Monday Morning Poll

Monday, April 7th, 2008

In honor of HBO’s excellent John Adams miniseries…

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54 Responses to “Monday Morning Poll”

  1. #1 |  Gary | 

    We owe more to Jefferson, but I’d rather hang out with Franklin.

  2. #2 |  Tybalt | 

    Due respect to Thomas Jefferson, but Tom Paine was *the shit*. Especially on the question of slavery.

  3. #3 |  Joe | 

    If only we had listened to the Anti-federalist like Patrick Henry…but alas, we didn’t, so we got what we have.

  4. #4 |  witless chum | 

    Washington could have made himself king and chose not to. That overshadows everyone else, IMO.

  5. #5 |  Joe | 

    The “question of slavery”…as opposed to what we currently live under. Paying up to 50% tribute, sorry, taxes while providing our own room, board, education & transportation, within the controlled confines of Uncle Sam’s plantation.

    In the south, according to their own writings, slaves viewed themselves ABOVE the poor white tenant farmer struggling to survive. Whereas the north wrote the first “black” codes preventing free blacks from even moving in and “competing” with their social structures.

    The “question of slavery” really begins with the fundamental question of who owns your life, liberty & pursuits of happiness. In this, are we slaves or freemen today under the “founding” documents?

  6. #6 |  robertl | 

    Maybe we owe more to Abigale than anyone

  7. #7 |  Ben | 

    All great men. However, Ben Franklin is the one I’d want as a founding father AND want to go the the pub with.

  8. #8 |  UCrawford | 

    I like in the miniseries how they handle the Thomas Jefferson character. While he’s obviously a brilliant man they do illustrate out his fallibility with misjudging the French Revolution and his overeagerness to tie us to the French in their dispute with Britain. The Washington character is very well done also.

    I’m curious to see how they handle Adams’ thought process on the Alien and Sedition Act. Giamatti’s characterization certainly demonstrates Adams’ intolerance and authoritarian leanings, but he also takes pains to show that Adams did mean well and that there is usually a valid reason for even the worst things that Adams does (even if his solutions are not what we’d choose).

  9. #9 |  UCrawford | 

    I’d still prefer to go pubbing with Franklin, though…Tom Wilkinson depiction of him is classic :)

  10. #10 |  Wesley | 

    Thomas Jefferson did more, but Thomas Paine was just awesome. Right on slavery, right on the proper role of government, right on organized religion… His “Common Sense” pamphlet, fighting over here, and then him going over to France to help their revolution, shows he was The Agitator of the late 18th century.

  11. #11 |  Not Kristen | 

    My dog is named Franklin, so take a wild guess as to my vote ;)

  12. #12 |  JJH2 | 


    This should be blindingly obvious but… recognizing the truth of Thomas Paine’s opposition to slavery (which, I think, is almost universally recognized as the _correct_ position now), in no way commits you to either the Civil War or to the Leviathan State that sprung up from it. Certainly, when Paine published “African Slavery in America” he faced no such false dilemma — Lincoln was over 30 years away from even being born, and another 40 away from participating in the Civil War.

    It’s undoubtedly true that the Constitution has no binding moral force on anyone alive today, and had only a narrow binding force on those who actually participated in its ratification in 1787. It’s also undoubtedly true that anyone subject to it against their will now is in a position of subservience not unlike the master-slave relationship. However, that point is easy enough to make without an inane attempt to rescue Black slavery from the dustbin of history.

  13. #13 |  Eric McErlain | 

    Am I the only one watching this series who is constantly frustrated by the impression that Adams was surrounded by men who were infinitely better diplomats and politicians and far more interesting to boot? Everytime either Jefferson or Franklin has shown up in the story I can’t help but get the feeling that I’d rather we start following them instead.

  14. #14 |  ClubMedSux | 

    As a homebrewer I have no choice but to vote for Sam Adams. Brewer AND patriot? It doesn’t get any better than that.

