Were the founding fathers libertarian?

Mar 2018
664
UK
#13
Depends on the nature of application. I find time-travelling hypotheticals interesting, thus my response.
Fair enough. For the sake of thoroughness, I think there are three interpretations of the questions "Were the Founding Fathers' Libertarian?", which should be addressed separately.

1) Did they consider themselves Libertarians?
They didn't have any concept of the term, so couldn't consider themselves either Libertarian or not.

2) If the founding fathers time-travelled to the present day, would they take the modern Libertarian position?
Obviously impossible to establish such a blatant counter factual. Even if it was possible, their first reaction would be "holy ****, aeroplanes!" and they would then die of an infection before we could listen to their political views. Pushing that aside, understanding something like modern health care is so far outside of their previous experience and domain of political thought that they would either be completely unable to understand it, or it would clash with their previous ideas that their world view would change in an entirely unpredictable way.

3) If one of us went back in time and talked to them, would we consider them Libertarian?
The issues by which a Libertarian political position is defined (i.e., smoking weed, abortions, etc...) were not around then, so it isn't really applicable. The basic tenets of Libertarian philosophy (keep the state small, maximum personal choice) were around, and by that criteria we could probably say they were Libertarian. However there are a few enormous caveats here (most of all slavery) which are hard to square with modern Liberarianism. So, the answer to this one is entirely dependent on how we project modern Libertarianism to 200 years ago.


So in every case, the answer is: the term doesn't apply, unless you shoehorn it so much that it loses meaning.
 
Likes: Rodger
Feb 2019
334
Pennsylvania, US
#14
Fair enough. For the sake of thoroughness, I think there are three interpretations of the questions "Were the Founding Fathers' Libertarian?", which should be addressed separately.

1) Did they consider themselves Libertarians?
They didn't have any concept of the term, so couldn't consider themselves either Libertarian or not.

2) If the founding fathers time-travelled to the present day, would they take the modern Libertarian position?
Obviously impossible to establish such a blatant counter factual. Even if it was possible, their first reaction would be "holy ****, aeroplanes!" and they would then die of an infection before we could listen to their political views. Pushing that aside, understanding something like modern health care is so far outside of their previous experience and domain of political thought that they would either be completely unable to understand it, or it would clash with their previous ideas that their world view would change in an entirely unpredictable way.

3) If one of us went back in time and talked to them, would we consider them Libertarian?
The issues by which a Libertarian political position is defined (i.e., smoking weed, abortions, etc...) were not around then, so it isn't really applicable. The basic tenets of Libertarian philosophy (keep the state small, maximum personal choice) were around, and by that criteria we could probably say they were Libertarian. However there are a few enormous caveats here (most of all slavery) which are hard to square with modern Liberarianism. So, the answer to this one is entirely dependent on how we project modern Libertarianism to 200 years ago.


So in every case, the answer is: the term doesn't apply, unless you shoehorn it so much that it loses meaning.
The Founding Fathers were alive at a time when opiates were consumed for hallucinogenic purposes (recreation), abortions were happening (legal in many colonies, though being socially unacceptable... laws hit in the 1850's), and Almshouses provided health care for the destitute (what would later become the Greater Phila. Hospital)...

So, possibly they were familiar with all of these concepts and left it out of government documents because they thought... the government shouldn't be getting involved? What do you think?
 
Mar 2018
664
UK
#15
The Founding Fathers were alive at a time when opiates were consumed for hallucinogenic purposes (recreation), abortions were happening (legal in many colonies, though being socially unacceptable... laws hit in the 1850's), and Almshouses provided health care for the destitute (what would later become the Greater Phila. Hospital)...

So, possibly they were familiar with all of these concepts and left it out of government documents because they thought... the government shouldn't be getting involved? What do you think?
After doing a bit of digging, you are right that those issues were beginning to be relevant, it's easy to forget that - though a foreign country - the past is not all that different.

But I still think there's a big difference between the start of an issue and it being considered important. When infant mortality is sky high, and giving birth is highly dangerous, abortion is somehow not an issue that you would care about. Similarly with drugs. There's a big debate around them now because a significant (majority?) of the population has tried the soft ones and a large fraction of crime is caused by addicts trying to fund their habit. When crime is all around much higher, the impact of drugs just doesn't seem as important. I would hazard a guess that the founding fathers don't talk (at all? very little?) about abortion because they didn't care and had bigger things to think about, not because of what they thought the government should/shouldn't do.

I would generally agree that their vision of government was much smaller than what any state in the modern world does, with the possible exception of failed states. But is that due to fundamental ideology? Or because when most people are farmers, live far away from each other, are more self sufficient, and cities are tiny; it's just hard to imagine the possibility of government doing a lot? What they thought was a sensible level of government interference in a primarily agrarian community may well be very different to what they would have considered a sensible level of government interference for a highly interconnect urban world where everyone house requires communal infrastructure to provide electricity, water, gas, telephone and internet.
 
Feb 2019
334
Pennsylvania, US
#16
After doing a bit of digging, you are right that those issues were beginning to be relevant, it's easy to forget that - though a foreign country - the past is not all that different.

