The principles of the American Founding, embodied in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the Constitution, came under assault by Progressives of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Progressivism rejects the Founders’ ideas of natural rights, limited government, the separation of powers, representation, and federalism. Progressive government, exemplified by the modern administrative state, has fundamentally transformed key aspects of the American way of life.
American history can be divided into three phases: the American Founding, the crisis of slavery and the Civil War, and Progressivism.
To understand the meaning of the American Founding, one must consider above all two fundamental documents: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Looking to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” as the foundation of their arguments, the Founders established three pillars of government: limited government, representation, and the separation of powers. The new, Progressive view changes the purpose and the structure of government by breaking down these three pillars.
Both the pro-slavery advocates before and during the Civil War and the proponents of Progressivism posed a challenge to the principles of the American Founding. They both assume that the principles of the Declaration—including equality and the notion of unchanging natural rights—are outdated and irrelevant. For Progressives, the forward march of science and an ever-improving human nature have disproved them, which in turn requires that the government instituted by the Founders be discarded and replaced.
For over one hundred years, Progressives have systematically derided the principles of the American Founding as inapplicable to the complexities of contemporary politics. According to Woodrow Wilson, the Founders’ Constitution is mechanistic and Newtonian, rather than evolutionary and Darwinian. Wilson sought to substitute the notion of an evolutionary or “living constitution” for the Founders’ Constitution. The new view of the Constitution seeks not to protect an equality of rights, but to enforce by government power an equality of economic condition.
The idea of a “living constitution” takes concrete political shape in the form of a bureaucratic administrative state. As a result, modern American government to a large degree consists of thousands of unelected bureaucrats and numerous unaccountable regulatory agencies. By their very nature, they undermine the Founding principles of limited government, representation, and the separation of powers. Unless the American people—the sovereign rulers of the United States of America—halt the growth of bureaucratic despotism, we risk losing the last vestiges of constitutional government. source
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