Authors: W. Cleon Skousen
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THIS WORK IS DEDICATED TO that generation of resolute Americans whom we call the Founding Fathers. They created the first free people to survive as a nation in modern times. They wrote a new kind of Constitution which is now the oldest in existence. They built a new kind of commonwealth designed as a model for the whole human race. They believed it was thoroughly possible to create a new kind of civilization, giving freedom, equality, and justice to all.
Their first design for a free-people nation was to encompass all of North America, accommodating, as John Adams said, two to three hundred million freemen. They created a new cultural climate that gave wings to the human spirit. They encouraged exploration to reveal the scientific secrets of the universe. They built a free-enterprise culture to encourage industry and prosperity. They gave humanity the needed ingredients for a gigantic 5,000-year leap!
– W. Cleon Skousen
The publication of this book is the fulfillment of a dream gestated over forty years ago at the George Washington University Law School in the nation’s capital.
As I studied Constitutional law, there was always a nagging curiosity as to why someone had not taken the time and trouble to catalogue the ingredients of the Founding Fathers’ phenomenal success formula so it would be less complex and easier to digest. It seemed incredible that these gems of political sagacity had to be dug out of obscurity by each individual doing it piecemeal and never really knowing for certain that the whole puzzle had been completely assembled.
All of this introspective cogitation was taking place during the Great Depression, while this writer was working full time at the FBI and going to law school at night.
A short time before, a brand new majority in Congress had been swept into power, and our professor of Constitutional law was constantly emphasizing the mistakes these newly elected “representatives of the people” were making. He would demonstrate how they were continually seeking answers to the nation’s ills through remedies which were not authorized by the Constitution, and in most cases by methods which had been strictly forbidden by historical experience and the teachings of the Founders.
As I talked to some of these enthusiastic new Congressmen, it soon became apparent that their zeal was sincere and that any mistakes they might be making were the results of ignorance, not malicious intent. In fact, all of us belonged to a generation that had never been taught the clear-cut, decisive principles of sound politics and economics enunciated by the Founders. Somebody had apparently decided these were not very important anymore.
To this extent it could be said that, ideologically speaking, we were a generation of un-Americans. Even those of us who had come up through political science had never been required to read the Federalist Papers, John Locke, Algernon Sidney, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Cicero, or the original writings of the men who put it all together in the first place. One of my undergraduate professors had even said that the Constitution was obsolete. He said it wasn’t designed for a modern industrial society.
Nevertheless, one of my friends in Congress said he would like to study the Founders’ ideas. What he wanted was a simple, easy-to-understand book. So did the rest of us. My text on Constitutional law was three inches thick and was so cluttered up with complex, legalistic rhetoric that it would only confuse a farmer, businessman, or real estate broker who had just been elected to Congress. It was even confusing to those of us who were trying to get a handle on “the system” so we could pass the bar examination. The fact that some of us did pass the bar “the very first time around” was always counted within our secret circle as a providential miracle!
As the years went by, I continued to look for a book which laid out the great ideas of the Founders so that even a new Congressman could “read as he ran” and get a fairly good comprehension of the Founders’ ingenious success formula. I did find a number of writers who seemed to come within striking distance of the target, only to back away and never complete the task. Often their tomes were long, tedious conglomerates of abstract complexity. Of course, there were lots of books on Constitutional “nuts and bolts,” or the mechanics of government, which were similar to my texts in political science. However, none of these ever portrayed a philosophical comprehension of why it was all supposed to be so great.
Eventually, circumstances were such that this writer overcame a prevailing sense of apprehension and undertook the task of trying to do something along these lines just as a matter of personal insight. Now, a hundred digested volumes later, and after a most gratifying visit with many of the Founders through their letters, biographies, and speeches, this book has been assembled.
It may appear to some to be a very modest contribution, but it has been a monumental satisfaction to the author. Never before have I fully appreciated the intellectual muscle and the quantum of solid character required to produce the first modern republic. I have gained a warm affection for the Founders. I have learned to see them as men imbued with all of our common weaknesses called “human nature,” and yet capable of becoming victorious at a task which would have decimated weaker men. I have learned to glory in their successes and have felt an overtone of personal sorrow when they seemed to attain less than they had hoped. It has been a marvelous adventure in research to perceive the ramifications of the Founders’ formula for a model commonwealth of freedom and prosperity which became the United States of America.
