Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders

With Dennis Rasmussen

Join us for a virtual conversation with Dennis Rasmussen to discuss the surprising story of how George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson each came to despair for the future of the nation they had created.

Although Americans tend to venerate the Constitution and the republican government that the founders created, the founders themselves were far less confident in what they had wrought, particularly by the end of their lives. Many eventually concluded that America’s constitutional experiment was an utter failure that was unlikely to last beyond their own generation. Rasmussen argues that the founders’ pessimism had a variety of sources: Washington despaired because of the rise of partisanship, Hamilton because he felt that the federal government was too weak, Adams because he believed that the people lacked civic virtue, and Jefferson because of sectional divisions laid bare by the spread of slavery. The one major founder who retained his faith in America’s constitutional order to the end was James Madison, and Rasmussen explores why Madison remained relatively optimistic when so many of his compatriots did not.

As much as Americans today may worry about their country’s future, the founders faced even graver problems and harbored even deeper misgivings. And yet we are still here, having recently survived yet another attempted assault on our political institutions. Join us to find out some of the reasons why.