Mt. Rushmore Myth

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Two million
people travel annually to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore.
The imposing sculptures of Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt,
and Abraham Lincoln have become a symbol of the American spirit.
The artist in charge of the project, Gutzon Borglum, intended
his work to be a summary of the first 150 years of American history,
but the choice of figures has helped create a lasting problem
in American history: who owns the founding tradition? Borglum
has led many Americans to believe that Lincoln and Roosevelt constitute
the bridge between the founding generation and the modern era.
While there were certainly times Lincoln and Roosevelt could rhetorically
sound like the Founders, their actions do not mesh with
the principles of that generation. Lincoln and Roosevelt helped
create a "new" United States, perverted the founding
documents and ruined the founding principles of limited government
and state sovereignty.

The true
expositors of the founding tradition are not the sectional president,
Lincoln, or the first progressive president, Roosevelt; they are
two Unionists who are often classified as Southern extremists:
John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and John Randolph of Roanoke,
Virginia. These men were on the cusp of the founding generation.
Calhoun was born in 1782 and Randolph in 1773. They were too young
to participate in first events of the early republic but knew
many of the participants. Most importantly, they understood what
the founding generation meant by "union."

The Founders
forged a union based on the consent of the States — a compact
among them — for their benefit through defense and commerce. They
recognized sectional differences and knew that these differences
should be respected. Thus, many in this generation, Northerners
and Southerners alike, cautiously guarded the interests of their
communities through the sovereignty of the states. As long as
the benefits and burdens of the union were distributed equally,
they suffered and prospered together. Such had been the case in
the War for Independence. No one conceived that one section or
one faction should have the right to plunder the other. Madison
insisted in Federalist No. 10 that the Constitution was
written to protect against such infractions. Early American documents
are littered with statements in defense of a mutually beneficial
union. All that ceased in the following two generations.

In an 1833
speech, Calhoun made the following observation:

"In
the same spirit, we are told that the Union must be preserved,
without regard to the means. And how is it proposed to preserve
the Union? By force! Does any man in his senses believe that
this beautiful structure — this harmonious aggregate of States,
produced by the join consent of all — can be preserved by force?
Its very introduction will be certain destruction of this Federal
Union. No, no. You cannot keep the States united in their constitutional
and federal bonds by force. Force may, indeed, hold the parts
together, but such union would be the bond between master and
slave: a union of exaction on one side, and of unqualified obedience
on the other."

Such is what
Lincoln accomplished through the War Between the States. The South
was forced to remain "loyal" under the yoke of the federal
government. He preserved the "union," but not the union
of the Founders. It was a union of Lincoln's and the Republican
Party's creation.

Randolph,
in similar fashion, lectured Northern secessionists during the
War of 1812 for their stand against the good of the whole. He
reminded them that the South had stood shoulder to shoulder with
the North during the Revolution and that Virginia had sacrificed
far more for the good of the Union by ceding her western lands
to the central government than any Northern state in the history
of the confederation. Each section suffered due to British hostility,
and though Randolph personally opposed the war and foreign alliances,
he believed secession during a time of war damaged the prospects
of opposition. New England had its chance to secede in 1807 following
the Embargo Act, a time of peace, but 1814 was a different story.
He said, "Our Constitution is an affair of compromise between
the States, and this is the master-key which unlocks all its difficulties."

Randolph
was the consistent defender of state sovereignty throughout his
career, and he clung to the union of the "good old thirteen
states." Likewise, Calhoun insisted that state's rights was
the traditional policy of the founding generation. He called Jefferson
"the true and faithful expositor of the relation between
the States and General Government," and labeled the Virginia
and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 "the rock of our political
salvation" in a letter to the citizens of Philadelphia. Only
through a firm reliance on state's rights could the government
be brought "back…to where it was, when it commenced."

It must be
noted that Randolph did not trust Calhoun, and he considered nullification
a foolish doctrine (he preferred secession, and did not see how
a state could remain in the Union after it nullified a federal
law), but when Andrew Jackson as president threatened to use force
to coerce South Carolina during the Nullification Controversy
of 1832, Randolph said he would strap his "dying body"
to his horse "Radical" and enter the field of battle
rather than see a sovereign state threatened by the bayonet.

From the
1880 through the 1908 presidential election, there was consistently
a clear divide between the North and South. The South voted one
way, the North another. Both sections implicitly recognized that
the Union was dominated by the North, and no election showcased
this more clearly than Roosevelt's victory over Alton Parker in
the 1904 election. Roosevelt was not a "national" candidate;
he was a sectional one with sectional support. He was not the
heir of the Founding Fathers and the founding principles of limited
government, state's rights, neutrality, and peaceful trade. He
was a bully, an imperialist, and a man who used executive power
in a way the founding generation consistently warned against.

Why does
this matter? Because Americans are still burdened by factional
government and the tyranny of elected despots. We now witness
a rural/urban conflict along with a North/South split. Half the
population can take from the other half and Americans feel helpless
in wake of the political onslaught of "progressivism."
But there is hope. Americans still have power in their state and
local communities. The states are still sovereign, and Americans
have more control over their state and local representatives than
those in congress or the executive branch. If Americans recognize
that the Union must burden and benefit all equally, as the founding
generation, Calhoun, and Randolph emphasized, than there is still
hope to salvage the founding principles of the United States.
Otherwise, the Founding Fathers will continue to be eliminated
from our historical consciousness or will be perverted by progressives
such as Barack Obama who invoke their name but know nothing of
the founding principles. Mount Rushmore should be split between
Jefferson and Roosevelt. That way, Americans could see the canyon
— not the bridge — between them.

June
30, 2009

Brion McClanahan
[send him mail] received
his Ph.D. in American History from the University of South Carolina
and is a History Professor at Chattahoochee Valley Community College
in Phenix City, Alabama. He is the author of Politically
Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers
(Regnery, 2009).

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