When it comes to acknowledgments, I find myself, like other writers, overwhelmed with obligations.
How can one thank a thousand researchers and writers on at least three continents who have spent much of their lives digging up and recording the detailed treasures concerning the lives and thoughts of those distinguished nation-builders whom we are pleased to call our Founding Fathers?
At closer range, the task of expressing appreciation is not so difficult, provided that this author can be forgiven for not including all who deserve meritorious thanks.
First and foremost, I must do what so many writers seem to be admitting lately, and that is expressing a frank confession that their books would never have been written without the patient and enduring support of a loving wife. This is particularly true in my case.
Her task of assisting an author-husband has been intermingled with raising eight children, trying to run a household with more than 5,000 books scattered about, answering dozens of telephone calls each day, and trying to locate her husband in time to eat dinner or meet a group of visiting dignitaries. All this and much more has been the continuous routine of my beautiful and patient helpmeet who was appropriately named by her parents, “Jewel.”
Also involved in a most significant way with the completion of this book has been the working staff of the National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS). Going the eleventh mile, I appreciate Glenn J. Kimber, vice president in charge of our nationwide operations, Andrew M. Allison, editor of monthly publications, and my son, Harold Skousen, in charge of layout and graphics. To these and the many others not specifically mentioned, I am eternally grateful.
And to the student who has a longing to appreciate the pioneers who built the American commonwealth, this book is offered. It is hoped that it will be helpful and understandable, and will to some degree provide the stimulating inspiration which the research and writing of it brought to the author.
W. Cleon Skousen
“The American people are now two centuries away from the nation’s original launching. Our ship of state is far out to sea and is being tossed about in stormy waters, which the Founders felt could have been avoided if we had stayed within sight of our initial moorings.
“They also felt that each ingredient set forth in their great success formula was of the highest value. They would no doubt be alarmed to see how many of those ingredients have been abandoned, or have been allowed to become seriously eroded.”
--The Making of America: The Meaning and Substance of the Constitution
by W. Cleon Skousen
This is a story you won’t believe.
It starts with a hundred famished, starving people so desperate for food they had to eat their milk cows, slaughter their plough horses, and kill their dogs. When that ran out they hunted birds and squirrels, and then trapped rats and mice, and finally boiled the leather of their shoes to chew. When that was gone, they turned to each other, waiting on the dying for their next meal.
It’s an ugly tale of starvation and desperation that didn’t happen at some far away place, it happened right here in our own backyard—Jamestown, Virginia.
By Christmas day of 1607, more than two thirds of those first colonists in Jamestown were dead. The next year, more settlers arrived but most of them died that winter. The year after that came additional arrivals and more deaths—from starvation. It was an experiment in failure that repeated its deadly tally for seven terrible years.
The plan was simple, really: plant the first English settlement in America—more of a business venture than a colonization—and gather up all that gold. You know, all that gold that lies around everywhere?
When word of the colony spread around England, hundreds more crossed the ocean to Virginia, each anxious to out-perform the dead who preceded them and prove that a fresh load of strong backs and keen minds could stand the rigors of the wilds—after all, English settlers had been colonizing faraway places for ages, all over the world, why should the Americas be any different?
But the “starving times” kept killing them off. Of the estimated 9,000 who sailed to Virginia, only 1,000 survived.
There were two main reasons why Jamestown wasn’t working, and this is my point.
The first was the problem of habit—everybody had been doing things the same old way for more than 5,000 years.
Okay, we made some improvements since the pyramids, but not many. The Jamestown settlers traveled in boats not much better than those that sailed the Nile. Their farm tools consisted of a shovel, a stick plow and a scythe—about the same as you could pick up at your local Baghdad Hardware and Feed back in 3000 B.C. And even though there was an early form of China, there was still no Walmart, so their clothing had to be handspun and hand-woven. Transportation was by cart and oxen, and their medicine was more superstition than substance—and worst of all, most of them died young.
The second reason the colony wasn’t working was that the leadership didn’t bother updating the way they ran the place. They started off with communalism—every man could take from the general storehouse what he needed and was supposed to give back what he could. In theory, everybody would give back enough so they all could survive. After all, shouldn’t the welfare of the colony be more important than individual welfare? While people would like to believe otherwise, the real answer is a resounding no.
