“Flawed Founders” by Stephen Ambrose

Today most people take freedom for granted. They were born in freedom, they were raised in freedom and they enjoy its fruits not knowing any other way of life. Perhaps, that is why we became so ignorant of the heritage of our Founding Fathers. I was astonished reading the article by Stephen Ambrose “Flawed Founders” and looking at the history of freedom and democracy from this fresh perspective. The author is being simply realistic about what he writes. He is not praising founders of our independent state with an inflated style as I often used to see in History books at High School. He admits the contradictions surrounding our first presidents, but nevertheless pays a deserved tribute to their contribution to the kind of democratic state we live in today.

The essence of this article is best explained in the following quotation: “The Washington Monument and the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials remind us that greatness comes in different forms and at a price. Jefferson, by his words, gave us aspirations. Washington, through his actions, showed us what was possible. Lincoln’s courage turned both into reality.” 5 Perhaps, it was not meant to have a single person create the kind of country we live in, which by all definitions is the most humanistic, democratic and free. Perhaps, no human being could handle such challenge. Moreover, human beings are not perfect and that is why it is unrealistic to expect the presidents, who are human beings too, to hold all those virtues, which an ideal person is expected to have.

Either way, the author wanted to show us that the evaluation of our country’s heroes should be objective. There is no need to pretend that our founding fathers were ideal people who always lived by their convictions and were superheroes in every aspect of their life. However, it’s also wrong to be deluded by modern wave of “rediscovering founding fathers”6 and ignoring their contribution and role in the history of our country, as if that turning point when Declaration of Independence was proclaimed should be left blank. We should never forget whom we own our freedom and independence.

In this article the author takes an interactionist’s approach pointing through the example of Thomas Jefferson that presidents are only humans with their weaknesses and contradictions. Presidency in this article is not viewed as an executive branch or another institution. It is given rather personal touch, uncovering the truth not about what kind of president Thomas Jefferson was, but rather what kind of person.

A particularly interesting feature about this article is that instead of focusing on interaction between individuals, which is one of the branches within interactionist perspective, the author is rather concerned with “shared meanings” provided that these “shared meanings” are imposed on the society as people within it interact. What I mean by this is that Stephen Ambrose shows that Thomas Jefferson seemed to be an aggressive opponent of slavery promoting in his Declaration of Independence that “all people are created equal”. Meanwhile, he was a hypocrite, because he owned slaves himself and was not brave enough to break this tradition.

The article by Stephen Ambrose is not biased, because the author shows the same problem from different perspectives. On one hand he reveals the truth about American president showing that Thomas Jefferson was not that kind of hero as we wished we could think of him, since he is the author of one of the most fundamental documents in the history of our country. On other hand, though, the author emphasizes that failure to recognize the contribution of Thomas Jefferson is a failure to accept freedom and democracy so much praised in our country, which we own to Thomas Jefferson in part one way or another. Thus, the author doesn’t appear to be biased towards one camp that praises Thomas Jefferson, or the other that condemns it. He simply shows that we must accept the reality as it is, not as we want it to be.


  1. Ambrose, Stephen. “Flawed Founders.” Smithsonian 33(8), pp. 126-33, November 2002.

One Response to “Flawed Founders” by Stephen Ambrose

  1. international law firm says:

    I believe that in today’s politically charged world that peer review means nothing more than a bunch of like-minded scientists agreeing with each other.

    Mann’s hockey stick was peer reviewed. It was published in Nature Magazine and used as the cornerstone to the IPCC 3rd assessment. Nobody questioned the methodology or the data, which were both flawed. Nobody checked Mann’s work. They all just accepted it as gospel because it fit neatly into their preconceived idea of man-made global warming.

    It took mathematician Stephen McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick to identify Mann’s flaws. They wrote an article about their findings and submitted it to Nature – which of course rejected it. It took him five years to convince the National Academy of Sciences to review Mann’s work.

    How many other supposedly peer reviewed papers fall into this category?

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