    [Disclaimer: yes, I know that other founding fathers brewed and/or distilled as well; it’s just an online poll, so relax…]

  15. #15 |  Dave_D | 

    It’s hard to pick a favorite but it’s also a shame we only remember the most prominent. Several of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and their family’s suffered greatly at the hands of the British after having the misfortune of being captured. I wish HBO would do a special on those guys.

  16. #16 |  The Bitch Girls | 

    […] is doing a poll. Posted by Bitter at 1:00 pm   Randomness   Permalink […]

  17. #17 |  Charles | 

    James Otis

    Read about his speech against the writs of assistance (ie: search and seizure at will without warrant.) and then see what John Adams had to say about it:

    “Then and there, the child Independence was born.”

    An amazing guy… Far more deserving of credit than most can imagine, and most have never heard of him.

  18. #18 |  Salvo | 

    I had to go with Gouverneur Morris for sentimental reasons. Way back in high school, for history, we had a mock constitutional convention, in which we were all assigned roles of a particular signer, then had to research the signer and accurately role-play them “to the extent possible”, as she said, at the convention. I got stuck with him, then was delighted to learn that he missed the first 1/3 of the convention.

    Teacher wasn’t happy when I gave her my historically accurate reason for skipping class.

  19. #19 |  Carl Drega | 

    Jefferson brought ice cream and wine making to the colonies. ICE CREAM AND WINE!!!!

  20. #20 |  Howlin' Hobbit | 

    Salvo, FTW!

    For me it was a hard choice between Jefferson and Crazy Benny but I chose the latter for much the same reasons that other commenters have already mentioned. He was a rake and a roue all the way to his last breath and you gotta love a man who thinks beer is god’s way of saying he loves us and wants us to be happy.

  21. #21 |  Shelby | 

    Another one for Jefferson — but it’s a pity Gouverneur isn’t getting more luv. He and Franklin must have been a blast together.

    And for my money, Thomas Paine was a nutjob. A correct one, setting aside his support for the French madness, but he comes across as more John Brown than James Madison.

  22. #22 |  kdwmson | 

    George Mason gave us the Bill of Rights.

  23. #23 |  Robert S. Porter | 

    What is with all the votes for Hamilton?

  24. #24 |  elbridge gerry | 


    And four percent for George Mason. In a poll on a libertarian blog.


  25. #25 |  witless chum | 

    Elbridge Gerry, as we all know, was the only founding father who spoke Yiddish. It’s a little-known fact.

  26. #26 |  Favorite Founder « Matt Zeitlin: Impetuous Young Whippersnapper | 

    […] by Matt Zeitlin on April 7, 2008 Radley Balko is posing the question, and I have to say that my favorite founding father is…Alexander Hamilton. Yes, […]

  27. #27 |  Will Wilkinson / The Fly Bottle » Blog Archive » ABJ! | 

    […] running a poll asking people to vote their favorite Founding Father. Worse than the baleful fact that Gouverneur […]

  28. #28 |  nom de guerre | 

    john frickin’ *marshall*?!?

    the guy who single-handedly subverted the newborn constitution? making himself the highest power in the land? putting us on today’s road of “it’s only legal if the 9 bewigged lawyers in washington allow it”??

    why is that guy even on the list?

    as far as everyone else, they’re all important; they all sit at the head table in founding-father valhalla. but washington was the key. take away jefferson, franklin, the adams….we’d still have an america. different, maybe, but still recognizably america.

    without washington they’d have all been hung, and good queen liz’s picture would be on our money.

  29. #29 |  Brian | 

    kdwmson: I’m pretty sure that Madison was behind the first ten amendments (and the 27th!)…

    I voted Jefferson, but I own a Madison tie.

  30. #30 |  Brian | 

    nom de guerre: While I understand your distaste for judicial activism, if the SCOTUS hadn’t given itself the power to nullify unconstitutional laws, there would be no check upon the other branches from violating that very document.

    The Constitution proclaims itself the law of the land. No legislation can supersede it. If that is the case, then when legislation comes in conflict with the Constitution, the courts would be wrong to uphold it.