The Jamestown experiment backfired. Worse than that, it was a pure disaster—uglier than Plato had promised.
It was in fact pure socialism in action.
The men were divided into threes—a third to start the farm, a third to build the fort, and a third to head off into the woods and find gold. Naturally everybody slipped away to go hunt for gold and they neglected the fort and the farm. Oh yes, some of them bothered the local Indians and were shot with arrows—back in those days the welcome wagon was nowhere in sight.
The big fix didn’t come until 1614. That’s when the colony leadership realized it wasn’t a lack of food that kept killing off the settlers—it was a famine of knowledge of correct principles.
Sir Thomas Dale spotted it immediately that year when he first stepped off the boat and into a stagnated mass of unmotivated colonists. It seemed obvious what the problem was—the men were lazy because they had no investment in the land—they had no private property.
Without asking permission from the colony’s shareholders, Dale went ahead and gave three acres of land to the old timers, less to the newly arrived, and asked only that in return they provide two barrels of corn for the store house at harvest time.
It’s amazing what a little freedom can do for the downtrodden!
The colonists were thrilled. They dropped what they were doing and hurried about clearing their land, plowing their ground, planting, dunging, watering—whatever they could to have their own food for the winter. By that fall, the storehouse was full thanks to the two-barrel tax, and the people were alive. Tobacco came later, and suddenly the colony took root and started on the road to prosperity.
Jamestown was different from other colonies because it finally shed its failing ways and started practicing free enterprise principles—the freedom to own and control property, and enjoy its fruits. Years later these ideas worked their way into Adam Smith and his famous book, The Wealth of Nations.
The blood of these pioneers started the groundswell that brought us the first popular assembly of legislative representatives in the western hemisphere. Their descendants included many of the foremost intellects who built the framework for our future United States of America: Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence; James Madison, “Father of the Constitution;” George Washington, hero-general of the War for Independence; George Mason, author of the first American Bill of Rights in Virginia. Four of the first five presidents of the United States sprung from this fire-tested colony.
What’s two hundred years in the history of the world? Nothing really—maybe an average Chinese dynasty—it’s a blink. Two hundred years after the Constitution was signed, the great “noble experiment” of America’s Declaration of Independence and free-enterprise economics had produced phenomenal results.
The United States started accumulating a fantastic list of achievements in technology, politics and economics never before witnessed in the history of humankind. The spirit of freedom infected people all around the globe, and free-market economics unleashed creativity and brilliance in nations everywhere. A literal explosion of progress crackled wherever freedom could reach. Electricity, the internal combustion engine, nuclear energy, aircraft, electronics, communications, travel to the moon or the bottom of the sea—suddenly, nearly anything seemed possible.
People started living longer—double the average lifespan of a few centuries before. Our homes, quality of food and clothing, the luxuries of central air and heat, running water and flushing toilets, common-day travel around the globe, tens of millions of books, increased capacity to invent and understand, educational advances for the average student, cures, entertainment, and non-stop movies on TV or your iPod—all came about not just in America but to benefit the entire world.
In just 200 years, the human race made a 5,000-year leap!
Every generation feels it must re-invent the sociological wheel. If we were still taught these basics in school, maybe we could skip a few years of stupidity, but it’s too late for our generation. We have to pay our stupid tax.
For a hundred years, social and political experiments outside of the Constitution and prosperity principles have played havoc with our culture, and now we’re making the same dumb mistakes prior failed cultures have made.
So, we’ve got to ask: Are we really better off under the decay of freedom that we have today, than we were back when that nasty old Constitution dictated everything?
Dr. Skousen points out when it comes to the physical sciences, knowledge and discovery is added to the main body of knowledge as time passes—it builds on the lessons of the past.
But the same doesn’t happen with the social sciences.
Dr. Skousen warns us that when we don’t teach the rising generation those cultural and moral lessons that keep society healthy and safe, the people end up making all the same mistakes—and not just once, but half a dozen times or more. We’re doing it right now, he says, and muddle our lives with “drugs, riots, revolutions, and terrorism; predatory wars; unnatural sexual practices; merry-go-round marriages; organized crime; neglected and sometimes brutalized children; plateau intoxication; debt-ridden prosperity; and all the other ingredients of insanity which have shattered twenty mighty civilizations in the past.” And he made that list 30 years ago!
