Founders considered such actions to be 'legal crimes', and took great pains to prevent them.
This is but a sampling; this book is a treasure trove on how our government was set up, why it was set up that way, and the thought behind all of it. I was particularly interested in the chapters on separation of powers, the burden of debt (which the Founders considered to be a grave moral evil), property rights, and free market economics. Mind-blowing stuff for the typical American in 2010.
If you want to understand the Founders, their motivations, their intentions, and their struggles as they formed what has been proven to be a miracle that changed the world, this book is like no other I've seen.
I'll finish this recommendation with a few of my favorite quotes:
Ben Franklin: The very fame of our strength and readiness would be a means of discouraging our enemies; for 'tis a wise and true saying, that "One sword often keeps another in the scabbard." The way to secure peace is to be prepared for war. They that are on their guard, and appear ready to receive their adversaries, are in much less danger of being attacked than the supine, secure and negligent.
Samuel Adams: "Religion and good morals are the only solid foundation of public liberty and happiness."
James Madison: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."
George Washington: "To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."
Thomas Jefferson: "I, however, place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared."
James Madison: "Happily for America, happily we trust for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe. They formed the design of a great Confederacy, which it is incumbent on their successors to improve and perpetuate."
Samuel Adams: "But neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt."
George Washington: "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence - it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."
Alexander Hamilton: "This balance between the national and state governments ought to be dwelt on with peculiar attention, as it is of the utmost importance. It forms a double security to the people. If one encroaches on their rights, they wil find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will both be prevented from overpassing their constitutional limits, by certain rivalship which will ever subsist between them."
James Madison: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite."
John Adams: "Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government."
James Madison: "The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it."
Thomas Jefferson: "I had always hoped that the younger generation receiving their early impressions after the flame of liberty had been kindled in every breast... would have sympathized with oppression wherever found, and proved their love of liberty beyond their own share of it."
Thomas Jefferson: "Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, Judges, and Governors, shall all become wolves."
John Adams said it was his aspiration "to see rising in America an empire of liberty, and the prospect of two or three hundred millions of freemen, without one noble or one king among them."