    Are you saying that you trust Congress, the people who passed the Patriot Act without reading it, to respect the Constitutions limits?

    Sure the SCOTUS has abused that power at times, but without it, nobody in Washington would ever be held accountable.

  31. #31 |  nom de guerre | 

    no, brian, i don’t trust congress/the prez any politician.

    but i *especially* don’t trust lawyers. a crooked pol will steal himself some money, pad some payrolls, but that’s about it. you can (sometimes) even make the case that crooked pols get things done: it’s been said many of the great civic projects of 19th century NYC would not have hapepned if tammany hadn’t pushed them. in order to secure their holy graft & kickbacks. pols just steal *money*.

    *lawyers* destroy countries. lawyers destroy people. an energetic lawyer can set plots in motion that will go on for generations. since the lawyers and the courts got involved in the running and administration of US schools, what’s happened to the american educational system? are the results *good*? detroit now “graduates” a full one-third of its high-schoolers. but the courts approve!

    while we’re at it, the key phrase in your post was “if the SCOTUS hadn’t *given itself the power* to nullify…”. there’s the crux of it, right there. another way to say it is, “lawyers made an illegal power grab, and then decided after the fact to call it legal”. and then instructed the schools to teach it as “a good and legal thing”.

    john marshall took the USA into banana republic territory. he installed plato’s philsopher kings as the highest law of the land, accountable to (de facto) only themselves. 200 years later, lawyers decide for us who will be our president. the minority political philosophy has developed a long-standing strategy of implementing their unpopular dictats via court order. presidential elections are contested *chiefly* because the prez gets to appoint SCOTUS justices: obviously, the REAL power in this country.

    may john marshall burn in hell.

  32. #32 |  JJH2 | 

    Um. Wow.

    Anyway, if you’re one of those Constitution-fetishising folks that believes in the ‘ole “Original Meaning” nonsense, the weight of scholarly evidence clearly supports the contention that Judicial Review was widely understood by the “Founding Fathers’ to be part and parcel of the “Judicial Powers” of the Constitution. Here’s the link to Randy Barnett’s paper on the topic:

  33. #33 |  Kevin B. O'Reilly | 

    Washington, Washington / Six-foot-eight, weighs a fucking ton:

  34. #34 |  nom de guerre | 

    wow indeed. it would seem that ole thomas jefferson was one of those ignernt rubes who believed in the “original meaning” nonsense, jjh2. he had this to say about the supremes making themselves supreme, in an 1820 letter to wm. jarvis:

    “to consider judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions (is) *a very dangerous doctrine indeed* and one which

  35. #35 |  Matt | 

    No clue why Madison and Mason aren’t getting more love, as the major architects of the system of government we’re all supposed to be fighting to get back to. (Well, all of us except the absolute hard-core anarchists, anyway…and I doubt they’d find friends among ANY of the Founders.)

  36. #36 |  nom de guerre | 

    wow indeed. it would seem that ole thomas jefferson was one of those ignernt rubes who believed in the “original meaning” nonsense, jjh2. he had this to say about the supremes making themselves supreme, in an 1820 letter to wm. jarvis:

    “to consider judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions (is) *a very dangerous doctrine indeed* and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.” he later added, “the constitution has erected no such single tribunal.”

    why? because “with the corruption of time and party, its members would become despots.”

    but hey! you’d EXPECT jefferson to buy into that “original meaning” nonsense, right?

    here’s what abe lincoln said about it – presumably before he decided to run roughshod over the constitution: “if the policy of the government, upon vital questions, affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the supreme court….the people will have ceased to be their own rulers.”

    oddly, that quote isn’t all that widely printed these days.

    but perhaps that doesn’t matter, since – as you say – the “weight of scholarly opinion” seems to bless the marshall power grab. maybe we should kick it up to the supreme court: let *them* decide for us what to think.

