America's Founders were unified in their belief in the truth of the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, even if they sometimes disagreed about specific institutional arrangements.

In the late nineteenth century, Progressive thinkers offered a thoroughgoing critique of America's founding principles and institutions that serves as the foundation of the contemporary administrative state.

The following eight debates reveal the profound philosophical divide between the Founders and Progressives. Two additional debates reveal deep divisions over slavery and secession that existed between the Founders and the members of the "positive good" school of slavery.

Founders vs. Progressives

  • Does human nature endure through all times and places, or is it formed by and reflected in a specific time and society?

  • Are rights conventional and bestowed by government, or are they inherent in human nature, and derived from "Nature and Nature's God"?

  • Is equality a natural right that precedes government or a condition achieved by government?

  • Is there a universal and unchanging standard of justice?

  • Is the purpose of government to protect and secure natural rights or to give rights to citizens?

  • Does the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers promote or inhibit liberty?

  • Does the administrative, bureaucratic state operate with or without the consent of the people?

  • Is progress in the human condition a just goal for a limited, constitutional government?

Founders vs. "Positive Good" School of Slavery

  • Is human slavery an evil to be combated, or a good to be promoted?

  • Do states have the right to secede from the Union?