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Iconoclasts and the Fourth
Scripps Howard News Service


June 29, 2006

The greatest of our national holidays is upon us, July Fourth, but here come the dynamiters of pride, those who would have us believe ours is a nation founded by aristocrats to suit them and their kind - a nation of, by and for the rich.

The idea goes back as far as the historian Charles Beard, whose inaccurate and analytically flawed 1913 book on the Constitution said it was little more than an instrument to serve the economic interests of its well-heeled authors.

Other historians pretty quickly caught up with his mistakes, and they have caught up with the outrageously subjectivist, unsubstantiated drivel of Howard Zinn, too, which has not kept him from producing stuff that would make an intellectually honest man blush.

"Around 1776," this historian has written, "certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that would prove enormously useful for the next two hundred years. They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, profits and political power from favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership."

Shrug your shoulders at this goofiness if you will, but understand that college students are being infected by it - that Zinnlike profs abound in colleges and universities and dispense the virus of anti-American, leftist propaganda as if it were God's truth. The antidote is in the facts, and in the work of fair, meticulously careful historians who have shown the founders to have been intensely honorable men, sincerely concerned about the common good.

Such historians tell us that the members of the Continental Congress meant it on July 4, 1776, when they embraced the idea in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and have certain inalienable rights. By "equality," we are told, they did not mean that our abilities were equal, but that no one was entitled to boss anyone else around without his say-so.

A great contradiction to that principle was slavery, but Americans wiped it out quickly in Northern states after the Revolutionary War and had high hopes of bringing it to an eventual end in the Southern states, despite a deal with the devil to cement the union. The good intentions did not prevail, and it required a horribly bloody Civil War to get rid of that evil.

But you have to look no further than Abraham Lincoln to see how the ideals of the declaration have informed our march toward ever-greater freedom and equality under law, or yesterday's headlines to see that the ideals still instruct our debates with each other.

Besides getting our founders wrong, Zinn and friends get it wrong that common, everyday people were insensitive to English encroachments on liberty and less enthusiastic about creating an independent America than those who had accumulated uncommon wealth. I know average colonists were a crucial factor in bringing about the last, best hope of mankind - during the war and after it - not just from reading about those who applauded the cause and fought for it, but because of genealogical investigations into my own family.

Mathias Ambrose arrived from Germany in 1732, spent some years in Pennsylvania, then went to the western Maryland frontier, where he started a gristmill and bought as much land as he could. As a German peasant, he could have known nothing but deprivation and oppression. In Maryland, because he had opportunity and the self-discipline to take advantage of it, he prospered and his life bloomed. His children must have understood why.

His oldest son, Jacob, was a member of Frederick County committees that first agreed to restrict trade with England and then to raise money for arms. When fighting started, he was elected captain of a militia company. Great numbers in that county - Scotch-Irish, English and German - had protested England's increasingly obnoxious policies for years.

We may never wholly chase away iconoclastic fallacies, but many of us this July Fourth will find our hearts leaping up in gratitude for founders - both leaders and their followers - who sought to give us independence not only from England, but from all those governmental excesses that beat back the best in humanity. It is a marvelous heritage.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.


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Ketchikan, Alaska