  37. #37 |  Federal Farmer | 

    I was tempted to vote for Hamilton myself, but Franklin won out. For those that deride him, I suggest you study up on the man. I believe if it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have a country at this point. Granted our govt is too big now, and he certainly championed Federal power, but if it were as weak as many wanted we’d have been British subjects again eventually…or speaking Deutsche.

  38. #38 |  Wesley | 

    nom de guerre: You have done an excellent job taking quotes out of context and mangling their meaning.

    Lincoln’s quote was not regarding John Marshall’s SCOTUS opinion. In fact, it was more in a reference to the Dred Scott decision which stated that the federal government could not regulate slavery in the territories. Lincoln said he respected the authority of the Supreme Court, but also recognized that laws can change, and would continue to fight for the law to be changed. The SCOTUS can hear similar cases and the Congress can still go over their heads through the amendment process.

    But you know what? It really doesn’t matter what Lincoln thought – argument from authority is simply a logical fallacy. It matters what is right.

    The Supreme Court process of judicial review, while not perfect, has definitely helped check the powers of the other branches of government. Yes, they’ve made some very bad decisions, but in general the courts have been the most sane branch. They are not “all powerful.” The courts were always meant to interpret the law, and interpret it they do. It’s illogical to say “the courts must interpret the law, but can’t actually do anything.”

  39. #39 |  Stretch | 

    Hard choices: So many Virginians and only one vote. But GEORGE WASHINGTON for his unwavering prosecution of the war despite political pressure (Gen. Petraeus anyone?). His dedication to the concepts of Independence by turning down the offer of kingship. Read his farewell to his officers. Barry Bostwick’s reading of the address in the 1984 mini-series will move you to tears. He left office after 2 terms even though he would have easily obtained a unanimous third term. He set a precedence that lasted until FDR. And there is always the distillery on the Mt. Vernon grounds.

  40. #40 |  JJH2 | 

    nom de guerre:

    You deliberately misrepresented what I said. I said that the weight of scholarly evidence clearly supports the contention that Judicial Review was widely understood by the “Founding Fathers” to be part and parcel of the “Judicial Powers” of the Constitution. That is, scholarly surveys of WHAT THE FOUNDERS SAID about Judicial Review was that it was inherent in the phrase “Judicial Powers” . What I DID NOT say was that the weight of scholarly opinion “bless[es] the Marshal power grab.”

    What the Founders said about Judicial Powers is a matter of historical record. On the other hand, “blessing” a decision requires normative decisions about constitutional theory and interpretation — which was outside of the scope of my claim.

    In any case, I suggest you read Barnett’s article, which surveys the texts of the Constitutional Convention, State Ratification Conventions, and the immediate post-Ratification period to find dozens of contemporaneous statements indicating that virtually every participant that commented on the issue thought that Judicial Review was inherent in the “Judicial Powers” phrase.

    As for dissenting statements by Thomas Jefferson – even if those statements are true and accurate, and were contemporaneous with the Ratification of the Constitution, we might simply chalk it up to a minority opinion that was clearly against the weight of contemporary thought.

    But as it happens, the quote you cited was from 1820; over 30 years and a 2-term presidency after the Ratification. And again, as it happens, Barnett has a quote from Jefferson, contemporaneous with the Ratification, in which Jefferson acknowledges that Judicial Review is inherent in the “Judicial Powers” Clause. And, astoundingly, as it happens, Jefferson’s switch in position over the course of 3 decades happens to be pretty well known, and well documented in David Mayer’s book “The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson.”

    So as they say – 3 strikes and you’re out.

  41. #41 |  Nick T | 

    nom de guerre:

    Do you seriously not realize that judicial review ensures individual freedom far more than any other piece of the entire concept that is the Constitution? Nearly every moment where personal freedom has been enhanced and expanded in this country started with the supreme court making a decision way ahead of the overtly political branches.

    You and Justice Scalia with this majoritarianism bullshit can go screw. Inter-racial marriage would be in its 3rd year of legalization if not for judicial review.

