BYU researchers: Fatherhood played a key role in the founders’ influence on the Constitution


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New research from BYU reveals that “family experiences shape who we end up being and what we end up valuing.” (Shutterstock)

PROVO – Every weekend of July 4th, the Founding Fathers of the United States are celebrated for their role in shaping the nation’s government and forming a system of legislatures that still exists to this day, with some modifications and amendments.

In other words, the “founder” is often the most famous notion of men like George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and other representatives at the first constitutional convention.

But research from Brigham Young University suggests that the role of the “father” also played a vital role. In the case of these fathers – both literally and in the founding sense – having more sons tended to lead convention participants to favor a stronger national government, while fathers of daughters preferred greater authority over the land. State, according to BYU political science professor Jeremy Pope BYU student Soren Schmidt, a recent Yale law school graduate.

“There is a temptation to think of the Constitution as just a written document,” Pope said. “But when you start to think about it, you realize that it was quite complicated.”

A variety of factors influenced the development of the U.S. Constitution, family relationships being just one of them, Pope said. But these relationships have played an important role, often overlooked in modern historical circles, which should not be ignored.

“I think it’s fair to say that we underestimate how important our family relationships are in politics,” Pope said. “All of our relationships matter, but I think we underestimate family and how much that shapes our political views.

“We tend to think of the past as statues and images frozen in time. But these were real people, who had real family concerns. They cared more about their sons’ careers than their daughters, but family still mattered a lot. “

In the 18th century, sons had “relatively more diverse career prospects” than daughters, who were “no doubt important and loved, but would end up being married off to another family,” Pope’s research mentions. This was doubly true for the sons of convention delegates – many of whom could envision political aspirations for their sons.

“Convention delegates might envision their sons becoming not only a lawyer, merchant or plantation owner,” Pope and Schmidt wrote in the American Journal of Political Science, “but also realizing future political perspectives.”

General George Washington at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and the signing of the US Constitution.  A new study co-authored by a BYU political science professor found that the paternal status of the founding fathers played an important role in shaping their political opinions.
General George Washington at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and the signing of the US Constitution. A new study co-authored by a BYU political science professor found that the paternal status of the founding fathers played an important role in shaping their political opinions. (Photo: Painting by Junius Brutus Stearns, public domain)

Evidence suggests that fathers of daughters may have favored the status quo over sweeping changes of government, not least because sons – rather than daughters – were more likely at the time to take over government than men. founding fathers were setting up.

But it also led the fathers of these women to lend their own voices – their daughters’ preconceptions included – to the constitution-making process.

“Our research shows that the gender-induced differences in the children of delegates were significant enough to affect the debates of the Convention and therefore the structure of the US Constitution itself,” Schmidt said in a press release. “In other words, it was deeply important that our Founding Fathers also be real fathers.”

It’s similar to contemporary political and legislative discourse, Pope said, citing research that shows politicians with more sons than daughters tend to lean more to the right, while judges with more daughters than sons. often make decisions more to the left.

It is therefore not surprising that the early settlers of the United States – mostly immigrants from the British Isles and other European countries – were drawn in similar directions.

“Obviously, our family experiences shape who we end up being and what we end up valuing,” said Pope, who recently published a book on early fathers, Founding Factions: How Majorities Shifted and Aligned to Shape the US Constitution. “Good family experiences make your life better and also more optimistic about the world today. Bad family experiences make you less optimistic about the world. But it is also difficult to disentangle the subconscious benefits.

“I’m sure my three daughters are changing the way I see the world,” he said. “There are all kinds of subtle things going through our lives, and I think we take family for granted more than we should. So I hope that through this article people can take family more seriously. serious.”

Of course, the Constitution wasn’t solely determined by the number of children one of the Founding Fathers had, Pope is quick to add. It was complicated enough that family status probably played a role, but there were also several interests that influenced it as well – things like occupation or whether or not to keep slaves.

Family relationships were only one important factor.

“There were all kinds of things that mattered,” Pope said.

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