GW Young America’s Foundation is a conservative student group that advocates for its vision of traditional values and individual freedom.
Our country is at a critical point in its history. People are expressing grievances that have long been neglected, including the long-fractured relationship between Black Americans and law enforcement. These problems demand to be addressed, and the best thing to do is to listen to the aggrieved and work toward meaningful solutions.
With so many people feeling left out in our system and discarded, it is important to appeal to a common history and symbols that can unite us in the future to come. But there are some who would seek to dismantle rather than create. For example, students have called to rename buildings that honor historical figures like James Madison, James Monroe and Francis Scott Key. Not only is this counterproductive to how we should work to unite as a campus and a country, but it demonstrates a disconnect between the truths of America’s foundation and our unifying national identity that they helped create. The attacks against Madison and Monroe are specifically problematic, as it shows our community’s failure to understand that despite their flaws, they helped establish the foundational ideals of freedom, justice and equality.
Human beings are flawed. No one can honestly claim to be perfect, yet at the same time we are holding those who came before us to a standard of today that is completely irrational. Personal flaws should not and cannot discredit the contributions they made to our country.
The overt public shift in how America is viewed is new, but it has been bubbling under the surface for years. Our education system and popular culture have utterly failed in actively presenting the side of America we can all be proud of. A Fox News poll shows that 37 percent of Americans are unwilling to call our Founding Fathers “heroes,” with one-fourth of millennials even inclined to call them villains. Beliefs like these are unsustainable. America experienced failures in delivering its foundational promises, but at the same time it produced an unprecedented surplus of human advancement, prosperity and freedom. All students should admit the fact that America is an imperfect country. But they should also understand that these figures helped to produce the freest and most liberating model of government in history. America’s founding ideals are the same that were used to free slaves, grant women the right to vote and advance equality in the 20th century.
The call to rename Madison and Monroe halls shows that we need to recalibrate. We should remember the people who died never fully experiencing the promises of America. At the same time, we should celebrate those who established our ideals and advanced our country forward.
The founders of our country, including Madison and Monroe, aimed to steer us away from the dark ages and toward enlightenment. Madison famously wrote both the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, while Monroe declared the Americas closed to further European colonialism after many countries gained independence. Our founding principles became a beacon to advance toward – the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights were models for universal human rights and freedom.
In American history, we must acknowledge that slavery was rampant, women had no say in how they were governed, leaders in power worked to disenfranchise people from their rights because of their race and people were wrongfully killed and driven off of their native land. But our founding ideals still remained. Men and women like Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King, Jr. regularly appealed to our principles in writing and speeches time and time again in order to correct our country’s course, and these principles are still appealed to today. That journey is part of the story. That journey is why America is uniquely great. America’s foundation and our initial demand that humanity deserves something greater than tyranny is so worth cherishing because it began a steady progression to a fuller freedom for all Americans, the likes of which the world had never seen before. The only reason our country has come so far is because of our groundbreaking foundation – our assertion that everyone is born with unalienable rights that were not given to us by a king or a government. These ideas were created by men like Madison and Monroe, who, despite their hypocrisies, set the foundation that led to a better future. Honoring them does not legitimize their faults.
We all decided to attend a school named The George Washington University, whose namesake – despite his faults – was America’s greatest founding father. He too is not immune to criticism on the sins of the past. But he devoted his life to enshrining the ideals that “all men are created equal.” Hypocrites or not, these men recognized a truth that weathers the test of time. Instead of renaming buildings, we should have a discussion. We should talk about how Monroe and Madison were complicit in the original sins of our country while recognizing how they resolved to set us on course for freedom.
We cannot let ourselves be drowned in the blatant anti-Americanism we too often see on campus. Instead, we ought to cherish our past successes in order to secure the providence of tomorrow.
This article appeared in the August 24, 2020 issue of the Hatchet.