    You’re comments about lawyers are remarkably ignorant as well, as though merley having a certain occupation and education makes you a nation destroyer (!). I’m a lawyer. I help people. I make sure the government does not oppress people and follows the law itself. Fuck You.

  42. #42 |  Thomas Paine's Goiter | 

    Anyone that doesn’t vote for Thomas Paine is a communist.

  43. #43 |  nom de guerre | 

    you (say) you’re a lawyer, nick? (“i’m a lawyer. i help people.”) (cue soaring orchestral anthem, sung by a choir of thousands)

    allow me to quote from one of those great legal minds that hijacked the constitution, and made themselves our masters.

    fuck YOU, pal. you and justice ginsberg with this revisionist, ‘living document’ bullshit.

  44. #44 |  nom de guerre | 

    as for the rest of you defending the infamous marshall power grab of 1803, i’ll just say this:

    1) as opposed to the microbrained, foulmouthed, self-proclaimed “lawyer” above, your views – although wrong – are at least laid out well. reasonable people can disagree civilly, can we not?

    2) still, for reasonable people *who are presumably libertarians, this being a libertarian blog*, i find your ringing defense of the reign of the courts to be fascinating. “the will of the people MUST be tempered, and if necessary overruled by, the 9 wise ones in faraway washington!” the analogy seems to me to be sheep being driven to slaughter, solemnly agreeing that their shepherd is there for their *protection*, and they’d be lost without his knowing, firm hand.

    3) it would seem that government school propagandizing has done its job well. “an america in which the duly-elected representatives of the people pass laws without oversight and guidance from our almighty, all-powerful judges would be unthinkable!”

    4) sam adams had a quote about that sort of thing….but you’d all insist i was taking it out of context.

  45. #45 |  Nash | 

    Well, nom, I just can’t quite strike up the vehemence that you hold for the supreme court.

    The inherent problem with what you’re arguing is that the mighty will of the people isn’t always being done by the elected representatives. It’s something akin to a genie bottle. You may wish for something, and what you get may be a completely bastardized version of what you wished for. It may actually make things worse than they would have been had you not made a wish.

    I haven’t seen anyone argue yet that we need the helpful guidance of 9 wise ones because we’d be lost without the knowing, firm hand. The argument has solely been that the legislative and executive branches make some incredibly stupid mistakes, some of those actually from the will of the people, and that the supreme court has been quite helpful in correcting some of those mistakes. Yes, they’ve made mistakes of their own, but on the whole, that’s to be expected since human beings are involved at every level of this. (See also: Every post with New Professionalism in the title on this site)
    Sure, the supreme court has made some really awful decisions, but they have made some good ones.
    I’d also suggest that at this point in our history, with Bush’s massive power grabs for the executive branch, it’s that much more important that there be some manner of checks and balances against him. The current congress and senate have shown themselves to be almost completely worthless in doing so. That pretty much leaves the supreme court as the only branch of the federal government that has actually stood up to him.
    I honestly wish that weren’t the case, but alas, it is for now.

    Personally, I’m not a big fan of the will of the people. I’m all about the freedom of the people and the liberty of the people. The will of the people just means the will of the majority. I have yet to see definitive proof that the majority is often right.

  46. #46 |  Nash | 

    Also, I voted for Jefferson.

  47. #47 |  Hairy Skepticals | 

    If I gotta pick one I have to go with Paine. Shit-stirring is an art and that guy was Michelangelo

    Seriously? Hamilton? 135 votes?

    Billy Ocean’s enthralling 1985 hit Caribbean Queen was a musical dissertation on Alexander Hamilton’s whore mother.

  48. #48 |  Kalim Kassam | 

    Shouldn’t this poll have been called “Who’s your [founding] daddy?” instead of the much more bland “Who’s your favorite founding father?” ?

  49. #49 |  Benjamin Kuipers | 


    I’m aghast that on a libertarian site you didn’t include two of the most principled and influential expounders of libertarian principles, John Taylor of Caroline and John Randolph of Roanoke…guys who tried to hold Jefferson’s feet to the fire of his own stated principles.

