Tea Party leaders have taken a revisionist view of early American history, insisting that the Founding Fathers were not revolutionaries and radicals, but arch-conservatives. Among the Republican presidential contenders for 2012, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann both contended the men who built America (with slaves who were, according to Bachmann, deeply grateful to be slaves) were red-staters before there were even states.
Delving into the Founding Father’s own papers indicates something altogether different. Some of the Founding Fathers leaned right, but the majority were anti-monarchists, Freemasons and atheists who held what modern historical language would term a secularist and globalist view. In some cases — like George Washington’s — this included a strongly gay-friendly attitude.
Among the Founding Fathers there were definitive class biases. Most of these men, like Washington (1732-99) and Thomas Jefferson, were wealthy land- and slave-owners who led aristocratic lifestyles and were elitist toward the “lower” classes. (Washington noted in a letter, for example, that those not of the upper classes were to be “treated civilly” but to be kept “at a proper distance, for they will grow upon familiarity, in proportion as you sink in authority.”) Socialists these men were not. Yet some of their personal ethics and standards would reveal that they were more open to what would be considered a “modern,” 21st-century perspective on life, love and sexuality than might be presumed in the stodgy, post-Puritan 18th-century colonies.
This was particularly true of Washington, whose stance on homosexuality, which at the time was punishable by imprisonment, castration and even death throughout the colonies, was noticeably — even dramatically — relaxed in comparison to many of his cohorts. His personal correspondence and diaries bear this out.