But I still think there's a big difference between the start of an issue and it being considered important. When infant mortality is sky high, and giving birth is highly dangerous, abortion is somehow not an issue that you would care about. Similarly with drugs. There's a big debate around them now because a significant (majority?) of the population has tried the soft ones and a large fraction of crime is caused by addicts trying to fund their habit. When crime is all around much higher, the impact of drugs just doesn't seem as important. I would hazard a guess that the founding fathers don't talk (at all? very little?) about abortion because they didn't care and had bigger things to think about, not because of what they thought the government should/shouldn't do.

I would generally agree that their vision of government was much smaller than what any state in the modern world does, with the possible exception of failed states. But is that due to fundamental ideology? Or because when most people are farmers, live far away from each other, are more self sufficient, and cities are tiny; it's just hard to imagine the possibility of government doing a lot? What they thought was a sensible level of government interference in a primarily agrarian community may well be very different to what they would have considered a sensible level of government interference for a highly interconnect urban world where everyone house requires communal infrastructure to provide electricity, water, gas, telephone and internet.
(I am such a newbie that I don't know how to do the cool quote snippets to insert observations in between... but I am having so much fun here, I think Facebook will be dead to me in future... 😉)

Don't think the Americans were all living in rural environments, when the City of New York would have been a bit larger than Liverpool or Birmingham in England.

Alcohol consumption was about 3x what it is today - with none of the support / detox available today - it would be interesting to see if crime related to procuring the next drink (to keep away the pink rats or other D.T. visions) were not a large percentage of crime in the 1770's... and a more direct comparable to drug related crime now. (I don't know the stats for that one, or if it was even tracked. 😕)

I'm not sure if “not care” would typify the stance of society concerning abortion in the 1770's... I think it was highly taboo, considering the East Coast (major cities) was colonized by Puritans, who were hanging Quakers as “heretics” (for minor theological differences) not 100 years prior... With some colonies making it legal and others illegal (Spanish and Portuguese settled, I think), it's possible that they would leave that (and other laws) to the individual states (I.e., not a job for the Federal Government). I'm interested to know more of the attitudes towards it though, since most early Christians would have believed in a “fetal soul”... making it a pretty self-damning / murderous venture to abort a child.
 
#17
I'm interested to know more of the attitudes towards it though, since most early Christians would have believed in a “fetal soul”... making it a pretty self-damning / murderous venture to abort a child.
The whole 'historical status of babies' thing does interest me. For example, Richard Miles, in discussing Carthaginian child sacrifice, has suggested that infant mortality may explain why child sacrifice was more palatable in ancient times. Then again, as you point out, for Christians there is the issue of fetal souls.

Regarding selective quoting, I just copy and paste the bracketed bits saying 'quote' throughout the larger quote, separating them out. I ensure that the beginning of each quote selection includes [QUOTE followed by ="Niobe, post: 3102944, member: 56573", whereas the end of each quote selection ends in the same way that the larger quote ends, with QUOTE in the brackets with / preceding QUOTE. There's probably an easier way, but I'm a dunce with technology.
 
Likes: Niobe

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,670
Dispargum
#18
Regarding the fetal soul, the unborn child was assumed to be alive once the mother could feel it kicking inside of her. The first kick is felt sometime during the second trimester although different mothers and different babies will experience this first kick at different times - sometimes during the fourth month, other times the first kick is only felt during the fifth or sixth month. Feeling the baby kick is called quickening, as in "the quick and the dead," - the living and the dead. Prior to the quickening, the baby growing inside of the mother was thought of as a tumor - something that was growing inside of the mother but was not alive. So before the quickening there was no fetal soul.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
16,898
SoCal
#19
While the Founding Fathers certainly appear to have been pro-states' rights--as evidenced by them specifically enumerating which powers the US federal government has been given--I certainly don't think that they were libertarians in the present-day sense. For instance, in addition to allowing US states to keep slavery legal, it appears that the Founding Fathers had no problem with things such as the state restricting whom one can marry. Back then, restrictions on interracial marriage--let alone same-sex marriage and incestuous marriage--appear to have been widespread and I have never heard any of the Founding Fathers say that such restrictions were unconstitutional. True, the Founding Fathers might have also opposed giving the federal government the power to create large social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and while libertarians might have been happy with this, they wouldn't have been happy with the restrictions on personal freedoms and liberties that the Founding Fathers supported giving US states the power to adopt (again, such as various restrictions on whom one can marry).
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
16,898
SoCal
#20
Regarding the fetal soul, the unborn child was assumed to be alive once the mother could feel it kicking inside of her. The first kick is felt sometime during the second trimester although different mothers and different babies will experience this first kick at different times - sometimes during the fourth month, other times the first kick is only felt during the fifth or sixth month. Feeling the baby kick is called quickening, as in "the quick and the dead," - the living and the dead. Prior to the quickening, the baby growing inside of the mother was thought of as a tumor - something that was growing inside of the mother but was not alive. So before the quickening there was no fetal soul.
The interesting thing is that, even today, some people believe that life begins at birth and that the fetus is a woman's body part all of the way up to birth. For instance, the woman who runs Clarissa's Blog has this opinion.

This view never really made sense to me. I mean, if a woman is pregnant with a male fetus, and this male fetus is her body part, does this mean that this woman is a hermaphrodite and/or intersex?
 

Similar History Discussions