Thoughts on the 1776 Commission and Its Report

Thoughts on the 1776 Commission and Its Report by Victor Davis Hanson for Town Hall

The newly formed President’s Advisory 1776 Commission just released its report. The group was chaired by Churchill historian and Hillsdale College President Dr. Larry P. Arnn. The vice chair was Dr. Carol M. Swain, a retired professor of political science. (Full disclosure: I was a member of the commission.)

The unanimously approved conclusions focused on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the historical challenges to these founding documents and the need for civic renewal. The 16-member commission was diverse in the widest sense of the familiar adjective. It included historians, lawyers, academics, scholars, authors, former elected officials and past public servants.

Whether because the report was issued by a Donald Trump-appointed commission, or because the conclusions questioned the controversial and flawed New York Times-sponsored 1619 Project, there was almost immediate criticism from the left.

Yet at any other age than the divisive present, the report would not have been seen as controversial.

First, the commission offered a brief survey of the origins of the Declaration of Independence, published in 1776, and the Constitution, signed in 1787. It emphasized how unusual for the age were the founders’ commitments to political freedom, personal liberty and the natural equality endowed by our creator — all the true beginning of the American experiment.

The commission reminded us that the founders were equally worried about autocracy and chaos. So they drafted checks and balances to protect citizens from both authoritarianism, known so well from the British Crown, and the frenzy of sometimes wild public excess.

The report repeatedly focuses on both the ideals of the American founding and the centuries-long quest to live up to them. It notes the fragility of such a novel experiment in constitutional republicanism, democratic elections and self-government — especially during late-18th-century era of war and factionalism.

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