Montana Ethic Project: A look at the Founding Fathers


Joey and Libbie Early

Gordon Brittan, a professor at Montana State University, talks about “The Founding Fathers” in this chapter of “The Montana Ethic Project.”

This is the fourth chapter of the 32-part video series “The Montana Ethic Project.” This chapter features Gordon Brittan speaking on “The Founding Fathers.” You can watch the whole video below. Here is how this chapter opens:

“Good afternoon. My name is Gordon Brittan and I have taught at Montana State University since 1973. I’ve specialized in the 18th century and tried to uncover for myself and my students basic core principles of the American Enlightenment generally, but more especially the background of the United States Constitution.”

Here is another, edited excerpt from Brittan’s presentation:

“They (the Founding Fathers) held all of these common core notions and widely separated views concerning this country and its future; what they didn’t have was a strong sense of civility.

“There is all this talk lately about how we need more civility. I’m all for civility. We all are for civility. But we need to remember that the Founding Fathers abused one another all the time. I’m just going to quote very quickly Alexander Hamilton, a great man, on Jefferson:

“’A man of profound ambition and violent passions,’ and then he went on to say, ‘…the most intriguing man in the United States.’

“By ‘intriguing’ he meant up to his elbows in intrigues of particularly notorious kind, not that he was a fascinating man. He called him, ‘…the intriguing incendiary, the inspiring turbulent competitor, the heart and soul of faction.’

And not to be outdone, here is Jefferson on Hamilton:

“’I will not suffer my retirement to be clouded by the slanders of a man whose history from the moment at which history can stoop to notice him, is a tissue of machinations against the liberty of the country.’

“Now what’s interesting is that while they were not particularly civil with one another, they were at the same time prepared to compromise. And those who think that the Constitution is somehow the revealed word of reason do not understand the tremendous debates that took place in 1787 and that led to its adoption.

“There were tremendous debates, raucous debates. And in every case they ended in compromise.”

PERC_Logo_MontanaEthicPERC—the Property & Environment Research Center—is a proud sponsor of the Montana Ethic Project. To learn how PERC’s ideas can help us honor one another’s rights to land, water, and wildlife, visit


First week: Project introduction.

Second week: Richard Drake on “Terrorism and the Consolation of History.”

Third week: Mike Gear on “The Value of Athletics.”

Fourth week: Franke Wilmer on “Gender Equity.”

Next week: Jim Posewitz on “Montana Sportsmen and the Hunter’s Ethic.”


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