The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller
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Meet ‘the colonial 1 percent’ that created America

A new book details the role played by America’s conservative founders, who were “every bit as important as Washington, Jefferson, and Adams,” in shaping the destiny of the country.

“Most histories of conservatism trace its origins back to 1790 when the British statesman Edmund Burke penned a famous essay attacking the French Revolution. I discovered a group of American Founders who advocated the same ideas a decade and a half earlier,” David Lefer, an industry professor at Polytechnic Institute of New York University, told The Daily Caller in an interview about his recently released book, “The Founding Conservatives: How a Group of Unsung Heroes Saved the American Revolution.”

“Frankly I was also astonished to learn about the crucial role these men played in winning the War of Independence and in crafting America’s basic political structures. Collectively, the founding conservatives were every bit as important as Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. Yet, history has forgotten them.”

Lefer, whose previous book “They Made America” was made into a PBS mini-series, says these conservative founders could be considered ”the colonial 1%.”

“They were members of the upper classes — the colonial 1%, if you will — who were among the most ardent defenders of American rights,” he said. ”Many fought with distinction against British Redcoats. But they also wanted to preserve as much of the old order as possible. What the founding conservatives feared was that revolution would bring ‘the dissolution of every kind of authority,’ as James Wilson, a prosperous Philadelphia lawyer and staunch free-market advocate, put it. Their role, as they saw it, was to keep the revolution from spiraling out of control.”

Their influence can be seen in many areas of American society, including the U.S. Constitution, says Lefer.

“Conservatives put these principles into practice during the framing of the Constitution,” he said. “Many of them openly admired Britain’s system of government, which had stood the test of time. Yet, they also understood that the American people would never accept a return to monarchy. The key was to make America’s new government as similar to England’s as possible and to shun any political framework based solely on abstract principles. ‘Experience must be our only guide,’ John Dickinson told the Convention during a memorable debate. ‘Reason may mislead us.’”

Lefer says he is a registered Democrat, but his research has led him to a deep respect for conservative principles.

“I’m a registered Democrat, but after learning about these right-wing revolutionaries I have developed a tremendous new respect for conservatism,” he said. “The idea that we should respect social institutions that have evolved organically over hundreds of years and that we should not assume the new will automatically be better than the old makes incredible sense.”

Read below TheDC’s full interview with Lefer on his new book and more:

Why did you decide to write the book?

The former journalist in me sensed a scoop. Most histories of conservatism trace its origins back to 1790 when the British statesman Edmund Burke penned a famous essay attacking the French Revolution. I discovered a group of American Founders who advocated the same ideas a decade and a half earlier. Frankly I was also astonished to learn about the crucial role these men played in winning the War of Independence and in crafting America’s basic political structures. Collectively, the founding conservatives were every bit as important as Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. Yet, history has forgotten them.