How would the founders judge their handiwork, 230 years after the Declaration of Independence?
Many things about modern America would stun the founders: this, and all other blogs; good teeth; a female Secretary of State. Three things would gratify them, and represent the fulfillment of their hopes.
They would be pleased to see that the United States had become an empire (nowadays we would say, superpower). They hoped and expected that this would happen, at a time when the country had only three million souls, who lived in an Atlantic strip on the edge of nowhere. And yet George Washington referred repeatedly to the United States as a "rising empire." The first paragraph of the Federalist papers speaks of the country as "an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world." Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, his successor in the White House, calls it an "empire for liberty." None of them wanted the United States to have an emperor, or any other monarch; imperial trappings were as odious to them as they were to George Lucas in the Star Wars cycle. But they wanted their republic to be a country of imperial extent.
They would be pleased by the proliferation of media and higher education. The founders were obsessed with both institutions, writing prolifically for the newspapers, and calling for the establishment of schools and colleges, both private and public. Several of them published newspapers (Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton) or started schools (Franklin, Thomas Jefferson). They would not be dismayed at the partisan tone of journalism, talk radio, or blogging; their own journalism was much more partisan. Some of them would be dismayed at the loss of classical education (Jefferson said he would rather lose his knowledge of any other subject than Greek and Latin). They wanted journalism and media because they founded a republic, which depends on an informed citizenry to elect even wiser leaders, and to not slide into monarchy.
They would be pleased that there were no more slaves. Many of them owned slaves, and every state had slaves on July 4, 1776. The enemies of the American Revolution mocked them for it: "How is it," asked the English Tory Samuel Johnson, "that the loudest yelps for liberty are heard from drivers of Negroes?" Still, even those who profited from slavery thought it was a bad thing, and some of them took steps to end it. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, two of the three largest states, abolished slavery in the 1780s. Other northern states followed more slowly (New York passed its first manumission law in 1799, and its last slaves were freed in 1827). A few founders freed their slaves privately ? George Washington did so in his will, and George Wythe, Jeffersonâ€™s law professor and mentor, did so while he lived. These steps were not enough to end the institution nationwide; that took a Civil War. The founders would be pleased by the result, though some would shudder at the cost. The argument that slavery is a good thing ? John Calhoun said it produced equality among whites ? was the perversion of a later generation.
The founders are in undisclosed locations, and the Patriot Act forbids me from saying precisely how I am in contact with them, but be assured that I am. All direct quotations from the founders are on the record. In fact, they have been on the record for two hundred years.