To that list I would add these other mistakes that are leading us down a dead-end road: the bailout “un-stimulus program,” nationalization of our banks and auto industry, the loss of secret balloting for union activities, taxation without representation, morally bankrupt standard bearers, tax cheats running government programs, pork-barrel spending, locking up natural resources, punishing the productive, rewarding the lazy, squelching opposing viewpoints, redistributing the wealth, creating an entitlement mentality, granting more rights to illegals than our own citizens, a fear of our fellow citizens and loss of pride in the greatness of this nation—and generally the ignoring of our Constitutional rights, privileges and opportunities.
There is no reason why our American way of life should be drowning in the same mistakes of those failed empires of the past, except for perhaps this one—as a culture we’ve stopped teaching and practicing the true principles of prosperity.
There are 28 great ideas that helped change our world, and the funny thing is, the American Founding Fathers hardly invented a single one of them. But they did find them, and brought them all together in a single document that has blessed this great nation and the entire world.
These ideas didn’t all come together at once. After Jamestown, it took 180 years to pull these great concepts together so that true and lasting freedom was born.
It worked so well so fast that after just two years as a nation, George Washington was able to write, “The United States enjoy a scene of prosperity and tranquility under the new government that could hardly have been hoped for.” And the very next day in another letter he said, “Tranquility reigns among the people with that disposition towards the general government which is likely to preserve it….Our public credit stands on that [high] ground which three years ago it would have been considered as a species of madness to have foretold.” (The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 31: 316-317, 318-319)
In some ways, during parts of 2007 and 2008 I experienced one of the most difficult periods of my life. There had been other times where I experienced financial and family troubles, but this was bigger. I had begun to lose hope. I began to see the massive problems that we – as a nation and as a people – were facing. It seemed like no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t come up with a way it could resolve itself. The more I looked, the more I wished I hadn’t looked. How can I hand this country to my children and grand children in better shape than it was given to me?
Without any answers, I spiraled into a sort of despair. How do you fix these problems? How do you fix the economic nightmare that is on its way caused by overspending, massive debt, and giant social programs? How do you protect your kids and country from a force that doesn’t have a uniform? What’s the right balance between security and liberty? How do you cure American’s lack of faith in their government when the political parties are intentionally dividing us?
Then one day in the spring, I was walking down the Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan and the answer came to me. It was so dramatic that it made me stop in the middle of the sidewalk and laugh out loud. The answer was obvious and best of all, the thinking and worrying had already been done for me. The questions that we face were foreseen by the greatest group of Americans to ever live; our Founding Fathers. They knew we would be grappling with issues like the ones we face today at some point, so they designed a ship that could withstand even the mightiest storm. They also knew that we would eventually lose our way and that we would need a beacon to lead our way back.
I often times have wondered why the constitution appears as it does. Why those three words “We the people,” are so large. After all, it’s not like James Madison wrote those three words then realized, “Oh shoot, I can’t use this sized font or we’ll run out of space!” They did it for a reason. The answer is not the government, it’s not a politician, it’s not a policy; it’s always, “We the people.”
Unfortunately, many of us have been so misinformed or suffer from such a high degree of apathy, that we have no idea who our founders really were. We don’t understand how they lived, what rights they were actually trying to protect, and what our responsibilities are to ensure that protection.
Within a couple of weeks after that revelation on the sidewalk a friend—without solicitation—sent me a copy of this book. He said, “Glenn, I don’t know if you’ve ever read this, but it’s the simplest, easiest way for Americans of all ages to understand the simple yet brilliant principles our founders based this country on.”
After reading it, I realized a couple of things. One, its author—was years ahead of his time. And secondly, our founders were thousands of years ahead of their time. My hope is that all Americans young and old will spend the time with this book to understand why we are who we are. The words of our Founding Fathers have a way of reaching across any political divide. They are words of wisdom that I can only describe as divinely inspired. They are here for us to help solve the unsolvable—and they are the reason why we have for so long been the greatest nation on earth. But most importantly, in these pages, you will find hope.
I know that I have.