    As for the arguments that in the absence of the adoption (usurpation?) of extra-constitutional judicial power by the Supremes social progress would not have reached the pinnacle at which it currently resides… remember gentlemen, if we adopt the position that the Court, or for that matter, any other federal branch, can claim powers not granted them, subject only to their own final arbitration, we live not under law, but under the will of what is in this instance some sort of “nine-headed Caesar, giving thumbs-up or thumbs-down to whatever outcome, case by case, suits or offends its collective fancy.”

    Those who advocate judicial review cannot logically differ in substance from those judicial activists who wish to mold society in their own image, for the question becomes, how elastic IS the Constitution… It is a fundamental principle of government that any government which is the ultimate arbiter of the limits of its own authority is no limited government, but rather, an unlimited, ultimately unchecked regime.

    The problem with Hamiltonians and their “moderate constitutional construction” of judicial review is that ultimately the cure to federal overreaching can not logically come from within the federal government’s halls. CLibertarian constructionists who follow the example of Alexander Hamilton, to use the government to effectuate their own ends, including discovering judicial powers not written in the text will find their gains fleeting…

    Consider Justice Scalia in Planned Parenthood v. Casey:

    The Court’s statement that it is ‘tempting’ to acknowledge the authoritativeness of tradition in order to ‘cur[b] the discretion of federal judges,’ … is of course rhetoric rather than reality; no government official is ‘tempted’ to place restraints on his own freedom of action, which is why Lord Acton did not say ‘Power tends to purify.’ The Court’s temptation is in the quite opposite and more natural direction – towards systematically eliminating checks upon its own power; and it succumbs.”

    I submit that a true restoration of constitutionally limited government of old virtues and abandoned principles must come through the leadership of individuals not susceptible to purchase by the sirens of centralized power in Washington. Consider the words of George Washington in his Farewell Address speaking on principled construction of the Constitution:

    “If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.”

    Once power is usurped, even to end a great evil, the precedence is set for later repetition. Consider how Caesar used the violations of Sulla and Marius as precedence for his despotic actions… Consider well the warnings of the Virginians. Consider the question, if men are not competent to govern themselves, how can they govern others?

  50. #50 |  FatDrunkAndStupid | 

    No Aaron Burr? Surely the man that killed Alexander Hamilton deserves some mention, especially on a libertarian blog.

  51. #51 |  Joe | 

    The order of the options should have been neutral, either alphabetical, or randomized with every display. As it is, it now almost parallels the results.

  52. #52 |  SteVe | 

    Aaron Burr was a despicable traitor as well as an immoral opportunist.

    Hamilton was correct for pushing a stronger federal government at the time. He was wrong for not supporting the Bill of Rights. He was correct to push to have the federal government take over the debts incurred by the states. His vision of the future is far closer to what exists than some utopian agrarian vision of Jefferson’s. The sheer volume of work done by Hamilton & the influence he wielded behind the scenes shows how important he was during the initial founding of the Republic.

    Unfortunately, aggressive Presidents in the 20th century started a trend of increasing executive power & federal government that are crushing the average citizen now. I doubt Hamilton would be happy with the federal government as it exists now.

  53. #53 |  nom de guerre | 

    yeah, steve, BUT….

    “the aggressive 20th century presidents” who “started a trend of increasing executive power and federal gov’t” were able to use hamilton’s actions as a justification for it. the precedent had been set: they could argue they were merely expanding upon a long-standing accepted practice.

    as the gent above brilliantly argued in post #49, “once power is usurped, even to end a great evil, the precedence is set for later repetition.” pandora’s box and all that.

  54. #54 |  Benjamin Kuipers | 


    As I recall, Aaron Burr was ACQUITTED… in a trial before Chief Justice Marshal, while riding circuit in the District of Columbia.. then again, perhaps you, like your nationalist hero Hamilton, are fond of Ad Hominum attacks and other unscrupulous personal slights… Perhaps.